Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith said he plans to ask the county to hire a special investigator for the Colorado City area.
An investigator will follow up on allegations of child abuse within the polygamous Colorado City community, Smith said.
“No one really knows what is going on up there. I have to believe they are not making up allegations of sexual abuse,” he said of teenage girls who have come forward with allegations of forced marriages and other abuses.
The secretive polygamist community along the Utah border has come under increased scrutiny by officials from both states during the past year.
Officials also are looking into allegations of child abuse, incest and the squandering of taxpayer money in the community, where men often have more than one wife with some women with a dozen or more children receiving welfare payments.
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Smith said Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard is looking into reports of welfare abuse, but because Colorado City is within Mohave County, it is the county’s responsibility to investigate all claims of child abuse.
Smith was the county’s senior prosecutor before the Mohave County Board of Supervisors appointed him to fill the remainder of county attorney Bill Esktrom’s term. Ekstrom retired a year before his term of office ended.
Smith said that as a prosecutor he was involved in about 30 child abuse cases but few from the Colorado City area.
Forcing an underage girl to marry against her will is a crime, and his office follows up when such an allegation is made, Smith said. In recent years the county attorney’s office has attempted to prosecute at least three cases of child abuse in the Colorado City area, he added, but the victims would not testify in court.
“We need just one or two girls to come forward to say, ‘Yes I was forced to marry,'” he said.
Smith said he plans to ask for a part-time special investigator who would live in the area for an extended period of time.
The supervisors, sheriff, county attorney, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, state Child Protective Services and the governor’s office are cooperating to build a joint county/state government facility in Colorado City.
The investigator would have a presence in the new building, Smith said.
Polygamy is practiced throughout Utah, including Hildale next to Colorado City.
Polygamy was a part of early belief of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but was later abandoned. The Utah Constitution bans it, and the Mormon Church now excommunicates those who advocate it, but it is believed that tens of thousands in Utah continue the practice, according to a report in the Associated Press.
Underage girls have been forced to marry older men who are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, according to Flora Jessop of “Help the Child Brides,” founded in 2001.
Born into a polygamous family in Colorado City, just 70 miles from Kingman, Jessop has 28 brothers and sisters.
She said she was forced to marry her first cousin when she was 16-years-old, but later escaped.
In recent years, groups seeking to combat child and sexual abuse within polygamous communities, along with increased media attention, have increased awareness of the issues.
In the last few months several teenage girls have fled from the polygamous community, including two who were placed under the protection of Child Protective Services in Phoenix.
The Arizona Senate recently approved a proposal intended to combat the forced marriages of teenage girls in polygamist enclaves, according to an Associated Press report.