The woman who has accused a former Provo Missionary Training Center president of sexually assaulting her when she was at the center has come forward.
McKenna Denson announced Thursday she has filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and former MTC President Joseph L. Bishop, for reportedly covering up her sexual assault that occurred in the 1980s.
At a public press conference Thursday morning, Denson said she stands hand-in-hand with other survivors of abuse to call the church to change its policy and culture surrounding sexual assault.
“Right now, the gates are open and a tsunami is coming,” Denson said.
The lawsuit calls for policy changes within the church, encouraging church leaders to call police rather than the church’s help line if a church member alleges sexual assault.
The lawsuit also says church members accused of sexual misconduct should be removed from exposure to potential victims.
Denson has told authorities that Bishop reportedly tried to kiss her in a room at the MTC before forcibly undressing and raping her.
Denson met with Bishop in 2017, at which time he was 85, and claimed she was a reporter who wanted to speak to him about his church service. She instead confronted him about the 1984 incident, and he reportedly said he committed all the acts she described, omitting the rape and layout of the room. He also apologized for his actions.
Denson, who lives in Colorado, has said she made multiple reports about the sexual assault to the LDS Church and that Bishop has never been disciplined.
“Nothing happened,” said Craig Vernon, one of Denson’s attorneys. “McKenna was blamed and McKenna was shamed.”
A church statement has indicated another woman had reported being sexually abused by Bishop while he led the MTC. A March 23 statement from the church states it is looking into the recording where Bishop reportedly admitted to the sexual assault.
The March 23 statement states sexual abuse isn’t tolerated in the church and encourages church leaders to call the LDS abuse help line.
Bishop, who now lives in Arizona, was the president of the MTC from 1983 to 1986.
The lawsuit states that when Bishop was a mission president in Argentina he admitted he had sexually preyed on women and had a sex addiction. The church did not take action after Bishop disclosed the information, according to the lawsuit.
Denson reportedly told a bishop in 1987 or early 1988 that Bishop had sexually abused her and was told by church leaders the incident would be investigated. She has reportedly told church leaders 10 times about the assault and no action had been taken against Bishop.
“By taking no action against Bishop from 1987 to the present, the Church has protected this self-proclaimed sexual predator, while re-victimizing Denson again and again,” the lawsuit reads.
Denson addressed reporters and the public Thursday morning in a packed room at the Hilton in Salt Lake City. After taking a pause and a breath to steady herself, she recounted the details of her sexual assault and the events leading up to it.
Denson said she began taking lessons from LDS missionaries at the age of 15 and had been sexually assaulted by her stepfather. At the MTC, she said she was singled out by Bishop to share her testimony and give prayers. She said she was brought into discussions with Bishop and other female missionaries where the women were asked to talk about their childhood sexual abuses.
“Those conversations were inappropriate and sexual in nature,” Denson said.
The group size shrunk until it was only Denson and Bishop.
Immediately after her assault, Denson said she struggled to get away and he told her “No one will believe you. Look at me, look at me.” She then went to her room and pretended to be sick.
Denson said coming forward wasn’t about the #MeToo movement, but she was inspired by it to believe someone will believe her this time if she recorded her conversation with Bishop.
“Me Too, Time’s Up is the reason I had courage to get on the plane to Arizona,” Denson said.
Recent changes from the church allow parents to be in the room with their children when they are being interviewed by church leaders. But Denson said that isn’t enough. She calls for the church to stop asking children sexual questions and said if that had been the case when she was a child, she would have seen red flags with Bishop.
Denson’s lawyers presented a polygraph test they said Denson passed. A friend also read a letter from Denson’s 13-year-old daughter that stated Denson is not anti-Mormon and that her mother was going public with her accusations to protect the next generation of Mormon children.
Denson and her lawyers condemned the term “non-consensual immorality” used by Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church, during the faith’s semiannual general conference on Sunday. They said sexual assault needs to be referred to as a crime.
Denson also said she didn’t know Bishop had potentially assaulted other women until recently, and didn’t know the term for what happened to her was rape until she spoke to Brigham Young University University Police in 2017.
She called a dossier compiled on her by the LDS Church that named the daughter she gave up for adoption a breach of privacy for the daughter and said while she is ashamed of her criminal record, she owns it and it does not make her story less credible.