Salt Lake City — A fifth person has filed a lawsuit against the Mormon church accusing religious officials of not doing enough to protect Navajo children from sexual abuse in a now defunct church-run foster program that placed thousands of American Indian children with Mormon families.
The new lawsuit was filed in Navajo Nation court by a woman who says was sexually abused as a teenager over a three-year period from 1968-1971 by her foster father at a house in Spanish Fork, Utah. She says was 15 years old when the abuse began.
The woman, who is identified as I.R. in the lawsuit, said she reported the abuse to her caseworker and asked to be placed in another home but nothing happened. She said the abuse ended when her family took her home.
The woman has suffered from emotional and physical problems as a result of the abuse, the lawsuit alleges.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they were sexually abused.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined comment on the new case.
Previously, church lawyers have pointed out that families volunteered to participate in the program and a large number never reported any problems.
No criminal charges were filed in the decades-old allegations. The people being accused are associated with host families, not church leaders.
The lawsuits say the children were sexually abused between the 1960s and early 1980s in the Indian Student Placement Program, which put thousands of Navajo children in Mormon foster homes in Utah, Idaho and New Mexico.
The lawsuits are being handled in the Navajo Nation court after a federal judge in Utah denied a request from Mormon church lawyers who wanted the cases to stay in a federal court in Salt Lake City because the allegations do not involve any abuse on tribal land.
Lawyer Billy Keeler, representing the victims, says he expects more lawsuits in the future from other victims.
Thousands of American Indian children participated in the church program from the late 1940s until it ended around 2000.
The church didn’t give an official reason for closing the voluntary program, though church officials say it may have been linked to better educational opportunities for American Indians and increased sensitivity to Native cultures.
Children participated in the Indian Placement Program at a time when the church believed it had a duty to restore the heritage of American Indians.
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