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Resources.png    Frequently Asked Questions about Sexual violence and sexual transgression FAQ

If you have a question about the doctrines and policies regarding sexual violence committed by or against members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our FAQ has the answer.

Question: What is "sexual violence"?

"Sexual violence" is any unwanted act or attempted act toward another person of a sexual nature. It may include such sins as rape, sexual assault, sexual interference, marital rape, date rape, child sexual abuse; or less overt acts such as being subjected to sexualized or suggestive comments, or sexual harassment. Such violence may be directed at women, men, teens, or children.

Question: What is Church doctrine of sexual violence?

Church doctrine forbids sexual violence in the strongest terms. The Church regards all acts of sexual violence as sins, and many are also crimes under secular law.

Question: What are the ecclesiastical consequences for sexual violence?

If a person is accused of incest or the physical or sexual abuse of a child, a Church disciplinary council must be convened. If a person is accused of rape, a disciplinary council must be convened in virtually all cases, since a disciplinary council must be held if a person is a potential predator and a danger to others—most of those guilty of sexual violence meet this standard almost by definition.

When criminal matters are before the courts, the Church may defer a disciplinary council until after the secular law has made its decision—this is to avoid prejudicing the secular courts through the introduction of a Church disciplinary council's decision as evidence. If members are charged with a sexual crime, however, Church leaders should take steps to assure the safety of other members pending the outcome of the legal process.


Elder Dallin H. Oaks (one of the Church's Twelve Apostles, and a former Utah Supreme Court judge) emphasized that the legal maxim of "innocent until proven guilty," and the Christian admonition to "judge not, lest ye be judged" does not absolve members or leaders from taking prudent steps to protect others even before a final determination of guilt or innocence has been made:

There is one qualification to this principle that we should not judge people without an adequate knowledge of the facts. Sometimes urgent circumstances require us to make preliminary judgments before we can get all of the facts we desire for our decision making.

From time to time some diligent defenders deny this reality, such as the writer of a letter to the editor who insisted that certain publicly reported conduct should be ignored because “in this country you are innocent until you are proven guilty.” The presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law is a vital rule to guide the conduct of a criminal trial, but it is not a valid restraint on personal decisions. There are important restraints upon our intermediate judgments, but the presumption of innocence is not one of them.

Some personal decisions must be made before we have access to all of the facts. Two hypotheticals illustrate this principle:

1. If a particular person has been arrested for child sexual abuse and is free on bail awaiting trial on his guilt or innocence, will you trust him to tend your children while you take a weekend trip?
2. If a person you have trusted with your property has been indicted for embezzlement, would you continue to leave him in charge of your life savings?
In such circumstances we do the best we can, relying ultimately on the teaching in modern scripture that we should put our “trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously” (D&C 11꞉12).[1]

Question: If a person is found "not guilty" in a secular court, does that preclude Church discipline?

No. Church discipline is independent of legal outcomes. A person found innocent by the secular legal system might still be subject to Church discipline.

Question: Is there a different doctrinal standard for men or women? For example, is "sexual purity" regarded as more important for women than for men?

No. Any sexual relations outside of a legal marriage between a man and woman is regarded as an extremely serious matter. This applies to men and women.

Question: Has a woman's "sexual purity" been violated if she is the victim of sexual violence?

Emphatically not. Victims of sexual assault are not guilty of any sin, and should not be subject to Church discipline. They may, however, be encouraged to counsel with their Church leaders for support and help in applying Christ's atonement to comfort and sustain them.

"Victims of sexual abuse are not guilty of sin and do not need to repent. If you have been a victim of abuse, know that you are innocent and that God loves you. Talk to your parents or another trusted adult, and seek your bishop’s counsel immediately. They can support you spiritually and assist you in getting the protection and help you need. The process of healing may take time. Trust in the Savior. He will heal you and give you peace.

—Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Sexual Purity," For The Strength of Youth.
∗       ∗       ∗
"Victims of rape or sexual abuse frequently experience serious trauma and unnecessary feelings of guilt. Church officers should handle such cases with sensitivity and concern, reassuring such victims that they, as victims of the evil acts of others, are not guilty of sin, helping them to overcome feelings of guilt and to regain their self-esteem and their confidence in personal relationships....persons who are truly forced into sexual relations are victims and are not guilty of any sexual sin." —First Presidency (1985)[2]

Question: Are women responsible for helping men to control their thoughts or sexual acts?

No. Every person is responsible for his or her own thoughts and acts. Under LDS doctrine, a man cannot resort to the excuse that "she was asking for it," or "she tempted me."


God will not permit us to be tempted beyond our capacity to resist:

"watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering....(Alma 13꞉28).
"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Question: What is the LDS doctrine of principle of "modesty"?

Modesty is an attitude toward God and our physical bodies.

Liahona, "Modesty: A Timeless Principle for All"

Silvia H. Allred (First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency),  Liahona
When we better understand the doctrine behind the principles of modesty, we realize that modesty is the virtue that guides and moderates action....

