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April 17, 2008

Will the FLDS case impact perceptions of child rape and sex offenders?

Artyfzranchap Over at Grits for Breakfast, Scott has been doing effective coverage of the FLDS case, including this interesting post asserting that "more law blawggers need to weigh in on West Texas polygamy case."  Though I won't fault other law bloggers for their posting agendas, I will do my part by noting one of the reasons I have been fascinated by the scenes and interviews now coming out of the YFZ Ranch which have become the focal point of a lot of the MSM coverage the last few days. 

Of particular interest is hearing some pundits talk about the case in terms of "child rape," while seeing videos of many mothers expressing heartfelt (and scripted?) concerns about the well-being of their children.  Beyond the fact that the men from the YFZ Ranch are not seen, I wonder if viewers are struggling with the notion that these mothers may be directly complicit (and legally accountable) for what would be the crime of child rape in most jurisdictions.

Needless to say, I doubt most members of the public or politicians think of the FLDS mothers when they think about child rapists and sex offenders.  But, as this case continues forward and evidence emerges concerning adults repeatedly having sex with underage girls, the national image of child rape and sex offender may be altered.

April 17, 2008 at 06:16 PM | Permalink


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The "the national image of child rape and sex offender" looks to be holding steady after the first day!

Good of you to post on the topic.


Posted by: kbp | Apr 18, 2008 1:40:37 AM

I think this is an equal protection violation. The catholic church is allowed to rape all the little kids it wants to, but when some other, smaller religious group does the same thing, the FBI comes in and raids them and arrests everyone. Double standard anyone?

Posted by: bruce | Apr 18, 2008 3:38:35 PM

The big story here is the media's control over the country and that includes politicians who are subservient to the media, not the people.

Posted by: George | Apr 18, 2008 5:25:32 PM

I don't think it will have much of an impact. Most Americans who know enough to have any opinion probably view the mothers themselves as victims of a deeply sexist religious organization, suffering the same fate as their daughters did.

George, I don't know that I understand your point. Are you talking about sex offenders generally or the FLDS in particular?

Posted by: Alec | Apr 18, 2008 10:09:27 PM

It might be a little late to comment on this story here, but I'll do it anyway.

I had an interesting discussion in my political science over the poligamy case. My views of government intervention in private affairs was at odds with the moral views of many.

Many, including my Professor, argued that the state was right in removing the children from the religious compound because polygamy is wrong and they are "brainwashing" girls into believing that is ok for a husband to have more than one wife. They also claim, as does the state, that some underage girls were being forced to marry. Needless to say there is no real evidene of that happening. The only evidence they have is an alledged plea for help from a girl inside the compound that they cannot find; not to mention that the official story of how the girl came into contact with the authorities has been changed at least three times.

The main issue here is that the case is about a group of people that choose to leave seperate from society, and follow a strict, if not antiquated style of life. Because of the way they dress and act, and of course their practice of polygamy, which is permissible under their religion, people see them as weird and have no regard for what happens to them. In fact, many students believed that as I mentioned before women were being "brainwashed" and all agreed that a woman, even if its 18 year old should not be allowed to marry an older man if the family is telling her to marry. The question is how do we know if they are being forced? I know that the media is making this to be a case of sexual abuse. The main evidence the state has is 3 underage girls who were pregnant, but as I reminded my classmates, when I was in middle school, that was a common occurance.

In my opinion this is a shameless case of religious persecution. Even the state attorney general said that wether the girl appears or not, its irrelevant, because the mothers appeared in national tv and admitted to polygamy which is a crime, and that is the real reason of all this scandal.

It most be noted that polygamy, while many of us would not agree with the practice, it still involves consenting adults who are all aware of what they are gettin into, so why is it illegal?

Posted by: EJ | Apr 18, 2008 11:26:37 PM

Polygamy is illegal for a few reasons:

1. It cannot, in practice as opposed to theory, be distinguished from sexism and child abuse.
Most practicioners are not involved in polyamory or simple cohabitation; it is religious fundamentalism and sexism hiding behind autonomy. But even were this not the case...

2. Unlike say same-sex marriage, polygamy involves a fundamental reordering of our marital laws. Who is married to whom? How do we divide? This does not implicate criminal law, but a great deal of civil law.

3. Polygamy is usually not the charge, but sexual intercourse with minors (females) and some form of fraud or tax evasion which leads us to...

4. Polygamists consistently abuse welfare laws, tax laws, etc. The targeting of polygamists is not polygamy per se, but practices associated with a particular form of polygamy.

Do I think the act of marrying multiple people should be illegal? No. Do I think we should recognize those marriages? No. See point number 2. But none of these positions leads me to accept polygamy or the justifications behind the practice.

Posted by: Alec | Apr 19, 2008 12:32:34 AM

Alec asks, "George, I don't know that I understand your point. Are you talking about sex offenders generally or the FLDS in particular?"

