When Privilege Protects Atrocity

Erik Wayne Hughes, 51, who was arrested in June on allegations of abusing young boys while serving as an bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Utah County Jail

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.


Connor Richards is the assistant opinion editor of The Daily Utah Chronicle. Formerly a news writer, he covers politics, social issues and student life. He has won both regional and statewide awards for his writing.


  1. Wow. This is perhaps the most vacuous article I have read in a long time. “Status, Prestige or title do not grant immunity from the law, and do not justify special treatment in regards to criminal justice.” His two examples to illustrate his point: Hughes has been locked up in County jail awaiting his trial since June 23rd; and Keith Vallejo received 5 to Life after his conviction. Do either of those illustrate “immunity from the law” or “special treatment”?

    I guess what really bothers Connor is that Judge Low said “But great men sometimes do bad things” right before sentencing him to 5 year to life. Not surprising in that Connor is part of a generation that thinks what you say is far more important than what you do.

    Connor then quotes a neighbor as saying that Hughes is a good neighbor, good friend, good husband, then castigates the media for publishing the remark, but finally concludes “Hughes is presumed innocent until positively proven to be guilty”. I guess his point is that until the trial is over, don’t say anything nice about Hughes even if that is your experience. Apparently only negative things can be said about the accused in Connor’s world!

    Finally, we come to his primary point “prestigious titles, like bishop or priest, [must not] prevent us from appropriately reacting to abhorrent behavior”. Who is his example of this behavior? None is cited. Even his single source, Ruth Bartholomew, is not quoted as saying “he couldn’t have done it because he is such a good man” or “he should be treated special because he served as a Bishop”. He offers no example.

    I literally do not know a single person who would argue to the contrary, nor is there any evidence presented that anyone has done anything to the contrary.

    Next up for Connor (to paraphrase SNL): why don’t you take on that massive pro-crack lobby. There are probably as many people who are pro-crack as there are people who don’t react abhorrently to heinous crimes because of someone’s status.

  2. Maybe Mr Richards should hold back on vilifying a man for merely being ACCUSED (not convicted) of a crime and wait for some actual facts to be established beyond reasonable doubt – no matter what the crime may be.

    The Duke lacrosse team comes to mind. Because of the “seriousness of the charges,” those innocent boys were vilified, expelled, threatened, tormented and their lives and futures were shattered.
    And they were completely innocent.

    In our country, “Innocent until proven guilty” covers ALL accused of ANY crime – no matter how “serious” the charges are.

    And if a neighbor of an accused is asked for their opinion, THEY should not be criticized or vilified for giving it – even if Mr. Richards thinks the charges alone are “serious” enough to cause everyone’s opinions to change.

    Mr. Richards has missed the entire point of one of America’s most cherished beliefs. Shame on HIM!

  3. From the article -”Sexual assault, as it is widely known, is already one of the least frequently reported crimes in the United States.”
    What a terrible occurrence that a child, who has been sexually traumatized, would have to endure such trauma and further carry that weight (sometimes on very narrow shoulders) alone. It is a given there will be a disparity in power between perpetrator and victim which makes having an advocate, they can trust, crucial. Unfortunately, too many times it’s a child without that protector who gets preyed upon. Watching supporters rally around an accused sexual predator is disturbing, knowing there may be a child watching who may one day need to trust someone to be a hero in their life. So many stay silent and go it alone.

    Props to Connor Richards for bringing awareness to the need for careful and thoughtful speech when reporting about sexual abuse.

    As a reply to Gibbsongirl’s critique of the article, – I don’t think Mr. Richards needs to feel any shame about disrespecting ”one of America’s most cherished beliefs”, that of “Innocent until proven guilty”. First, Mr. Richards advocating against making Saints of accused sexual predators is not the same as denouncing “Innocent until proven guilty”. Second, “Innocent until proven guilty” is for our Court System and not regular people. Regular people can think a person’s guilty regardless. Regular people can think a person’s innocent, even if they’re found guilty by a Court of Law. Regular people can also criticize others when they believe their words and actions are harmful.

    I personally think America’s most cherished belief is that of Free Speech.


Please enter your comment!
Reader comments on dailyutahchronicle.com are the opinions of the writer, not the Daily Utah Chronicle or University of Utah Student Media. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned.

Please enter your name here