A child welfare expert has testified in the civil trial against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse of minors.
Six families filed a civil suit against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints alleging that the church covered up the sexual abuse of minors by Michael Jensen, the son of a church official. In 2013, Jensen was sentenced to 35 to 75 years in prison for the sexual abuse of two minors. The lawsuit alleged that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its leaders covered up the abuse, enabling Jensen to commit additional acts of abuse.
Child Welfare Expert Trial Testimony
Dr. Kathleen Faller was called to testify in the case. Dr. Faller is the principal investigator on the University of Michigan site of National Child Welfare Workforce Institute. She is involved in research, clinical work, teaching, training, and writing in the area of child welfare. Dr. Faller testified that she and her department focused on whether the children were sexually abused and what type of harm they have suffered.
Dr. Faller conducted interviews with the minors involved in this case and collected information through parents, other interviews, treatment records, medical testimony in Michael Jensen’s criminal case. Dr. Faller opined that all four children were victimized.
Dr. Faller explained the standardized measures that are used to determine the impact of abuse on the child. In this case, the tools used were the Child Behavior Checklist, the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children, the Trauma-Symptom Checklist for Young Children, and the Child Sexual Abuse Inventory.
Out of the assessments used in this case, the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children is the only one filled out by the child; the others are filled out by the child’s caregivers. The Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children is given to children who are 8 years old and older and contains questions related to anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, sexual concerns, dissociation, and anger. Test scores above the 70s indicate that a child is in the clinical or not-normal range.
The defense questioned Dr. Faller about the possibility that some of the parents may have aimed for higher scores so that their children appeared more hurt. Dr. Faller acknowledged that possibility and testified that, in one family, “I would say that (the father) over endorsed things.” She said that she discredited some of the results because some of the ratings were statistically unlikely.
Dr. Faller also testified about Michael Jensen’s sexual behavior risk assessment. Dr. Faller said that Michael Jensen’s assessment included cognitive distortions such as thinking that children are sexually curious and believing that the children wanted the abuse to happen because they did not report it. Dr. Faller testified that a juvenile offender is likely to reoffend as an adult if they were an early adolescent at the time of their original offense, if the acts were frequent, if the individual failed to take responsibility, and if the acts were planned. Dr. Faller testified that Michael Jensen was 13 at his first offense, that the acts occurred within one month, and that she believed that he did plan the abuse with one child.