Prosecuting Polygamy – Is Utah Doing Enough?

Days after Arizona authorities filed charges against FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, anti-polygamist groups say Utah isn’t doing enough to prosecute polygamy. But the attorney general says it’s not that easy.

Groups like “Tapestry Against Polygamy” say the state should be doing everything it can to protect children. But the attorney general says his office doesn’t have enough resources to charge every polygamist in the state or to take care of tens of thousands of polygamist children.

Polygamy may be illegal in Utah, but how often is it actually prosecuted? Anti-polygamy groups say not often enough.

Andrea Moore-Emmett, Author of “God’s Brothel”: “The AG’s office has always focused on the high-profile cases.”

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs was charged in Arizona last Friday for conspiring to sexually abuse a minor. But Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he will prosecute any polygamist he can bring to justice.

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General: “Before I came into office, nobody was prosecuting these cases. Nobody. Everybody had turned a blind eye. Everybody was giving them a pass. And we’ve changed that.”

The group “Tapestry Against Polygamy” says they have three cases that have fallen through the cracks. Robbie Sweeten is currently trying to gain custody of his four-year-old daughter after the girl’s mother took her back to a polygamist community called “The Rock” in Moab.

21-year-old Rachael Strong says a 64-year-old polygamist leader named Jim broke up her first marriage.

Rachael Strong, Left Polygamist Marriage: “I decided I didn’t want to live there any more or sleep with Jim. And he wrote some letters threatening that if I didn’t sleep with him, I wasn’t going to be saved in the last days.”

Strong says she hopes the AG will file charges against him, and Shurtleff says he will review the case. But oftentimes prosecuting is hard.

Mark Shurtleff: “We have a number of young women who have said they’d testify. But they’re scared to death. They don’t know what will happen to them. They don’t know how to take care of their children.”

That’s not enough for anti-polygamist activists.

Andrea Moore-Emmett: “I only know that people who break the law should be accountable for it.”

Shurtleff says many of the cases Tapestry Against Polygamy is handing over are custody cases, and he has to focus on the most serious offenses like child abuse, domestic violence and incest. He says he will gladly prosecute polygamy cases that involve those crimes.

Wednesday “Tapestry Against Polygamy” will be holding a press conference to talk about their frustrations.

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Tonya Papanikolas

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)