Question: Did Elder Richard G. Scott teach that victims of abuse are responsible for their abuse?


Question: Did Elder Richard G. Scott teach that victims of abuse are responsible for their abuse?

Introduction to Question

In a discourse given in the April 1992 General Conference of the Church, Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks to victims of abuse.

During the course of his talk, Elder Scott stated the following:

The victim must do all in his or her power to stop the abuse. Most often, the victim is innocent because of being disabled by fear or the power or authority of the offender. At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse. Your priesthood leader will help assess your responsibility so that, if needed, it can be addressed. Otherwise the seeds of guilt will remain and sprout into bitter fruit. Yet no matter what degree of responsibility, from absolutely none to increasing consent, the healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ can provide a complete cure. (See D&C 138:1–4.) Forgiveness can be obtained for all involved in abuse. (See A of F 1:3.) Then comes a restoration of self-respect, self-worth, and a renewal of life. As a victim, do not waste effort in revenge or retribution against your aggressor. Focus on your responsibility to do what is in your power to correct. Leave the handling of the offender to civil and Church authorities.[1]

Here is a video of the address:

Is Elder Scott teaching that victims of abuse are responsible for their abuse?

Response to Criticism

We count on the patience and maturity of our readers as we briefly explore this deeply sensitive question. We affirm unequivocally to those who have faced abuse that "[t]he abuse was not, is not, and never will be your fault, no matter what the abuser or anyone else may have said to the contrary. When you have been a victim of cruelty, incest, or any other perversion, you are not the one who needs to repent; you are not responsible."[2] That said, there may very well still be important things that we can glean from Elder Scott's talk.

Elder Scott's Meaning May be Obscured by Clunky Wording

The first thing that we might strongly claim is that Elder Scott's meaning needs to be evaluated within the course of the talk. Otherwise, it's likely that his admittedly clunky wording here is obscuring what he actually meant to say. Earlier in his discourse, Elder Scott slowly and pointedly underscores "that when another’s violence, perversion, incest cause you deep harm, against your will, you are not responsible and you must not feel guilty." How can Elder Scott simultaneously claim that a person is not responsible and that the victim may hold "a degree of responsibility for abuse"? There's a good chance that Elder Scott meant to say something that we're not understanding.

Not A Good Word for the Type of 'Responsibility' that Elder Scott May Have Been Referring To

The abuse victims face is not their fault. One of the big problems surrounding these discussions is that there is not a good word to refer to the type of 'responsibility' that Elder Scott was likely referring to. We'll illustrate that with a couple of scenarios below.

Those That Are Faced With Abusive Situations Should Feel Empowered to Leave Those Situations

The abuse victims face is not their fault; but those who face it should feel empowered to leave abusive situations. We don’t need to stay in abusive situations and it’s not our fault that we are in them. Elder Holland has told us that we may be in the midst of an abusive or violent marriage and that abuse/violence may justify exiting it.[3]

There Are Things We Can Do To Avoid Abusive Situations

The abuse victims face is not their fault; but there are times where we do things that aren’t wise that might put us in dangerous situations and we should do what we can to avoid those situations. There’s a reason that, when walking or jogging somewhere at night, we should try and stay in lit areas. There's a reason that a Trump supporter would be wise to not show up to a Black Lives Matter rally in full MAGA regalia. There's a reason that a black person would be wise to not show up at an alt right or Nazi rally. While we aren’t at fault for whatever kind of harm or action comes on us during those moments (since that would be the product of another’s choices), there are still dumb things that we can do that more likely put us in harm’s way. We should take appropriate measures to reduce the likelihood of that happening to us. In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to worry about the many types of dangers that could come upon us and we would be able to go wherever we like, dress however we want, and act however we please. We don't live in a perfect world, though, and thus can't act, dress, and go where we please. We have to take precautions.

The Abused May Abuse Their Abuser

As Elder Scott rightly points out in the course of his talk, the abused may begin to abuse their abuser. The abuser should, in this instance, reflect on how their actions contributed to the retaliation that they are facing. The abuse that such a person faces is not their fault, but there must be some recognition of how their actions contributed negatively to their chances of not facing retaliation from their victim.


Notes

  1. Richard G. Scott, “Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse,” Ensign 22, no. 5 (May 1992): 32
  2. Patrick Kearon, "He Is Risen with Healing in His Wings: We Can Be More Than Conquerors," Liahona 45, no. 5 (May 2022): 38.
  3. Jeffrey R. Holland, "Keep a sense of humor in your marriage, because you can’t survive without it. You’re going to have to laugh at some of the problems and some of your reactions and some of your spouse’s reactions. You’re going to have to see the bright side of things. I’ve always tried to do that with Pat and she with me. But also, in marriage, there is nothing tentative. We must sit down, buckle up, and get on the road. Do not leave yourself an escape route. Don’t say every 20 minutes, 'Well, I’m not as excited about this as I thought I’d be! This isn’t how they told me it would be.' It’s not fair to anybody—it’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to your spouse, it’s not fair to God—for you to keep asking that question. We ask it once, in a sense, when we make the decision to marry, and then we buckle down and stay true to our eternal covenants. It is a gospel truth that you can make the marriage you want. That’s the issue of agency. It doesn’t mean that bad days won’t come, because they will. It doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be sorrow and sadness and arguments, some highs and lows, and some things that don’t work out. That’s life. I would not want anyone to misinterpret what I’m saying—I realize there may be an abusive or violent situation giving a legitimate reason to get out of a marriage. When there is a legitimate exception, you’ll know, your priesthood leaders will know, and God will know. But the rule is, you work and pray and serve and love and laugh and forgive and hang in there. That’s the rule. You can make the marriage you want. That is a gospel truth. We should cultivate relationships and find resources that can help us process and confront trauma and abuse," Facebook, September 30, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/jeffreyr.holland/posts/keep-a-sense-of-humor-in-your-marriage-because-you-cant-survive-without-it-youre/1708280149280788/. Elder Holland echoed those same points in Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Ministry of Reconciliation," Ensign 48, no. 11 (November 2018): 77–79.