Kristy Johnson, now a resident of Utah, is preparing to sue The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under a newly-passed California law designed to help adults who were sexually assaulted as children.
California Assembly Bill 218 becomes law in 2020.
Unlike Utah law, which allows adults who were victimized as children to sue perpetrators as individuals, the California law also allows victims to sue entities and institutions that covered up the sexual assault or allowed it to happen when they had the power to stop it.
“These places that have purposely covered up, I don’t care who you are, it’s time to pay the price for that,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s story is the subject of a documentary, "No Crime in Sin."
Johnson said she was six years old, living in her native state of California with her family, when her father began assaulting her.
Her mother walked in on one of the assaults and went to her local church leader, but was discouraged from going to police and was reminded that reporting the crime could hurt her children if their father lost his job.
She said her father eventually moved to Utah, where he was a seminary teacher for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then taught at Brigham Young University.
Johnson said the abuse continued until she was 18. When she returned from her Church mission as a young adult, she decided to report to police in California.
Her father was eventually excommunicated from the Church. He currently lives in Utah.
She and her sibling recently confronted her father about the assaults. That confrontation is part of the documentary.
Johnson said the California law will ensure that institutions, like churches, stop treating sexual assault by religious leaders as a sin that is to be handled as an internal matter, and instead call police.
“If someone reports a crime to you, help them go to law enforcement,” she said.
Craig Vernon, an Idaho attorney who has filed several lawsuits on behalf of victims of child sexual assault, said the California law will likely open several institutions like the Catholic Church, Mormon Church and Boy Scouts of America to many more lawsuits.
He said the hope is institutions will change policies when it comes to reporting sexual assault.
Vernon said he would like to see The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make changes to its protocol so bishops are instructed to call police directly when they become aware of sexual abuse.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined to comment for this report, but offered a link to information its policies: "How the Church Approaches Abuse," and a link to a web page of resources for those experiencing abuse.