In a continuing effort to counsel leaders on how to prevent, identify and respond to abuse, the First Presidency announced changes on March 26 detailing the Church actions “to protect God’s children.”
The First Presidency sent a letter and resource document — which includes an updated version of guidelines first issued in 2008 — to Church leaders in the United States and Canada.
“To help ensure the safety and protection of children, youth and adults, we ask that all priesthood and auxiliary leaders become familiar with existing Church policies and guidelines on preventing and responding to abuse,” stated the letter, signed by President Russell M. Nelson, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring.
The letter noted that in 2008, the First Presidency encouraged Church leaders to reach out in love to assist those who were suffering from abuse. “This global issue continues to be of great concern to us today. Our hearts and prayers go out to all who are affected by this serious problem.”
The changes detail how bishops and stake presidencies may conduct interviews with women and children and how they counsel victims of abuse and sexual abuse.
The revised statement on policies and guidelines specifies that children, youth and women now may invite an adult to join them in what traditionally have been personal interviews.
The First Presidency also clarified to members of bishoprics and stake presidencies how they should respond to reports of sexual abuse and how to minister in those situations. Church leaders are to rely on Church doctrine when addressing abuse and should never disregard a report of abuse or encourage members to remain in an abusive situation.
“The Lord condemns abusive behavior in any form — including neglect and physical, sexual, or verbal abuse,” according to a document that summarizes current Church policies and guidelines on abuse. “Most abuse violates the civil laws of society.”
Since 1995, the Church has operated a free and confidential abuse help line, available for bishops and stake presidents to call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, when addressing situations involving any type of abuse.
Abuse is the mistreatment or neglect of others (such as a child or spouse, the elderly, or the disabled) in a way that causes physical, emotional, or sexual harm, according to the guidelines document.
“Abuse causes confusion, doubt, mistrust, and fear in the victims and sometimes inflicts physical injury. Most, but not all, allegations of abuse are true, and should be taken seriously and handled with great care. Abuse tends to become more severe over time.”
The doctrine of the Church commits all leaders and members to protect each individual, according to the guidelines document. “Abuse in any form is sinful, tragic, and in total opposition to the teachings of the Savior. The Savior extends succor, healing, and strength to victims of abuse because of His infinite and eternal Atonement. Those who commit abuse in any way are accountable to God.”