Criminal record background checks for leaders working with children

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The Mormon Church is accountable under the law to protect children

It is a legal requirement in most countries that parents not leave their children in the care of adults who do not hold a valid and recent criminal record background check (CRB check). Social services are at liberty to initiate investigations or care proceedings against parents who fail to appropriately safeguard their children. Voluntary organisations that fail to comply with such legal requirements and place children in the care of adults who have not been checked can be seen as negligent and complicit in cases where abuse of children has occurred.

But the Mormon Church is pro-family, right?

The Mormon church has spent millions on family-focused advertising campains to counter its notoriously dark and problematic history (including its founder marrying children as young as 14, marrying women and their sisters, marrying both mothers and their daughters and also marrying women with living husbands). Ironically, its family-centric PR messaging often appeals to and draws converts from broken homes who desperately want the happy families portrayed in the Mormon advertising and who may lack any baseline from which to evaluate the appropriateness of Mormon policies and practices with regards to children and families.

Put your money where your mouth is...

It is of paramount importance to ensure that the Mormon church comply with the minimum legal standards with regards to safeguarding children and to re-evaluate the appropriateness of its policies and practices to be in line with the minimum standards of behaviour that one would find at a local schools, hospitals or other Christian churches.

The Mormon church has the financial resources to fully comply with the legal requirements on child protection on a global basis, with the following recommendations also allowing substantial cost-savings in closing down certain internal functions and re-allocating other functions away from its untrained, over-extended, lay clergy towards government bodies, fully-trained professionals and of course to the parents or carers who hold parental responsibility for the healthy development of their children and youth.

The proposals for change

1) CRB Checks for all adults working with youth and children.

2) Cessation of all interviews conducted with children and youth one-on-one behind closed doors.

3) Cessation of interrogating and shaming youth regarding their sexuality, especially via mandatory, semi-annual 'worthiness interviews' in which youth may feel pressured to answer questions or enter into discussions which make them feel uncomfortable and where the age differential and power relations leave them unable to 'say no' and too embarrassed and afraid to report the incident to others.

4) Immediately revoke the CRB check of any adult found to have been involved in any interrogation of minors regarding their sexuality and/or having engaged in explicit discussions of their sexuality, especially if these discussions were in secret, initiated or enforced by way of their position of authority within the church.

5) Disbanding the church's 'Abuse Hotline' designed to enable untrained volunteers to act as the first port of call for the reporting and resolution of cases of sexual abuse and disbanding LDS Family Services which accepts referrals to address issues which should have been reported to the police, social services and fully-trained, independent professionals unaffiliated with the church. Disclosure of all data regarding allegations of abuse having been reported to, discussed with or resolved by church leaders, volunteers, LDS Abuse Hotline or LDS Family Services to be transferred in its entirety to the public authorities for processing prior to the CRB checks being undertaken.

6) The Mormon church and its leaders to refrain from any involvement in investigations of sexual abuse other than to report these immediately to social services and the police and then to fully cooperate in these investigations by way of full disclosure and to not otherwise interfere with the investigations or witnesses to the same - either by way of a) eliciting information from either party prior to them filing witness statements or coaching them in their statements, b) providing any parties access to free legal representation via Church Legal Department or privately funding their solicitors or c) threatening or intimidating witnesses or victims via church disciplinary councils, BYU Honour Code investigations, etc.

7) Retract and revise all church manuals and policy documents directing adults and youth to go to their church leaders in the first instance INSTEAD OF the police or social services to report cases of abuse. These materials to be replaced by clear instructions that members should report any cases of abuse to the police, social services and independent, trained professionals in line with local laws.

Where do you stand with regards to Child Protection?

Whilst it is anticipated that there would be a near consensus on the issue of securing CRB checks for all leaders and volunteers working with youth (point 1 above), it is anticipated that there may be a range of opinion as to the conduct that would be required to maintain a CRB check which may also vary by country and legal system.

Points 2-7 above are indicative of church policies and practices which might reasonably be expected to be changed to respect the personal boundaries of the children in their care and enable CRB-checks to be meaningful and ensure a standard of behaviour consistent with child safeguarding. The legal requirements may vary from country to country, with a comparative international legal study being outside the scope of this petition.

As CRB checks scan publicly available data held by the police and social services, these checks only become meaningful and reliable safeguards for children upon the church's internal reporting system being abolished - with the information reported to and resolved by the appropriate public authorities.

Removing double-standards

By way of comparison, if a local school began hiring teachers without doing criminal background checks and thereby allowing people with a criminal background or history of child abuse to teach classes and have access to children, there would be a public outcry and the school would be shut down until the appropriate safeguards were be put in place. The head teacher would be sacked, all teachers vetted, the ones with an adverse history removed from the teaching staff, training and standards implemented prior to the school re-opening.

If a teacher at a local school used his or her position of authority to routinely question teenagers about their sexuality, demand to know and discuss intimate details of the same, and then proceed to publicly shame children in front of their classmate by curtailing their participation or treating them differently based on their sexual development and behaviour, they would be immediately removed from their post, may lose their teaching credentials and be unable to ever work with children in the future.

It only stands to logic that similar boundaries be respected by a church which claims to have much higher moral standards than those outside of the church. In fact, it is the basic minimum standards which we find being consistently violated on a fairly routine basis, often without parental knowledge or consent.

Many Mormon parents are converts who might presume that similar standards of behaviour exist within the Mormon church as in their local school and may have no idea of the extent of sexual interrogation, shaming or voyeuristic discussions in which irrelevant explicit details are elicited by a person in a position of authority. There are no consent forms requested of parents informing them of the risks of their children being in the care of adults who have not been CRB checked or of the behaviour they can likely expect or the potential consequences for their children.

Time to set things right

Whether or not you are Mormon, I would invite your signature on this petition as a matter of public interest. You will likely have friends who are Mormon or possibly your children have friends who are Mormon. You may likely be invited by Mormon missionaries to attend their church and for your children to attend Mormon activities. All that is required for such practices to persist and for children to by harmed is for others to standing silently in complicity.

If you are Mormon, then it may be difficult for you to see the situation as objectively as if you were an outsider. The presumption of the sanctity of Mormon institutions, the manner in which lay clergy are called (presumably by God himself), etc may cloud our vision and render us blind to the most obvious of problems, which would be glaringly obvious if these same behaviours were exhibited by another church or at a neighbourhood school.

If we take a stand together, there is nothing we can't accomplish.



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