Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
258:  Taking the Mormons to Court:  Defending Sexual Abuse Victims against the LDS Church: Tim Kosnoff

258: Taking the Mormons to Court: Defending Sexual Abuse Victims against the LDS Church: Tim Kosnoff

Tim Kosnoff is a US attorney who has spent the last two decades representing victims of sexual abuse.   His introduction to the  LDS Church and their lawyers was when he represented Jeremiah Scott who was sexually abused by a serial paedophile Frank Curtis.  His work, in this case, appears in Lisa Davis’ legal thriller, ‘The Sins of Brother Curtis.’ 

This case has lead to a practice in which he has come to represent over 150 Mormon sexual abuse victims bringing him face to face with the Mormon law machine time and time again.

Tim joins me to discuss his experiences as a representative and advocate for sexual abuse victims against the LDS Church.



  1. Pingback: How LDS Policies Protect Sex Abuse Perpetrators – Mormons Speak

  2. Kim Dyer

    Church leaders could participate and money could change hands behind scenes. Ther is a lot of money in their coffers. It’s the same with Gov. worked for a lawyer in the mob. The biggest cases like that.. count in it,

    1. Charly

      Fifteen years ago, through a series of events, my fourteen year old daughter revealed that her father (my ex) had repeatedly raped her as a child while she was visiting him. My world was shattered. I did not even consider reporting it to my bishop first. I contacted the police and within one week, this pathetic excuse for a human was incarcerated. There were many painful court moments; however, he is now serving a very long sentence. I agree with Deb that the upsetting and tragic aftermath is horrid. My daughter as an adult is alcoholic and bulimic. She has two children her ex husband largely raises, because she cannot parent. My relationship with her is very strained, as she was groomed to not tell me anything from a young age. I quit attending church six months ago. Every time I walked in an LDS building became a PTSD moment. I am so glad I did not allow the church to “handle” this.

      1. Justme

        I’m so sorry for your daughter. It is a good thing you went to the police. I think most of these issues with the church handling any and all abuse is when it is someone in a church position and it happened because of attending a church function. Not a family situation. I could be wrong though. But like you, when I walk into the church I have instant anxiety.

    2. Wondering Wanderer

      Sadly, Mr. Kosnoff, your characterization of how the Mormon church handles member predators with kid gloves, and how it totally fails to address the needs of young innocent member victims, is correct. Because of the church’s great wealth, its hierarchal structure and patriarchal authority, its children having no voice, and its women having no authority, the leaders do whatever they do simply because they can. As for absolution of pedophiles, the church could forgive them, but also report them to police and ban them. You can’t blame a rattlesnake for being a rattlesnake, but that doesn’t mean you have to let him loose in your house. There remains the need to warn others of the danger and to put the snake in a cage.

      I do have a little bone to pick with the media and lawyers regarding their role in these tragedies. What I have to say is not in any way a defense of the Mormon church. It is to point out that any inaccuracies published by the media, and any misleading statements made by lawyers diminish their credibility. They need to be especially careful about being accurate and telling the whole truth, because from the get go, they are seen as people who are eager to publicize, sensationalize, and profit from, the suffering and pain of others.

      First, we have to understand that reporting is a complicated and difficult matter. How do you expose and prosecute predators without further damaging young victims? The sexual abuse of children creates tremendous fear, guilt, and shame for everyone involved. The first reaction of young victims and their loved ones, offenders and their loved ones, the church and its leaders, are to avoid public exposure, to prevent further damage, to go into denial, to hide behind a wall of secrecy and silence.

      Second, mandatory reporting laws can be complicated. I don’t know how things stand right now, but as of 2015, there were only twenty-eight states that listed clergy as mandatory reporters of child abuse. Even when there are mandatory reporting laws, there can be exceptions to those laws. And yet, the media and lawyers have had a common mantra of outrage, “They didn’t report it to police! They didn’t report it to police!”

