Former MTC president’s accuser files federal lawsuit

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The woman whose 1984 rape accusations against a former Missionary Training Center president became public through Mormonleaks has now filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Attorney Craig K. Vernon held a press conference Thursday, April 5, to talk about the lawsuit and his client’s objectives in the suit. Cases involving sexual assault often obscure the identity of the victim, but McKenna Denson has agreed to be publicly identified as the case against former MTC president Joseph L. Bishop is now a matter of court proceedings.

The lawsuit also names The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a defendant. Bishop was acting in the capacity of a church employee when the attack Denson alleges would have taken place.

Alan Neves
McKenna Denson, seated in the center, participates in a press conference that explains her federal lawsuit against a former ecclesiastical leader and the LDS Church. (Sydnie Storer)

Denson, 55, also spoke at the press conference. She said at the press conference she wants justice and policy change.

Denson said Bishop raped her while she was a missionary in 1984. Her lawsuit alleges sexual assault and battery, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, fraudulent nondisclosure and fraudulent concealment.

Denson is seeking damages for loss of earnings, medical expenses and legal expenses, in addition to asking the jury to direct the LDS Church to make policy changes.

Vernon said they believe the church never disciplined Bishop, despite Denson’s efforts over the past 30 years. “McKenna went back to the church over and over seeking help, seeking justice, seeking accountability,” Vernon said. “She wasn’t believed.”

The LDS Church responded with an official statement to Denson’s sexual allegations March 20, saying, “if the allegations of sexual assault are true, it would be a tragic betrayal of our standards and would result in action by the Church to formally discipline any member who was guilty of such behavior, especially someone in a position of trust.”

The statement also says the matter was brought the church’s attention in 2010, when the claims were reported to the Pleasant Grove Police Department, after which the church received no further communication.

Denson said she is not anti-LDS, but she is against any person who tries to cover up sexual assault.

Vernon brought a copy of a polygraph done on Denson earlier, claiming she “passed with flying colors” while recounting her claim of Bishop raping her.

Denson recounted in detail her story of her rape. She said Bishop began singling her out from her first day at the MTC. She said she was first called into his office with three other females to discuss “explicit questions” about their sexual history (Denson said she had been sexually abused by her stepfather). She said soon those meetings to discuss sexual history were two on one with Bishop, and then one-on-one with just her and Bishop.

“Those conversations were inappropriate and sexual in nature,” Denson said.

Denson said he asked her if she wanted to see his private room, where he had a bed, TV, VCR and unlabled VHS tapes. She said he then proceeded to tear her blouse open, pull down her garments and pantyhose, and rape her. This description is also spelled out in the police report filed after Denson spoke with police in November and December 2017. Denson said was able to kick him and get away, during which she claims he said, “No one will believe you. Look at you. Look at me.”

Denson said she waited so long to report her alleged rape to the police because the church organization taught her to only keep her claims within the church, reporting only to priesthood officials.

Denson said when she was interviewing for baptism at age 15, a priesthood leader asked her sexually inappropriate questions, which was the beginning of her understanding it was OK to sit behind closed doors one-on-one with priesthood holders discussing sexually explicit topics.

Accordingly, Denson said she hopes to see the church making a policy change to “protect the children” against church leaders asking them sexually explicit questions.

“The Me Too movement is not the reason I sought out Joseph Bishop,” Denson said, adding she’s been seeking justice against Bishop for 30 years.

Denson said the MeToo movement did give her courage to travel to Bishop and interview him.