Sexually abused woman loses bid to sue Mormons

The Sydney Morning Herald/November 27, 2008

A woman has lost her bid to sue the Mormon church after it allegedly failed to report to police that she had been sexually abused.

The woman, 36, who cannot be identified but was referred to in court as SDW, claimed that a Queensland chapter of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints knew that she had been abused by her stepfather, a church elder who ran a youth group, between November 1986 and October 1989 when she was a teenager.

During a Supreme Court hearing earlier this month, the woman claimed the church had breached its duty of care to her and sought damages for serious psychiatric problems she had developed as a result of the abuse.

However Justice Carolyn Simpson today denied the woman the chance to sue as the statute of limitations for commencing court action had expired.

The court had heard that, when she was aged about 16, the woman had told her mother that her stepfather had touched her and had sex with her.

Her mother reported it to the bishop of the church, who was also a police officer, and the church conducted a disciplinary tribunal, known as a "church court", which ruled the man be excommunicated.

From then, her stepfather stopped working at the church, no longer wore his temple garments and ceased taking the sacrament. Neither the church or any of its members took any further action.

The family moved to Wagga Wagga in 1989 where the sexual assaults allegedly continued.

However the woman did not report them to police until 1999.

Her stepfather was charged for the Queensland offences and sentenced in 2001 to a maximum of seven years' jail.

He was also charged for the NSW offences, but the case did not proceed as the woman was unwilling to give evidence against him after intimidating and threatening approaches were made to her by his daughter.

The woman had told the hearing that she had been unaware that members of the church knew of the abuse until 2004.

Justice Simpson ruled that a provision allowing plaintiffs to commence legal action up to one year after knowledge of pertinent facts supporting their case could therefore not be granted.

She also declined to use her discretion in this case as she believed it to be difficult to prove that the church owed her a duty to contact police and that any breach could be directly related to her current psychiatric condition.

She dismissed the claim and ordered that the woman pay the church's costs.

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