      Third, always reporting without regard to the laws of the jurisdiction can sometimes have undesired consequences. Oregon, like some other states, has laws protecting the confidentiality of a person’s communications with clergy, attorneys, psychiatrists, or psychologists. Years ago in Oregon a man told his Mormon bishop, who was also his friend, that he had sex with his two teenage step-daughters. The friend/bishop reported this to police and testified against the man in court. As a result, the man was convicted of rape. The prosecutor had claimed that the father confided in the bishop as a friend, not as his clergyman, but upon appeal to a higher court, the conviction was reversed. The man walked free because the bishop’s testimony should not have been allowed.

      Fourth, in some states, privileged communications are not narrowly defined as only the confessions of a penitent, but can include any conversations intended to be private, between certain designated mandatory reporters and the people they counsel. So, information given by a victim, and a friend or a relative of a victim could also be classified as privileged.

      Fifth, there can be clerical errors involved. If a membership record that should be flagged is not flagged, or if the ward clerk does not notice it or bring it to the bishops’s attention, then no one at all in a new ward would know a pedophile has moved in. In any case, this system absolutely does not work toward the protection of children.

      One more clarification. The media and lawyers have often emphasized the priesthood offices of Mormon pedophiles. Most people would think they are equivalent to those of the Catholic Church. Boys of 12 hold the priesthood in the Mormon church. They can be a Priest at age 16, and most older men are High Priests. Local clergy positions are unpaid and temporary, and the Mormon church does not routinely arrange for or pay for the relocation of its pedophiles the way the Catholic church does with its pedophile priests who are permanent employees and are financially supported by the Catholic church. If word leaks out in a Mormon ward about a predator, it is the offender himself who is likely to choose to flee the area rather than risk being reported to police. If his secret remains safe with the bishop in his current ward, then he has no need to leave.

  3. Tracy Austin

    One of THE best podcasts I have ever listened to and one of the most important. Tim, you nailed Mormonism so very well. Tim, I believe you on all accounts. I wish we could clone you, we need you and your skills. I am sorry you have been a sole warrior and your work has been largely invisible to the LDS community. Thank you for your service to LDS children and their families who are the true innocents in all of this. I am a modern Mormon woman and yes, there is an awakening. However, the majority are still conditioned to follow leaders and protect the church. It is a human condition to not want to go there and have your comfortable place disrupted. We are a people who enjoy being comfortably numb. We are at a point when people like me will leave or try to stay to make a difference, but I’m still trying to determine how I can make a difference or if I am up for the hassle that will inevitably come. This podcast reminds me that there is so much good work still to be done. Thank you. Enjoy your retirement. I hope there are other young noble lawyers who feel called to this noble act.

    1. Kim Dyer

      I brought up possibility as political climate in judicial system is extremely corrupt and the church pretty much untouchable. Having worked in law, having served a legislative internship in grad school, having been recruited into the private lobby, absolutely yes a lawsuit like this might happen but it’s more likely that the only way to church will be held accountable is if some money changes hands behind the scenes I am I have absolutely no question that the systems are real. Are used to work in a warm a psychologist office and I was a Mormon. Alleging something might be going on is completely different and than libel or slander idiot.

  4. Kim Dyer

    I can’t post a full response. What I am saying is with the current political climate and an extremely corrupt judicial system that’s the only way I see the church paying out settlements. My experience having worked in law is all too often there is no justice. I don’t know about what state you’re from but here in Arizona the courts are owned by organize crime as are the jail systems. It’s abundantly corrupt I believe throughout the entire country because of the CIA amassing tons of drugs being brought into our country daily. And the money changing behind the scenes basically has the power to appoint and own every magistrate and control every bar association. Alleging something is not libel or slander. Do some research.

  5. Collette Larsen

    This was difficult and disturbing to listen to…and very important. Thank you Gina and Tim for bringing the atrocities to light. That the church I LOVED and dedicated my life to would go to such lengths to protect it’s “good name” while allowing victims (children!) to suffer enrages and saddens me. If there is a God, may he/she help us all.

  6. Anon

    I think the tides are already beginning to turn.
    In our case our daughter reported we were being abusive to our YW presidency leaders.

    We believe we weren’t, but there was a member in the YW presidency that was very insistent that we be reported to social workers.
    Bishop asked the Stake president for advice and Stake president instructed to call the hotline. Laywer’s advised the bishop that it was best to report us to the social workers. Bishop called us for an interview and said that the he had been advised to report us to the social workers. We told them to go right ahead, do what he felt he needed to do.

