Since the early 1850s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has held a gathering every six months where its leaders (apostles and others) speak to the members as a general body. Here is a list of Mormon general conference speeches that have addressed the topic of sexual abuse.

FLOODLIT has not found any LDS general conference references to sexual abuse from any talks given between 1851 and 1977.

During that timeframe, abuse by one person to another was rarely spoken of in Mormon general conference.

In a 1949 talk, George Albert Smith said, “I want to say that the priesthood does not give any man a right to abuse his wife.”

A 1952 talk by David O. McKay made a similar statement about how being married in the temple “does not give the man the right to enslave her, or to abuse her, or to use her merely for the gratification of his passion.”

Masturbation was often referred to euphemistically as “self-abuse” in early Mormonism. This phrasing continued until at least the 1970s in general confrerence. In 1959, Richard L. Evans mentioned “those who abuse themselves physically.”

In 1968, Mormon apostle Mark E. Petersen said, “To understand the true dignity of man, we must accept the high estate of woman. Every girl and woman is a daughter of God. She has within her the spark of true divinity. She has been given one of God’s own creative powers — the ability to bring forth human life. Recognizing her as a co-creator with God, will any of us attempt to seduce her, or defile her, or abuse her? Identifying her as a daughter of God, and a co-creator of life with him, do we not see why the Almighty places sex sin next to murder in his category of crime? Is there anything Christlike in any act that would degrade womanhood or cheapen the true concept of motherhood?”

In 1972, apostle Gordon B. Hinckley said, “A convert to the Church once said, “As a father I believed in caning my children. The slightest infraction of a rule was answered with prompt physical punishment. Then the gospel came into our home. I saw my children in a new light. They were my children, yes, but they were also children of our Eternal Father. How could I abuse a child of God? I began to develop an entirely new point of view toward my children, and they reciprocated with a new attitude toward me.”

N. Eldon Tanner said in 1977, “Men who are married should be thoughtful and kind to their wives and children and never use their priesthood unrighteously. It is appalling to read of the wife and child abuse that is far too prevalent, even in our Latter-day Saint families. Someone wrote a letter the other day to the editor of a local newspaper to express shock that in a predominantly Mormon community, where family life is stressed, there should be so many referrals of child abuse. Surely we should follow the Savior’s example in showing love for our wives and children.”

In April 1978, Spencer W. Kimball said, “The home is the seedbed of Saints. There are not enough good homes. Children still come to some homes where they will be abused, not loved, and not taught the truth. We are greatly concerned with the fact that the press continues to report many cases of child abuse. We are much concerned that there would be a single parent that would inflict damages on a child. The Lord loved little children, and he said: ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matt. 19:14.) Let no Latter-day Saint parent ever be guilty of the heinous crime of abusing one of Christ’s little ones!”

October 1978 General Conference: Child Sexual Abuse’s First Mention

As far as FLOODLIT knows, Gordon B. Hinckley’s talk in October 1978 was the first time an LDS leader had directly spoken of child sexual abuse in general conference. He said:

“I have seen the fruits of that neighbor’s temper come alive again in the troubled lives of his children. I have since discovered that he was one of that very substantial body of parents who seem incapable of anything but harshness toward those for whose coming into the world they are responsible. I have also come to realize that this man, who walks in the memories of my childhood, is but an example of tens of thousands in this land and uncounted thousands across the world who are known as child abusers. Every social worker, every duty officer in the emergency room of a large hospital, every policeman and judge in a large city can tell you of them. The whole tragic picture is one of beatings, kicking, slamming, and even of sexual assault on small children. And akin to these are those vicious men and women who exploit children for pornographic purposes.

“I have no disposition to dwell on this ugly picture. I wish only to say that no man who is a professed follower of Christ and no man who is a professed member of this church can engage in such practices without offending God and repudiating the teachings of his Son. It was Jesus himself who, while holding before us the example of the purity and innocence of children, declared, “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones … , it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).

“Could there be a stronger denunciation of those who abuse children than these words spoken by the Savior of mankind? Do you want a spirit of love to grow in the world? Then begin within the walls of your own home. Behold your little ones and see within them the wonders of God, from whose presence they have recently come.”

In October 1982, Hinckley spoke about child abuse again:

“We have been encouraged to strengthen our homes, to fortify the Spirit of the Lord in those homes, to cultivate appreciation and respect and affection one for another. It is a terrible thing that we hear occasionally of child abuse. This is a growing evil across the world. I opened the Doctrine and Covenants the other day while thinking of this, and read these words of the Lord given through the Prophet Joseph Smith who was then in the misery and loneliness of Liberty Jail. He spoke out concerning those who should raise their hands against the Church, but in a larger sense he spoke out against those who would abuse children. He said, “Wo unto them; because they have offended my little ones they shall be severed from the ordinances of mine house. ‘Their basket shall not be full, their houses and their barns shall perish, and they themselves shall be despised by those that flattered them.’ (D&C 121:19–20.) What a statement that is, concerning those who would offend little children!”

The LDS narrative in the 1970s and 1980s that child sexual abuse was a growing concern across the world may have been a reaction to societal trends in the United States and other countries with higher concentrations of LDS membership. In these countries, laws were changing and child molestation was beginning to be a crime that was more likely to be prosecuted and punished.

In October 1984, David B. Haight said, “A 1983 University of New Hampshire study found that states having the highest readership of pornographic magazines also have the highest number of reported rapes. Pornography degrades and exploits men, and women, and children in a most ugly and corrupt fashion.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is in the lives of children who become its victims. The saddest trend of our day is the alarming, large increase in child abuse. Much of it occurs within families and involves corrupting the divine innocence that children have from birth.”

In 1992, Richard G. Scott said:

“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.”

Scott’s teaching that abuse victims might carry some of the blame for their abuse echoed earlier teaching by LDS apostles, who frequently taught that a woman being raped should fight back even to the point of being killed, otherwise she might be somewhat guilty for being assaulted.