Last night at close of business, the Church announced some changes to how cases of abuse are handled and to youth interviews to allow those being interviewed to have another adult present in the room if requested, and another adult or parent in an adjacent room. You can read about these changes here and here. Carolyn at BCC does a great recap here, with a recommendation that readers share these updates in an email to ward auxilliary leaders who are not provided copies of the church’s letter or the Handbook 1 revisions (which only go to priesthood leadership, branch presidents and above) so that women and youth are aware. This is a great suggestion that I encourage everyone to do.

In making this change, the church is demonstrating publicly that this clarified approach is more closely aligned with their intentions. The Handbook gives local leaders a lot of leeway to make mistakes as outlined here, and this action is designed to curb some of those worse impulses that we’ve heard stories about:

  • discouraging victims from reporting abuse to law enforcement.
  • discouraging victims from leaving an abusive situation.
  • bishops preventing parents from sitting in on youth interviews.
  • bishops with a skeevy vibe having access to vulnerable victims in an isolated one-to-one setting.

OK, so that last one can still totally happen, but if said vulnerable potential victim gets said skeevy vibe, she or he can request a second adult to be present or in an adjacent room. Critics of this change will note some of the following issues:

  • The most vulnerable among us are always going to be those who are conflict-averse (and therefore less likely to push the matter or second guess their skeevy vibe-o-meter), those who don’t have a support network to rely on to join the interview, or those who are just more naive and trusting and easily impressed by authority. They won’t be helped by a policy that relies on them taking initiative.
  • Pervy leaders who want to abuse others can still key into the vulnerable ones and groom them or convince them to overlook their feelings of reservation.
  • Only male leaders are being told about this change–not the people who are being given the options, and not their direct leaders (in the case of Young Women & Relief Society). So if they have the options, how will they know they have the options? If their leader is the abuser, then that leader would never tell them. There’s no letter being read in sacrament meeting. That seems like a pretty big hole in this plan.

The change seems to be in response to several things: the recent MTC sexual assault scandal, and also Sam Young’s petition to prevent isolated youth interviews which has resulted in threats of disciplinary action from his local leaders. He has been organizing a march to raise awareness and present this petition this weekend during the General Conference coverage. Given the church’s response, clearly there’s more alignment for his cause than his local leaders were acknowledging. Given how little the Church likes marches and other liberal tactics by church members, proceeding with the march may not be the wisest course of action.

What do you think of this new change? Is it:

  • a first step in a genuine attempt to improve local leaders’ ability to help abuse victims and prevent abuses in private interviews with local leaders?
  • a PR stunt to do the minimum possible to appear responsive to a bout of bad publicity?