Orem victims describe ‘sexual education’ facade their abuser used to keep them quiet
PROVO — The other victims praised the young girl who came forward to ignite an investigation into an alleged 60 years of child sexual abuse by a beloved family man, religious figure and community stalwart.
Clark Crookston, 73, of Orem, wearing a dark suit and red tie, was led away in handcuffs to the Utah County Jail on Friday after his sentencing hearing in 4th District Court before Judge Thomas Low. The court heard emotional testimony from two victims, now adults, and two of their relatives, who spoke of Crookston as a manipulative pedophile who mastered an ability to keep victims quiet about the sexual abuse they were undergoing.
In a plea bargain Feb. 16, Crookston pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted aggravated sexual abuse of a child, both second-degree felonies, and a third-degree felony charge of dealing in materials harmful to a minor. The first two charges were reduced from the originally filed first-degree felonies in the 2017 incidents.
Because Crookston’s defense attorney, Neil Skousen, challenged parts of a presentence investigation by Utah Adult Probation and Parole, the final imposition of sentence was delayed until April 27. But by law, Crookston will be sentenced to two prison terms of one to 15 years and a third of up to five years. Prosecutors asked that the terms run consecutively, but Low would have the option of running them concurrently.
Charging documents said Crookston sexually touched a girl under the age of 14 on repeated occasions in April to August 2017. He also exposed himself to the girl and showed her explicit photos, including some of his own body. He described the actions as “sex education” to the girl. Orem police obtained a search warrant and found videos of male genitalia on Crookston’s computer.
In opening remarks, Skousen stressed that the charges Crookston admitted to involved a single victim. He asked that some statements in the presentence report about multiple victims be stricken. Low said statements about a defendant’s character and history generally are admissible during the sentencing phase of a case.
Prosecutor Charlotte Howard of the Utah County Attorney’s Office said matters about potential other victims “are absolutely relevant.”
“Clark Crookston has had a long life of success and service to others,” Skousen told the court. “He apologizes in sincere terms. He is doing everything he can to take the high road.”
The court next heard from two men who are related to two women who said they were sexually abused by Crookston 30 years ago. Then the women themselves testified.
“There is a concern about future victims,” one of the men testified. Regarding the abuse, the man said Crookston “has asked people not to talk about it, which further compounds the hurt.” Skousen later pointed out that he had instructed Crookston not to talk to anyone about his case.
The second man said that after the girl came forward and Crookston was charged, his wife painfully came to the realization that she had undergone similar abuse three decades ago, under the guise of “education” by a trusted person.
“We are also saddened that afterwards pressure was put on her not to report abuse,” the man said. “I feel they need to be called out.”
He said they were told that reporting the abuse would be “unforgiving” toward Crookston. “That is a really dangerous idea that is unacceptable, using religious ideals to try to force victims into silence,” he said. “How many other people could have been victims of the same uses of psychological abuse?”
One of the women testified that she is still “processing the devastating effects of being sexually abused.” She said she may never fully heal and has sought counseling for effects such as depression and anxiety.
She said young girls who spoke up about being abused by Crookston “are heroic” and gave other victims courage to speak up as well. Looking at Crookston at the defense table, she said he was “manipulative and self-serving.”
“You sought to silence and dismiss us, but that never works,” she said.
The other woman who testified said Crookston “knew exactly what to say and do to keep his victims quiet.” She said he was “a mastermind in manipulation.” Crookston, she said, “gaslighted me and said I was the only one who had a problem with his sexual education.”
She said he was a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a dentist and a college professor. “I assumed I was alone. I felt guilty even to question his worthiness.”
“It was all done under the umbrella of sexual education,” she said. “These were the lies I was told all my life. I buried the hurt and kept it secret for over 30 years.”
It wasn’t until she realized Crookston was abusing other children that “the shackles fell from my eyes,” she said, adding that “the children who came forward are my heroes. These are the brave souls (who) broke the curse that has been happening for nearly 60 years.”
She hailed the criminal justice system for stopping “a true Jekyll and Hyde.”
Howard, the prosecutor, said Crookston “looks harmless on the surface, with a great reputation in the community and the religious community.” She said he used his status to “capitalize and gain access to the most vulnerable victims. He has done irreparable harm.”
She added, “His facade worked. He was able to groom his victims.”
Howard said the upcoming sentences likely mean “he does not spend another day free outside the prison.”
Crookston apologized “to anyone I have harmed” and said he took responsibility for his crimes and is willing to accept the consequences.
Judge Low, noting the carnage of the war in Ukraine, told Crookston he had “left a trail of burning homes in your wake.”