Editor’s Note: Victims of sexual violence can find resources by calling the Rape and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-888-421-1100 or the 24-hour crisis and information hotline at 801-467-7273.
I felt a sick knot in my stomach.
A friend sent me an Associated Press article titled “Seven Years of Sexual Abuse: How Mormon Leaders Let It Go.” Reading the disturbing details, my eyes filled with tears and my heart completely broke.
No child should ever have to suffer what the sisters featured in the article endured. It’s devastating every time I hear the stories of sexual abuse survivors.
Even as I type and edit this article, I can’t help but pause and cry.
You see, I am not just a mother of young children and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, much like the one described in the article.
And what’s more, I’m a lawyer and I’ve worked with the small group of lawyers working to help victims of abuse – on the same church helpline that’s discussed in the article by the PA.
Due to my background, I read the article with a keen eye. I read from the perspective of an abuse survivor. And I also read from the perspective of this specialist group of lawyers and mental health professionals — my friends and former colleagues — who oversee the church’s helpline.
I cannot speak to the details of the case discussed in the Associated Press article. I only know what was reported. But I can talk about my work and my experience.
I can talk about what I know.
And I know that my former colleagues are diligent, competent, compassionate and deeply committed to the work of protecting children from abuse. We were a small team so I know each lawyer personally. We have often reflected on how lucky we were to have been able to use our law degrees to save children and help victims.
To suggest that a hotline lawyer “hide” abuse from law enforcement seems dishonest or inaccurate. In my experience, that just wouldn’t happen. Not only is it illegal, it’s immoral. The very fact that criminal charges have not been brought against anyone from the church is the first indication that the AP article may not tell the whole story.
Standing up for survivors of sexual abuse is extremely important, and so I also know how important it is for all of us to strongly condemn the untold horrors inflicted on too many children, especially the two sisters who subject of Associated Press reporting. . What the girls went through can never be justified.
Child abuse in all its forms is a tragedy. It is a particularly depraved form of torture.
Unfortunately, I know it too well.
I suffered sexual abuse as a small child at the hands of trusted adult family members. Much like the sisters featured in the AP article, a significant part of my childhood involved sexual contact. I was repeatedly raped, beaten, burned, and forced to eat my own human waste. And I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet.
The abuse continued for many years.
I had broken bones that were never medically treated. Burns from cigarettes and stoves that got so badly infected that I lost sensation in those parts of my body for good. A wooden cutting board shattered above my head, shattering part of my skull. Eventually, I was also raped by men outside my family in order to support a family member’s drug addiction.
Although faded, my adult body still bears the physical scars of what I’ve been through.
My heart will always bear scars.
I entered the foster care system at 12 years old. I bounced in and out of the system for the next two years until I was permanently retired at age 15. I lived with loving host families until I graduated from high school. Because I was able to escape my violent childhood, I knew what a gift it was to escape.
I swore that I would always do my best to protect vulnerable populations from exploitation and harm.
When I was 18, I read the account of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. I felt what I describe as a spiritual shock wave from heaven. A confirmation that what I was reading had indeed taken place. This was the beginning of my love for the Church into which I was baptized, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Also, my testimony in the Atonement of Jesus Christ helped me begin to heal. I began to understand that if the atonement covers all my sins, it also covers all the sins committed against me. This healing knowledge acted like a balm to my deep wounds and helped me to understand that those who had hurt me would be held accountable in the eternities.
My suffering has not been forgotten. My pain was no longer irreconcilable. Through the Atonement, I was able to let go.
Over the years, many have asked me how I was able to escape my violent past and become a stable adult who seems “normal.” I credit my absolute dedication to education as a way out of the life I was born into. I put all my effort into attending university, where I had the most transformative experiences of my life. I could leave the small farming community in which I had grown up and pursue my wildest dream: to become a lawyer.
After graduating from Weber State University, I moved to Washington, DC, where I completed my master’s degree at the United States Naval War College and my Juris Doctorate at Georgetown Law. My career has taken me to the Capitol, the White House and the Pentagon.
I spent a summer in law school interning for then-Chief Justice David Nuffer of the U.S. District Court in Utah. I assisted him in two child pornography cases that forever changed my legal understanding of child sexual exploitation.
I have seen firsthand how seriously law enforcement takes child pornography, how fiercely the perpetrators are prosecuted, and how severely these criminals are punished. While the details surrounding the cases are disgusting and heinous, the hope given to survivors is heartening. I left this internship understanding that I could use my lived experience and the platform my law degree gave me to help other survivors begin their own healing journeys.
I was blessed a few years later when the unexpected death of my brother-in-law brought me home to Utah so I could help care for my widowed sister and her young family. I knew that Kirton McConkie was the law firm responsible for helping the church solve the myriad legal issues that arise when administering and managing a global network with millions of members. I felt honored – this is not hyperbole, I was absolutely honored – to be hired to work on the hotline from my position at the law firm.
I was doing exactly what I set out to do: helping victims and survivors of abuse get the help they need and also reporting abuse to law enforcement. It may sound strange, but it’s the truth: The helpline experience has been a testimony-builder for me of the goodness of the church.
Behind the curtain, so to speak, the church was doing all it could to get it right.
This is why the AP article was so difficult for me to read. Those I worked with on the helpline were uniformly advocates for victims of abuse, focused on helping those in need and upholding the law.
It just broke my heart to read the AP account of the disgusting abuse suffered by these innocent girls.
And this particular article was doubly difficult, as it portrayed part of my identity as a survivor of child sexual abuse while misrepresenting another part of my identity as a lawyer who worked on the helpline. from the church.
There should be no stigma in helping victims of abuse. The Helpline is exactly that – a resource designed to help in times of crisis.
To me, victims of sexual abuse and those who help them are heroes – human heroes, of course – just like anyone who strives to build a safer world than the one I was born into. The stories of abuse I’ve read in AP reports are devastating. We must all continue to defend and help the innocent who suffer too much at the hands of the aggressors.
Kate Taylor Lauck is an investigative lawyer specializing in child abuse. She holds a master’s degree in national security strategies from the US Naval War College and graduated with honors from Georgetown Law in 2017.