    In the end the Bishop didn’t report us to the social workers, even though we were looking forward to talking to them. I suppose he trusted us that we were being good parents and that our daughter was taking advantage of the situation.

    Children know how to play the system, and they can report us being abusive to school teachers and that lands a social worker visit to your home and a file is open on your case. This had already happened to us twice.

    Turns out our child was misbehaving and was fearful of us getting overly angry.
    Now this incident had nothing to do with sexual abuse, let me be clear about that, but was more related to the possibility of a spanking which had ceased for several years ago. Yup, children don’t like being spanked, who knew, and your children will report you to the schools and school teachers have an obligation of sending in social workers.

    Social workers will fearlessly interfere in family dynamics and prevent you from raising your children the way you want to. They will grant kids all kids of foster care protection if they believe that the child is in any type of danger.

    In our case, you look back and think well I guess it’s a good thing for some cases, but there can also be misuse of the system where you are no longer in a position to educate your young teenagers. More could be said but I will leave it at that. Needless to say its sad to have your child report you as abusive, and it’s sadder when other people will side with the child because God only knows how many times in the past it has been the other way around.

    When things like that happens, its hard to want to keep going to church and face people who deem you as unrighteous parents.

  7. clh

    I admire your heart and fortitude, Tim. I feel the anger building in me. I just ordered The Sins of Brother Curtis and also this article online by The NY Times that said the settlement in the Jeremiah Scott case paid by the Church was $3M.

  8. Jeremy Valentiner

    Thanks for this episode Ms. Colvin! This was so hard to listen to, so sad, but this is the difficult reporting that needs to be done to hold an institution accountable. Thank you!

  9. Gina & Tim, Thank you for this broadcast! I’ve sent my friends this podcast link, the producers of the new “Church & State” (it has won winner status in industry organizations) documentary, a suggestion to consider this issue for their next documentary. Exposure of these practices and legal pursuit are our only hope to change this for the innocent children. Why do I care so much? I deeply regret NOT taking action when a current Bishop raped my daughter. I went to his Stake President. The SP was an intimidating lawyer. He threatened me with excommunication if I told anyone! The Bishop admitted it, but was left in as a Bishop 3 more years. No discipline, pure coverup. I did get my daughter help with a therapist and told her. I forced the Bishop to meet with her. She reported him to the state and they pulled his Foster Parent License! I agree with you that the Church doesn’t care about the victims, only protecting the status quo.

    1. LaDeeDa

      wait. your Bishop RAPED your daughter? And there was no action taken? He wasn’t removed, released, reported, disfellowshipped, excommunicated?? He remained a member in full standing?!! How is that possible? It is absolutely appalling. People are getting excommunicated for posting their strong opinions on FB, but this guy had sexual contact with your daughter? Are we to assume she was a minor child at the time of the abuse? My understanding there is a 4 year statute of limitations beyond the child’s 18th birthday. If it is within that timeframe, you can still bring the case up. Or at least call the police and submit a report for the record. And call the guys wife. And the area authority, and freaking first presidency, and who cares if they threaten you with excommunication? It is totally irresponsible to leave someone capable of rape unchecked in our communities. What if this guy is in my neighborhood or in my ward or is continuing to harm someone? I wonder if that attorney/stake president could be liable for obstruction of justice. Just amazing.
      I certainly wish your daughter abundant healing and peace.

  10. Eric

    John Dehlin interviewed Natasha Helfer Parker for his Mormon stories podcast. She said she stopped paying tithing when the church paid hush money to the family of a sex abuse victim. I personally do not care if it’s paid out of tithing or the $32+ billion dollars of investments. It’s all the same pot of money.

    The way the church treats sexual predators is almost like they’ve had their calling and election made sure. It’s as if they’re telling the victim and their families, “God wanted your child to be molested. You are so blessed to be chosen. You will receive blessings beyond measure.” It’s disgusting

  11. Lloyd

    Amazing, and horrifying podcast. Very grateful for all you’ve done, Tim, and for you, Gina, bringing these things to light through the interview with Tim. One question: At one point Tim mentioned that the church lawyers or leaders use the same tactics over and over, so much that he can tell a new potential client what has happened in each step they’ve been through even before they explain it to him. You (Gina) asked him to detail those steps at one point, but he got sort of derailed on another topic. I’d love to see an outline of those “steps” they use, can we get him to provide those?

