“Abuse (Help for the Victim),” Counseling Resources (2020).
“Abuse (Help for the Victim),” Counseling Resources.
Bishops, branch presidents, and stake presidents should immediately call the Church’s ecclesiastical help line each time they learn of abuse. This resource provides assistance in helping victims and in meeting reporting requirements. Go to Help Line Numbers for the help line number and more information.
No Church leader should ever dismiss a report of abuse or counsel an individual not to report criminal activity.
If other members learn of abuse, they should immediately contact legal authorities. They should also counsel with their bishop or stake president who will call the abuse help line for guidance in helping victims and meeting reporting requirements.
Learn how and when you should report abuse. Stake presidents and bishops should immediately call the help line for guidance if one is available in their country. In countries that do not have a help line, a bishop who learns of abuse should contact his stake president. He will seek guidance from the area legal counsel at the area office (see General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (2020), 184.108.40.206, ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Other members should comply with any legal reporting obligations and counsel with their bishops.
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. The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form and that those who abuse are accountable before God. Whether or not someone is convicted of abuse, offenders are subject to Church discipline and could lose their membership in the Church (see Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2).
The first responsibilities of the Church in abuse cases are 1) to help, in a kind and sensitive way, those who have been abused and 2) to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse. While some types of abuse may cause physical harm, all forms of abuse affect the mind and spirit. Abuse often destroys faith and can cause confusion, doubt, mistrust, guilt, and fear in the victim. See “Recognizing Patterns of Abuse” and “What are signs that someone is being abused?”
Help the victim understand that he or she is not responsible for the abuser’s actions and is not expected to endure abusive behavior.
Be aware that abusers can be cunning, manipulative, and deceitful, so their version of the events may differ from that of the victim. In all cases, consider foremost the safety and protection of the victim.
Church leaders are neither expected nor encouraged to diagnose or provide treatment to those struggling with mental-health issues related to abuse. If needed, encourage the person to consider seeking professional help. Family Services (where available) is able to provide consultation and offer information to leaders about resources in their communities.
As you read the following information, seek inspiration in adapting these suggestions to the victim’s situation, which may change if the victim is a spouse, child, elderly parent, or disabled person.
Helping the victim feel heard and understood may be just as important as any counsel you can give. As you talk with victims, seek to show love and empathy as the Savior would. Discussing abuse requires a lot of courage on the part of the victim, and he or she may need reassurance and comfort.
Remain calm and be willing to take time to listen to the victim’s fears, doubts, and concerns. Prayerfully consider asking questions like these in a kind and sensitive manner to help you better understand the victim’s situation and discern her or his needs. Be sure to allow the victim to describe the situation in his or her own words rather than interrogating him or her.
What is happening?
How safe do you feel?
How safe are others around you?
Who else have you talked to about this (such as family, parents, Church leaders, or civil authorities)?
What are your immediate needs?
Is there anything else about this abuse that I should know?
Victims of abuse may seek help from Church leaders for spiritual healing. Women and youth may feel more comfortable meeting with the bishop or other leaders if they have a friend, parent, or trusted Church leader present. Ensure that the victim knows she or he can have a support person present.
As you provide help or support to the victim, consider the following suggestions. Remember to be empathetic and loving in your suggestions.
Commend him or her for using courage to share about the abuse.
Reassure the victim that he or she has no need to repent for being a victim of abuse.
Encourage the person to seek a priesthood blessing.
Be sensitive to the victim’s own healing process, which may take significant time. Do not try to rush or dictate the process.
Allow the victim to work through his or her own feelings and challenges related to the abuse before counseling the person about forgiving the offender.
Help the person feel safe.
See the article “How do I stay safe?” for more information.
Encourage the victim to reach out to others she or he trusts for help and support, including counseling professionals as needed.
Abuse affects family members as well as the individual. Determine the impact on the individual’s spouse or family and address those issues. Just as you show love and concern for the victim, make sure to show love and concern for family members who may be struggling or in pain.
Consider accessing community resources or professional help for family members who may need counseling or support.
Provide continuing support to the victim’s family.
If the abused individual gives you permission to discuss the situation with others, work under the bishop’s direction to identify ward leaders or other trusted individuals who can provide continuing support, guidance, and assistance. (See the “Preventing and Responding to Abuse” instruction outline for more information.)
Discuss with the bishop how to support the individual or family and how to respond in positive ways to the situation.
Help the victim find and contact available resources or professional help. See “Should I get professional help?”
Resources may include shelters, counselors, medical services, legal services, and other support.
Depending on the severity of the situation and other considerations, the person may need to consider involving civil authorities or obtaining legal protection.
Be prayerful and sensitive about the victim’s needs and about who may be assigned as ministering sisters and brothers. Consider including the victim in the decision if appropriate. Some victims may be more comfortable with a ministering couple rather than two ministering brothers.
Consider working with the bishop to spend time in ward council or another meeting to train leaders on preventing and responding to abuse.
“Preventing and Responding to Abuse” resource document