The doctrine behind modesty begins with our knowledge that we are children of God, created in His image (see Moses 2꞉27). Our bodies are sacred gifts from Heavenly Father and have specific purposes that He has planned. As grateful recipients, we acknowledge this gift by treating our bodies as He has asked us to (see D&C 88꞉33). We learn to train, control, and bridle our bodies and their physical uses to become like Heavenly Father....

Because modesty is one of the Lord’s “higher ways” and not a passing social trend, it has been taught throughout the ages. Consider these other scriptural examples about clothing and what they teach us about modesty.

Modesty shows humility....Does this mean that we cannot dress stylishly? No, we should dress appropriately for the occasion, but we should not consume ourselves with brand names or with always having the latest fashion. It is better to use financial resources for more lasting and meaningful purposes.

The way we dress for worship shows our reverence for the Lord.....

One of the foremost blessings associated with modesty is an increased sense of confidence....

As modesty becomes the virtue that regulates and moderates action in our lives, we too will find an increased sense of self-worth. Recall the promises of Doctrine and Covenants 121꞉45–46:

“Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
“The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth.”
May we all endeavor to qualify for these blessings.

Click here to view the complete article

Liahona, "Modesty: Reference for the Lord"

Robert D. Hales (apostle),  Liahona
Some Latter-day Saints may feel that modesty is a tradition of the Church or that it has evolved from conservative, puritanical behavior. Modesty is not just cultural. Modesty is a gospel principle that applies to people of all cultures and ages. In fact, modesty is fundamental to being worthy of the Spirit. To be modest is to be humble, and being humble invites the Spirit to be with us....

Our bodies are the temples of our spirits. Additionally, our bodies are the means by which we can bring souls from the presence of God to their mortal state. When we recognize our bodies as the gifts they are and when we understand the missions they help us fulfill, we protect and honor them by how we act and dress.

In everyday living, immodest clothing such as short shorts, miniskirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire are not appropriate. Men and women—including young men and young women—should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low cut in the front or back or revealing in any other manner. Tight pants, tight shirts, excessively baggy clothing, wrinkled apparel, and unkempt hair are not appropriate. All should avoid extremes in clothing, hairstyle, and other aspects of appearance. We should always be neat and clean, avoiding sloppiness or inappropriate casualness. 1

Modesty is at the center of being pure and chaste, both in thought and deed. Thus, because it guides and influences our thoughts, behavior, and decisions, modesty is at the core of our character. Our clothing is more than just covering for our bodies; it reflects who we are and what we want to be, both here in mortality and in the eternities that will follow....

When we dress for attention, we are not inviting the Spirit to be with us. We act differently when we are dressed for the world’s attention. Moreover, what we wear will influence the behavior of others toward us....

Ultimately, how we dress will greatly influence our obedience to commandments and devotion to covenants. Dressing modestly will guide our attitudes and behavior as we conduct our daily lives. In time our dress may even determine who our friends and associates may be, thus influencing whether we live worthy of enjoying the blessings of happiness in this world and for eternity.

Click here to view the complete article

Question: Doesn't the Church doctrine of modesty tell women they are responsible for men's impure thoughts?

Some women certainly report receiving this message (see next question).

A review of official materials, however, demonstrates that both women and men are encouraged to show respect for their bodies. This respect arises out of a conviction that the body is a sacred gift, and out of the need to show self-respect and honor to God.

Women probably hear more about modesty because social pressures and styles tend to encourage immodesty in women more than men. (By the same token, men hear more about avoiding pornography than women, because men are simply more frequently vulnerable to this sin.)


The Church's publication of official standards for youth reads:

Your body is sacred. Respect it and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him.

Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. Your dress and grooming influence the way you and others act.

Never lower your standards of dress. Do not use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval....

Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. Young men and young women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior. They should choose appropriately modest apparel when participating in sports. The fashions of the world will change, but the Lord’s standards will not change.[3]

Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

How truly beautiful is a well-groomed young woman who is clean in body and mind. She is a daughter of God in whom her Eternal Father can take pride. How handsome is a young man who is well groomed. He is a son of God, deemed worthy of holding the holy priesthood of God.[4], "Dress and Appearance: “Let the Holy Spirit Guide”"

Mary N. Cook (First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency),
As Christ’s representatives, we show respect for our body “at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9) by agreeing to abide by certain standards. The Lord requires that only those who are clean may enter the temple. Your choice to be virtuous is evidence of your respect for the Lord and your physical body.

We should also show respect for others’ bodies and help them live virtuous lives. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “[Young women] need to understand that when they wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too low cut, they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal. This never has been nor will it ever be within the righteous definition of a faithful daughter of God.”[5]

Young women, respect your body and help others, particularly young men, maintain virtuous thoughts and actions. Respect your body, knowing that daily righteous living gives you eternal value (italics in original).