  12. Charly

    Fifteen years ago, through a series of events, my fourteen year old daughter revealed that her father (my ex) had repeatedly raped her as a child while she was visiting him. My world was shattered. I did not even consider reporting it to my bishop first. I contacted the police and within one week, this pathetic excuse for a human was incarcerated. There were many painful court moments; however, he is now serving a very long sentence. I agree with Deb that the upsetting and tragic aftermath is horrid. My daughter as an adult is alcoholic and bulimic. She has two children her ex husband largely raises, because she cannot parent. My relationship with her is very strained, as she was groomed to not tell me anything from a young age. The other children in our family have been profoundly affected by the fallout. I quit attending church six months ago. Every moment in an LDS building became a PTSD episode. I am so glad I did not allow the church to “handle” this.

  13. Wondering Wanderer

    Regarding the church’s absolution of pedophiles:
    My view is that maybe you can’t blame a rattlesnake for being a rattlesnake, but that doesn’t mean you have to turn one loose in your house. You would need to warn others of the danger, and you would need to put that rattlesnake in a cage.

    Regarding the reporting of child molestation to police:
    Making a report may be as simple as dialing a phone number, but the results are not guaranteed to bring justice.
    Although Oregon has mandatory reporting laws, it also has laws protecting the confidentiality of a person’s communications with clergy, attorneys, psychiatrists, and psychologists. In 1985, after being indicted for rape, a Mormon man told his marriage counselor, who was also a Mormon Stake President, that he had sex with his teenage step-daughter. The marriage counselor/Stake Pres. testified to that in court, and as a result, the man was convicted of rape. In 1987, an Appeals Court reversed the conviction, and called for a new trial. The court ruled that the confession was a privileged communication and should not have been allowed. (State of Oregon v. John Lee Cox)
    As of 2015, there were only 28 states that listed clergy as mandatory reporters of child abuse. Even the states with mandatory reporting laws can have exceptions to those laws.

    Regarding laws of confidentiality:
    When a conversation has been ruled as a privileged communication, it is my understanding that the counselor is bound to confidentiality even beyond the death of the person he counseled, and only the person who is entitled to confidentiality can break it.

    Regarding the desire for secrecy:
    Many clergy are reluctant to go against the wishes of a victim or his adult loved ones when they do not wantt to report to police. Sexual abuse of children can create deep feelings of fear, embarrassment, guilt, and shame for everyone involved . . . for the victims and their families, the offenders and their families, the church or institution involved and its leaders. For their own protection, everyone wants to hide behind a wall of denial and secrecy and silence. No one but a young victim and his closest loved ones can fully understand how devastating it is to deal with the shock, heartache, anger, and bewilderment that child sexual molestation causes. It is hard to make decisions within that cloud of emotions and with little knowledge about or experience with, such a thing. Will reporting be worth it, and result in any kind of justice? How can predators be exposed, prosecuted, stopped without further damaging the child? Can the loved ones really trust the police, a lawyer, a social worker, or the courts to do what is truly in the best interest of their child?

  14. Pingback: MHH35: Mormon Sexual Trauma Dumpster Fire with Lesley Butterfield – Mormon Happy Hour Podcast

  15. Pingback: Serving Up Children to Paedophiles: The LDS Church and the West Virginia Michael Jensen Sex Abuse Case: Tom and Juliette | A Thoughtful Faith

  16. Pingback: Sorting Humanity and Divinity Into Neat Little Piles – THE SOCIAL SCIENCE SAINT

  17. Pingback: Moana – A Parable of Christ – Part 8 | OilStories: Adventures In Living

  18. Pingback: 2018 OSF Donors Thank You Letter – Open Stories Foundation

  19. It’s valuable to discuss these issues. And any policy that doesn’t protect kids is flat out wrong.

    However, Kosnoff’s comments have a number of issues.

