SALT LAKE CITY — The new leader of the LDS Church's Young Women organization said Wednesday that when a Utah girl is sexually abused, she can find safety, help and healing at one of the state's Children's Justice Centers.
"These centers provide a location where victims can go that are safe and where they can receive healing," said Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Ecclesiastical leaders are a great resource, too."
Sister Cordon presented a $50,000 donation from the church Wednesday to support Utah's rural Children's Justice Centers. She provided the gift after a tour of the Avenues Children’s Justice Center in Salt Lake City.
The church also will donate $25,000 to a Bolivian foundation that works to address sexual violence against women and children, Sister Cordon said.
"We need our girls and young women and our women to know that, though something bad has happened to you, your worth remains the same," she said. "Abuse doesn't change who you are, and it's not your fault. We need to heal."
The church's Relief Society general president, Sister Jean B. Bingham, joined the tour, as did Sister Cristina B. Franco, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, and Sister Cordon's counselors, Sister Michelle Craig and Sister Becky Craven.
Both the donation and the support of the leaders of the church's international organizations for women, girls and children have deep meaning, said Tracey Tabet of the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
"We know how many children around the world look to them for leadership, for guidance," Tabet said. "To be given the opportunity to share with these new leaders what we do and to have them take an interest means there are potentially hundreds of thousands of children around the world who know they are not alone. They know they have leaders who will support them, listen to them and believe them."
Utah has 23 Children’s Justice Center locations that assist 5,500 child victims every year.
Families with boys or girls who experience abuse can visit the centers to access resources such as counseling, information about legal services, law enforcement support and information to help them overcome abuse.
The LDS Church now has provided donations for four straight years for a total of $295,000.
Tabet said the church's latest donation would benefit children from Logan to Blanding and Beaver. Part of the money will be used to update interview recording equipment in five centers. The gift also will pay for renovations at several centers, help bring a victim advocate to the San Juan facility and support a continued trial phase with an in-house forensic interviewer program in Salt Lake and Weber counties.
"We are trying to avoid additional worries for victims," she said. "We need the public to know that we have designed this space just for them. Any anxiety children or parents may be feeling about the unknown can dissipate when they know the services we offer."
Sister Cordon has visited LDS young women in Boston and New York and at a girls camp in Georgia since she became the general president in April. She is scheduled to visit the Philippines soon.
Child abuse and child sexual abuse are heartaches and societal problems that she hears about on her visits.
"We always ask, what are the challenges you're facing?" Sister Cordon said. "Many local leaders bring up abuse and ask us, what do you do?"
She said she sits on the LDS Church leadership's abuse steering committee and that leaders of the faith's women's and girls' organizations speak often about empowering children and youth who are abused.
"We are very much aware," she said. "When this issue is discussed (by church leaders), we are brought in so there are male voices and female voices, because this is a societal issue."
In a letter provided with the donation, Sisters Cordon and Bingham and Sister Joy D. Jones, the Primary general president, said the Children's Justice Centers play an important role in the community.
"We offer our gratitude for the exceptional way your organization has lessened the effects of abuse for so many," the letter said. "Today we recognize and celebrate the heroic and tireless efforts of the Utah Children’s Justice Centers and express our gratitude for your advocacy for children. We applaud your passion and dedication to offer help, healing and justice to those affected by the evils of abuse. Our hearts ache for the innocent victims of this terrible societal problem, and we affirm our commitment to protect, cherish and stand as champions for children."
In 2015, the church donated $100,000 to the Children's Justice Centers.
In 2016, it donated $25,000 to the centers and $100,000 to the National Children's Alliance. At that time, the church released a statement that called child abuse "a societal plague" and outlined the church's efforts to prevent abuse in its congregations. The church has declared a zero tolerance policy against abuse and has stated clearly that victims are innocent.
In 2017, it gave $120,000 to the CJC.
The church's donation in Bolivia will go to the A Breeze of Hope Foundation, which addresses the problem of sexual violence against children and women in Bolivia. That nation has the highest rate of sexual violence in Latin America.
The foundation offers social, medical and legal services to victims of abuse and provides education and training to government officials, legal professionals and the public.
A donation event will be scheduled at a later date in Bolivia.