Click here to view the complete article

Question: Then why do some women report receiving the message that they are responsible for males' thoughts?

There are probably several answers to this question:
  1. Most teaching in the Church is done by lay members at a local level. These lay members may teach or say things that either intentionally or unintentionally give this impression, even though it is not Church doctrine.
  2. Women receive many messages from many sources. The Church is not the only source of such messages, and some may draw conclusions from a variety of influences (e.g., parents, friends, school teachers, the media) and attribute them all to "the Church."
  3. In an effort to be frank and to inform young women of the realities of the male perspective, teachers may point out that provocative or immodest dress make it more likely that unwanted thoughts will occur in male observers. It can be a short step from stating this as a fact, to implying that therefore young women are responsible for men's reactions and choices. They are not—if, however, a woman intentionally dresses to stir inappropriate sexual desire, that intent is a sin in and of itself. Such an act provides no excuse, however, for a male who chooses to encourage or act on his own lusts or evil desires. One sin does not mitigate or excuse another.

Question: What have Church leaders said to men about the treatment of women?

Church leaders have long been emphatic that no LDS male ought to treat any woman with anything but complete dignity and respect.
  • "I can not understand how a man can be unkind to any woman, much less to the wife of his bosom, and the mother of his children, and I am told that there are those who are absolutely brutal, but they are unworthy the name of men"—Joseph F. Smith, Church President (1901–1918)[6]

  • "I want to counsel you as sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands. As you serve with the women of the Church, follow what Paul said when he urged Timothy to “intreat … the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” ( 1 Tim. 5:1–2 ). We men of the priesthood ought to so do. We must be different than other men, and I am sure most priesthood holders are. Paul’s suggestion that we treat older women as if they were our mothers and younger women as if they were our sisters and to do so with “all purity” is excellent instruction. Men of the world may disregard women or see them only as objects of desire or as someone to be used for selfish purposes. Let us, however, be different in our conduct and in our relationships with women." — Spencer W. Kimball, Church President (1973–1975)[7]

  • "In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person's care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.

"Members of the First Presidency have taught that 'any form of physical or mental abuse to any woman is not worthy of any priesthood holder' and that no 'man who holds the priesthood of God [should] abuse his wife in any way, [or] demean or injure or take undue advantage of [any] woman'—and that includes friends, dates, sweethearts, and fiancées, to say nothing of wives."— Jeffrey R. Holland, apostle (2000)[8]

  • "No man can please his Heavenly Father who fails to respect the daughters of God."—Gordon B. Hinckley (Church president, 1995–2008)[9]

Question: What duty do members have toward those who might be victims of mistreatment or abuse?

Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote:
The safety and protection of each person, especially children, should be a concern for all of us. We can be instrumental in assisting in the protection of each other by being aware of potential dangers and being willing to do our part to thwart those who would injure, steal from, or abuse any person, young or old.[10]

Question: What about spouse or child abuse?

General Conference, "What Are People Asking About Us?"

Gordon B. Hinckley (Church President, 1995—2008),  General Conference
We condemn most strongly abusive behavior in any form. We denounce the physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional abuse of one’s spouse or children. Our proclamation on the family declares: “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. … Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs. … Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102).

We are doing all we know how to do to stamp out this terrible evil. When there is recognition of equality between the husband and the wife, when there is acknowledgment that each child born into the world is a child of God, then there will follow a greater sense of responsibility to nurture, to help, to love with an enduring love those for whom we are responsible.

No man who abuses his wife or children is worthy to hold the priesthood of God. No man who abuses his wife or children is worthy to be a member in good standing in this Church. The abuse of one’s spouse and children is a most serious offense before God, and any who indulge in it may expect to be disciplined by the Church.

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  1. Dallin H. Oaks, "Judge Not and Judging," fireside address, BYU (1 March 1998).
  2. First Presidency, letter to General Authorities, Regional Representatives, and other priesthood leaders, 7 February 1985)
  3. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Dress and Appearance," For The Strength of Youth.
  4. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Body is Sacred," Ensign (November 2006).
  5. M. Russell Ballard, "Mothers and Daughters," Ensign (May 2010): 20.
  6. Young Woman's Journal, Vol. 3, 1891-1892, pp. 142-144; cited in Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939), 352.
  7. Spencer W. Kimball, "Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live," Ensign (November 1978).
  8. Jeffrey R. Holland, “How Do I Love Thee?” Brigham Young University devotional, 15 February 2000; citing Gordon B. Hinckley (Church president, 1995–2008), "Reach Out in Love and Kindness," Ensign (November 1982): 77. and James E. Faust (Counselor in First Presidency, 1995–2007), "The Highest Place of Honor]," Ensign (May 1988): 37.
  9. Gordon B. Hinckley, "To Please Our Heavenly Father," Ensign (May 1985): 48.
  10. Marvin J. Ashton, Be of Good Cheer (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 14.
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