    First, he completely misstates the Church’s current position on abuse, whether offenders can hold callings with children, whether leaders should report abuse to legal authorities, and how the atonement of Christ fits into it.

    The actual position is right here on the Church’s website for anyone to read.

    It might be true that the policy was different 50 years ago. Or, more likely, not defined at all. It’s no stretch at all to imagine people who believe in the atonement of Christ to get confused about forgiveness and assume that means you need to “forget.” And, therefore, act as if offenders never had an issue and place them in positions that put potential victims at high risk. It’s a common mistake believers in ALL Christian churches make.

    But that is not the Church’s policy. Just watch the video on that site. Read the First Presidency letter linked to from that site.

    Second, he mentions the “soup to nuts” Handbook, but then makes insinuations about what it says. Here’s what the section on abuse says. This is the 2010 version.



    The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form. Those who abuse or are cruel to their spouses, children, other family members, or anyone else violate the laws of God and man. All members, especially parents and leaders, are encouraged to be alert and diligent and do all they can to protect children and others against abuse and neglect.

    Members who have abused others are subject to Church discipline. They should not be given Church callings and may not have a temple recommend until they have repented and all Church discipline has been resolved.”

    A person whose membership record is annotated for having abused a child sexually or physically must not be given any calling or assignment involving children or youth. Also, careful consideration should be given to other assignments, such as home teaching or visiting teaching. These restrictions should remain in place until the First Presidency authorizes removal of the annotation (see 6.13.4 for information about annotations).

    In instances of abuse, the first responsibility of the Church is to help those who have been abused and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse. Victims of sexual abuse (including rape) often suffer serious trauma and feelings of guilt.

    Victims of the evil acts of others are not guilty of sin. Church leaders should be sensitive to such victims and give caring attention to help them overcome the destructive effects of abuse.

    Stake presidents and bishops make every effort to counsel those who have been involved in abuse. These leaders may refer to the booklet “Responding to Abuse: Helps for Ecclesiastical Leaders” and the pamphlets “Preventing and Responding to Spouse Abuse” and “Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse.” The DVD “Protect the Child: Responding to Child Abuse” also outlines the
    responsibilities of leaders and other members in preventing and responding to child abuse. All ward councils are asked to view this DVD and discuss it according to the guide on the back of the DVD case.

    In addition to the inspired help of Church leaders, members may need professional counseling. In the United States and Canada, stake presidents and bishops may contact LDS Family Services to identify resources to provide such counseling in harmony with gospel principles. Outside the United States and
    Canada, stake presidents may contact the Area Presidency for guidance. If the transgressor is an adult who has committed a sexual transgression against a child, the behavior may be very deep-seated and the process of repentance and reformation may be very prolonged.

    In the United States and Canada, the Church has established a help line to assist stake presidents and bishops in cases of abuse. These leaders should call the help line if they:

    Become aware of physical or sexual abuse involving Church members.

    Believe that a person may have been abused or is at risk of being abused.

    Become aware of the viewing, purchasing, or distributing of child pornography.

    When calling the help line, leaders will be able to consult with professional counselors and legal specialists who can help answer questions and formulate steps to take. A bishop should also notify his stake president of instances of abuse.

    In countries that do not have a help line, a bishop who learns of abuse should contact his stake president, who will seek guidance from the Area Presidency.

    If confidential information indicates that a member’s abusive activities have violated applicable law, the bishop or stake president should urge the member to report these activities to the appropriate government authorities. Leaders can obtain information about local reporting requirements through the help line. Where reporting is required by law, the leader encourages the member to
    secure qualified legal advice.

    To avoid implicating the Church in legal matters to which it is not a party, Church leaders should avoid testifying in civil or criminal cases or other proceedings involving abuse. For specific guidelines, see 17.1.26.


    Third, he presents a 1999 document that he says goes to bishops, although we don’t know if it’s actually ever been used, the extent it may have been used, or if it’s current. He then claims this tells you everything that happens on the helpline. But the questions don’t specify everything the person on the hotline asks the local leader. It specifies only some of the information the Bishop needs to provide to those on the helpline. Some of the information is used to determine the Church’s liability. But the hotline is for far more. The hotline is used to help the Bishop know how to proceed to help the alleged victim and protect the ward.

