A Navajo woman is suing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, saying she was sexually assaulted while participating in the church’s Lamanite Indian Student Placement Program. This is now the third claim of sexual abuse that has been brought against the Mormon Church by members of the Navajo Nation since March.
The plaintiff identified as B.N. says she was sexually molested and raped between 1965 and 1972 while in church-run foster care in Utah. She decided to file suit after hearing of two Navajo siblings who sued the church earlier this year with similar allegations.
“I just said, you know what, I’ve shut my mouth long enough, and it was just time,” B.N. says. The complaint filed in Navajo Nation District Court outlines sexual abuse by a foster father, a foster brother, and a medical examiner in a church facility. B.N., a member of the LDS Church, says she has been afraid to come forward. That’s what she hopes to change with the lawsuit. “Being able to speak up and have people trust their leaders, that they’re able to come forth with atrocious situations without fear and without being black-balled in any way.”
Criag Vernon is an attorney representing the three plaintiffs. He says church leaders did not report the abuse to law enforcement and failed to protect children in their care.
“We don’t believe that the church has proper policies and procedures in place to protect children. Specifically once child abuse is discovered within the church, members and leaders of the church are not told to tell the police; rather, they’re told to call a hotline,” Vernon says.
An LDS Church spokesperson declined an interview. The church has said they do not tolerate abuse of any kind. In a news release this year, church officials announced a 24-hour hotline for clergy leaders to consult with a counselor when children report abuse.
Attorneys for the church have asked a federal court judge not to allow a Navajo court hearing in the case of the siblings. They say tribal court is not the proper venue because none of the alleged conduct took place on the reservation.