Erik Hughes, a former bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was recently arrested by Mapleton police on June 21 on allegations of sexually abusing two young boys while serving as their bishop. The victims, now adults, both claim they were abused by Hughes on multiple occasions.
One of the men said three years ago, when he was 15 years old, Hughes gave him a melatonin pill to help him sleep, but it made him feel dazed, and everything seemed “disproportionate,” according to police reports cited by multiple media outlets. Hughes then forced the 15-year-old to perform a sexual act on himself.
In another incident, Hughes gave the young man a smoothie that he described as tasting “bitter.” After being helped by Hughes to his bed, the young man dozed off and on, eventually awakening to his underwear being removed, and having Hughes’s hands touching his genitals.
A second man said Hughes began abusing him around five years ago, when the man was 17. During a business trip to Las Vegas, he said he was drugged by Hughes in a hotel room. The victim also alleges he was pressured to exchange nude photos with the former LDS bishop. The second man says he was abused by Hughes between 30 and 50 times.
Last month, the second man was contacted by Hughes who complained about being “falsely accused” of a sexual crime. Then, Hughes asked the man several questions related to sexual assault, and asked how he would respond if asked the same questions by law enforcement officials. “Hughes told him to keep silent about things he had done,” the police document said.
Hughes, who is being held in Utah County Jail on a $25,000 cash only bond, was booked on suspicion of 20 counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, and a third-degree felony of tampering with a witness, among other charges.
On June 23, just two days after Hughes was arrested, KUTV published a news report titled “Former LDS bishop, accused of teen sex abuse, described as good, neighbor, husband, father,” in which a single neighbor, Ruth Bartholomew, is quoted as saying such. “I think he’s a good neighbor, good friend, good husband,” the neighbor said.
The news report, which was written by anchor and reporter Brian Mullahy, follows the trend of high profile individuals, despite being accused of serious and appalling crimes, being treated with praise, flattery and glorification by the media and public.
In April, a sexual assault victim listened on as Utah 4th District Judge Thomas Low lauded the victim’s rapist, former LDS bishop Keith Vallejo, for being an “extraordinarily good man.”
“But great men,” Judge Low said, “sometimes do bad things.”
Status, prestige or title do not grant immunity from the law, and do not justify special treatment in regards to criminal justice. Narratives and news stories that frame those accused of violent and sexual crimes as good, decent people discourage victims from coming forward. This type of framing allow for abuse to go unnoticed and unpunished. It coddles abusers and silences survivors.
Sexual assault, as it is widely known, is already one of the least frequently reported crimes in the United States. Having elected judges and professional news reporters praise accused rapists certainly will not help this.
Journalists and news publications, elected officials and judges, and general members of the public alike should make an effort to not let prestigious titles, like bishop or priest, prevent us from appropriately reacting to abhorrent behavior.
Hughes is presumed innocent until positively proven to be guilty, and he will have his day in court. Until then, everyone should hold back on celebrating and lionizing a man being accused of sexually abusing minors.