Teen’s account: Texas sect forced girls as young as 13 to bear children
Apr. 9, 2008
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Thursday April 10, 2008
ELDORADO — The 16-year-old girl whose allegation triggered the massive raid against a polygamist compound gave a harrowing account of life inside the secretive outpost, where she was forced to have sex and was beaten regularly, according to court documents released Tuesday.
Life behind the gates of the YFZ Ranch, built by now-jailed sect leader Warren Jeffs, was one where young girls were forced to marry and have babies as soon as they reached puberty.
The girl, whom authorities still haven’t found, said the man she “spiritually married” would “beat and hurt her” whenever he got angry.
The affidavit, part of a slew of documents released by the state, gives a horrifying glimpse inside a male-dominated culture where 13- and 14-year-old girls were forced to have sex with their arranged husbands.
Those allegations, along with what investigators observed inside the compound, prompted state Child Protective Services officials to take legal custody of all 416 children living on the 1,691-acre ranch.
Another 139 women, mothers of some of the children, have voluntarily left the compound, said Marleigh Meisner, a Child Protective Services spokeswoman. But authorities have not allowed the unknown number of men at the compound to leave since the Thursday raid.
Many signs of abuse
Meisner said that CPS officials have ended their investigation at the compound but that the criminal inquiry continues.
But she said investigators found many disturbing signs of abuse during the search for children. Officials “observed a number of young teenaged girls who appeared to be minors and appeared to be pregnant, as well as several teenage girls who already had given birth and had their own infants,” said the affidavit signed by Lynn McFadden, a Department of Family and Protective Services investigative supervisor.
The documents also reveal that “investigators determined that there is a widespread pattern and practice of the YFZ Ranch in which young, minor female residents are conditioned to expect and accept sexual activity with adult men at the ranch upon being spiritually married to them.”
Girl spoke of beatings
The 16-year-old girl, who said she was “several weeks pregnant,” borrowed someone’s cellphone and called a local family violence shelter several times on March 29.
In the phone calls, she said she arrived at the compound three years ago and “was spiritually married” to a 49-year-old man when she was 15.
The beatings she suffered would include “hitting her in the chest and choking her and that while such abuse was occurring one of the other women in the home would hold her infant child,” the documents say she said in a phone call.
Once, she was beaten so severely that several of her ribs were broken. She said she was taken to an unspecified local hospital where “a doctor wrapped her torso in an Ace bandage and told her to ‘take it easy for a few days.’”
She was not free to leave the compound unless she needed medical care. On the rare occasions when she left, her husband and other women would go along.
Often, she said, her husband would “force himself on her sexually.”
Her last beating occurred on Easter. Soon after that, her husband left for the “outsider’s world.”
The secretive sect
The document did not name her husband but another record released last week identified him as Dale Barlow, 50, who lives in Colorado City, Ariz. The town is the home base of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS), which established the Texas compound in 2004.
Barlow was sentenced to 45 days in jail last year after pleading no contest to conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. He is required to register as a sex offender until he completes his probation.
Barlow told his probation officer that he does not know the girl and has been living in Arizona.
Warren Jeffs, the FLDS leader and “prophet,” who is reported to have as many as 50 wives, was arrested in 2006 on charges of arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to a 19-year-old cousin. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in Utah.
‘Held against her will’
The girl spoke in hushed tones during her phone calls for fear of being discovered. In her final call to the shelter, she asked the hot-line operator to ignore her previous call.
“The teenager indicated she was being held against her will at the YFZ Ranch and church members had told her if she tried to leave she would be found and locked up,” documents say. “She also expressed during this conversation concerns about what would happen to her if she were to leave the YFZ Ranch. She reported that church members had told her if she leaves the ranch, outsiders will hurt her, force her to cut her hair, wear makeup and [modern] clothes and to have sex with lots of men.
“She also indicated that her parents, who had returned to their hometown outside the state, were preparing to send her 15-year-old sister to live at the YFZ Ranch.
“At the conclusion of this conversation, she began crying and then stated that she is happy and fine and does not want to get into trouble and that everything she previously said should be forgotten.”
A lack of cooperation
Besides the danger to girls, authorities said the FLDS compels males to become sexual “perpetrators” with underage girls. Among the documents released was a protection order on behalf of 330 children. Some of the children’s names, ages and parents are listed as “unknown.”
The lack of cooperation by some adults and children were also noted.
“During the investigation, a number of the children interviewed were unable or unwilling to provide the names of their biological parents or identified multiple mothers and were unable or unwilling to provide information such as their own birthdates or birthplaces,” a court document said. “The adults at the YFZ Ranch also, in many instances, provided limited information to no information about parentage of the children.”
On Tuesday, the Department of Public Safety, which continues to search the compound, released the names of two men arrested there.
Levi Barlow Jeffs, 19, was arrested Sunday on charges of interfering with the duties of a public servant, a Class B misdemeanor.
Leroy Johnson Steed, 41, was arrested Monday night on charges of tampering with physical evidence, a third-degree felony. Department spokesman Tom Vinger did not release any other details.
Kids considered at risk
Meisner, the CPS spokeswoman, said investigators collected plenty of evidence that children were in danger once they entered the ranch.
“We believe we’ve collected enough evidence to demonstrate that every child was abused or was in imminent risk of being abused,” she said.
Meanwhile, the facilities at Fort Concho in San Angelo, where the women and children are being temporarily held, is so overcrowded that CPS officials moved 170 children to another facility in San Angelo.
To deal with the overwhelming number of children, the CPS now has 700 state employees working to care for the new wards of the state, Meisner said.
Gov. Rick Perry is closely monitoring events at the compound and receives regular briefings from officials on the scene, his spokesman Robert Black said. The governor’s only hands-on directive so far, Black said, is “to make the safety and well-being of the children the top priority.”
The state Senate Health and Human Services Commission has a hearing set for April 30 to review activities of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The hearing was called before the raid, but state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the panel’s chairwoman, said she expects discussion about it.
“Clearly, the priority right now should be finding safe, supportive environments for these children in crisis,” Nelson said. “They enter the system at a time when we are asking more Texans to consider becoming foster or adoptive parents, and this seems like a good time to remind the people of our state of this important need.
“Because this was such a massive effort, it will be necessary to review all of our procedures and protocols to determine how well they worked.”
Staff writer John Moritz contributed to this report from Austin.)
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