    It’s also not extraordinary to suggest to someone who has be accused of committing abuse that he may want to get a lawyer. That’s part of the Miranda Warning. That advice is given thousands of times every day by cops all over the nation.

    The protocols of what local leaders are supposed to do to help victims are given in the discussion with the experts on the hotline and in the training resources stated.

    Fourth, he says the hotline numbers go directly to the Church’s law firm. They do not. They go to the Church. I just verified it again.

    Fifth, at minute 1:01 and 1:02 he veers into conspiracy theory, insinuating that the Church has a long-term plan, a political program that is “not a plan that’s consistent with democratic ideals.” Really? The Mormons are gunning to take over the government? I think he missed the writings of Ezra Taft Benson.

    The subject of abuse is a critically important subject. If the Church has given any cover to predators or put victims in high risk situations, then it should be held to account. It’s simply not acceptable.

    Kosnoff provides an important service. And it’s important to hear him. And this was an interesting interview. But he has not been accurate in all of his statements here.

    That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be listened to. Or that all of his claims are false. He’s a lawyer whose job has been to advance a certain argument on behalf of his clients. And it’s clear he’s good at his job. But it’s also clear that there’s more to it than what’s been presented here. If someone wants a full picture of what’s happening with how the Church deals with abuse, they’re going to have to get more information somewhere else.

    1. Gina Colvin

      The church’s public position on abuse doesn’t match their private activities in covering up that abuse. That’s the point. What they say doesn’t match what happens in reality. Take Whitney Clayton’s statement to ABC News about the church’s policy on protections for children, that cannot be born out in terms or a church ward, systemic change. There’s simply no evidence for what he’s suggesting are the protocols.

      The LDS Church’s practice is to find out if it has liability and then use their resources to defend. I have yet to speak to a sexual abuse victim that has had good pastoral and psychological care by the LDS Church.

      1. The key question that has not been asked yet in all of this is to identify how many reports are made to the local leaders and how many calls are made to the hotline each year. And of those, how many were handled in an appropriate way and helpful way.

        Kosnoff said he’s represented 150 people who sued the Church over the last, was it 20 years? We don’t know the merits of each of their cases. But let’s say they were all valid, and church leaders, local or general, made big mistakes.

        Is that 150 cases over 15-20 years out of 150 cases total reported?

        Is it 150 cases out of 10,000 reported? 100,000? 300,000? More?

        Is it 100% of cases, 50%, 1%, a fraction of a percent? A fraction of a fraction?

        This context so far has not been provided. We can say there certainly seems to be some outrageous and heartbreaking cases. But it’s quite possible that these represent a very tiny percentage of all the abuse that’s reported. Even a tiny number of the total would be something the Church would want to work on and fix because it shouldn’t happen to anyone.

        But there’s a big difference between a fraction of a fraction and the default. I haven’t seen any information here that gives this context and supports the claim that it’s rampant and the modus operandi of the Church.

        1. Gina Colvin

          If you are curious you should email him with your questions. His contact details are on the web. Also, read the book ‘The sins of Brother Curtis’. That gives in some detail how Tim works. Also, he was a lead attorney in the West Virginia Case. Some of the court filings are also online. He sounds pretty cavalier but he’s a well-respected veteran when it comes to litigating the LDS Church. He’s no slouch. But, if you need data ask him. He may not have the time to answer. He currently has over 300 sexual abuse victims of the BSA in a case that’s building.

  20. I guess one last thing. Kosnoff makes it seems like the law firm that works for the Church is the Death Star. However, at the same time he said he never lost a case.

    If they were so rough, how is it that he “won” all his cases?

    The fact is that the vast majority of civil and criminal cases never make it to trial. They’re settled. Some deal is arranged between the parties. I think the percentage is above 90%.

    Again, that doesn’t excuse an alleged bad behavior that may have occurred in any of these instances. However, we shouldn’t assume that settling cases is anything but the norm.

  21. Pingback: Protect Every Child Hike At Harper’s Ferry – Protect All Children

  22. Pingback: REAL GONE (PostMormon parody) | OilStories: Adventures In Living

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *