A cult of abuses

Colorado City females are property, to trade and ‘assign’
The Arizona Republic, Jan. 22, 2004

Children kept out of school. Adolescent girls given as second and third wives to old men. Teen boys banished. Out-of-favor men expelled, and their wives and children assigned to those who please the ruling elite.

A backward, Third World nation?

No. The USA. The land of the Bill of Rights. The home of the rule of law.

For more than 50 years, an enclave of lawbreakers and advocates of child sexual abuse has straddled the Arizona-Utah border, unrepentant and unchallenged. Girls were property, boys were competition, women were chattel. All were denied access to the justice system and the protection of the Constitution.

Until recently, state officials responded with the scalded-dog routine. A botched raid in 1953 produced such political embarrassment that everybody ran away from this thing.

Not anymore. The attorneys general of Arizona and Utah are investigating crimes including child abuse, child labor law violations, income tax evasion, welfare fraud and civil rights violations in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said the practice of joining young girls in polygamous unions with older men in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) was so widespread, and the “horror stories” from those who fled human bondage so egregious, that “I couldn’t sleep at night.”

The joint efforts of the top prosecutors in two states represent real progress. In addition, Gov. Janet Napolitano sent her director of women’s services to the area to assess the need for shelter space. State Sen. Marilyn Jarrett, R-Mesa, is preparing legislation to make child bigamy a Class 5 felony.

These are good efforts. But ensuring the rights of victims of a religious cult remains a daunting task.

And make no mistake, this is a cult. Don’t confuse the FLDS with mainstream Mormons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints banned polygamy more than a century ago. This is not an attack on Mormons. “I’m LDS,” Shurtleff says.

It’s an attack on child abusers.

Recent news stories about the rift in the FLDS hierarchy demonstrate both the challenges and the need for continued pressure. Earlier this month, a number of high-ranking men were expelled from their homes with the prospect that their wives and children would be “assigned” to other men. In this perverse world, women and children become prizes to distribute to the faithful.

The purge led to fears of bloodshed and claims that large numbers of women and children would flee. Support services were set up and a concerned public responded with admirable generosity.

The exodus hasn’t occurred. Shurtleff says three girls left. Two of them, both 16, are in Phoenix. They fled arranged marriages.

Their plight demonstrates the need for continued public support for efforts to root out systematic and institutionalized child abuse.

But the lack of a mass exodus could be misinterpreted. It could shift the focus away from the real issue. So could a lawsuit that challenges laws against polygamy. The suit cites the Supreme Court decision that overturned Texas sodomy laws as being a violation of privacy rights.

This is not about privacy, religious freedom or lifestyle choices.

It’s about child abuse.

It’s about the need to apply the law to a law-breaking cult.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Arizona Republic, USA
Jan. 22, 2004

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday January 22, 2004.
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