What I mean is that politicians are so dependent on the media during election years, and so reactive to the media the rest of the time, that the media controls them. Another way of phrasing it might be that the 1A trumps and controls all the others and since the media is in control of speech the 1A dominates all else, which could be why the government (or media?) wants more control over the Internet. This is more true now that conglomerates control most of the media. This is why I think the American Legislative Exchange Council is so dangerous since it represents the same conglomerates, which is probably why so few have ever heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

CJR's guide to what the major media companies own.

Posted by: George | Apr 19, 2008 11:22:06 AM

Here is a visual representation of how pervasive media ownership is. Just about everything we see, hear or read is owned by a handful of companies.

Posted by: George | Apr 19, 2008 11:44:05 AM


1. "It cannot, in practice as opposed to theory, be distinguished from sexism and child abuse."

Sexism? Because in this particular religion men and not women are allowed to have multiple partners? I personally don't care if its the other way around. My point is that while some feminist might not like it, the women involved in polygamy accept it and like it that way. If they do not like it, they can always leave. Of course they have to live with the consequences of their actions and choices, which in this case might be being disowned by their family.

In any case Sexism alone is not reason enough to outlaw a practice that requires consent from all partners. This would be the same as outlawing marijuana to stop young people from "ruining" their lives by smoking it, and then putting them in jail when they violate the law, where they are subjected to numerious types of abuses such as rape. If all partners are not consenting to it, then it would make sense for it to be illegal.

In the case of child abuse. I agree that children should not be allowed to marry at a young age, but the government already says that if they commit a crime they can be tried as adults, so is it really abuse when the government believes children are able to make adult decisions? Oh wait I'm sorry, first they have to commit the crime, that is the real "test of maturity."

I grew up in a Hispanic Catholic family, and Religious fundamentalism is not something i'm afaid of. I'm not a practicing catholic, and I consider myself non-denominational due to my lack of faith on any church governed by men, but I dont believe the "freedom from religion" practice that some people in the left are promoting. To me, as long as they don't force others to follow their religion, Religious fundamentalism does not matter.

2. "Unlike say same-sex marriage, polygamy involves a fundamental reordering of our marital laws. Who is married to whom? How do we divide? This does not implicate criminal law, but a great deal of civil law."

This reminds me of the reasons some people made to oppose to making the crack-cocaine guidelines amendment retroactive. It would involve too much work and it would saturate our courts. Well, if it helps serve justice, so be it.

If we have to re-structure our marital laws to grant everyone the same rights, so be it. While you dont believe homosexual marriage can be compared to this case, I believe that it does. It involves denying people of their rights under the Constitution because it goes against our moral standards, which are essentially inherited from our religion.

3. "Polygamy is usually not the charge, but sexual intercourse with minors (females) and some form of fraud or tax evasion"

the whole issue of sexual intercourse with minors is a cultural issue. I'm not, nor will ever defend the sexual abuse of little children, but in other democracies who we praise for their freedom, such as spain and france, the ages of consent are 14 and 15. And I don't believe that the gender of the victim should determine if its a worse crime.

As far as fraud and tax evasion that is something else.

4. "Polygamists consistently abuse welfare laws, tax laws, etc. The targeting of polygamists is not polygamy per se, but practices associated with a particular form of polygamy."

I cannot talk about the abuse of welfare laws, tax laws, etc., because I don't know that. What I do know is that many other people do so too, and it cannot be something that only Polygamists do. In fact, some of the reasons that the xenophobic groups are using to target Hispanics is that we abuse the welfare system and don't pay taxes, something that on behalf on my family I can deny.

Again, I'm sorry for disagreeing with you, but I think it has everything to do with polygamy. That is the main reason people hate them. In America we have a long history of denying rights to minorities because the majority hates them, and has no regards for their freedom and rights. Some examples would be the oppression of Blacks, Hipanics, Japanesse during WWII, and yes, Sex Offenders. Oh wait I forgot muslims after 9/11. I could go on, but I think that's enough examples.


Posted by: EJ | Apr 19, 2008 1:54:54 PM

I feel very strongly that the adult "mothers" in the YFZ ranch in Texas need to be held accountable, as well as the "fathers", to the fullest extend of the Law. It seems to me that when a well-to-do God worshipping white women commits a crime in this country, she is given the red carpet treatment. People leap at the opportunity to spew out excuses for the behavior. I firmly believe that if these "mothers" at the YFZ ranch were black or hispanic they would be judged much more harshly by the public and ultimately by law enforcement and by the courts. This country absolutely must stop picking and chosing who to prosecute based on gender, race, religion, status, or any other unfair bias for or against a person or persons. If we do not prosecute the women in this case, in addition to the men, it will send a clear message across the nation that negligence and complicitness in a child abuse situation is acceptable and forgivable. It is not.

Posted by: Nathan | Apr 19, 2008 7:17:12 PM

Alright, EJ, allow me to respond:

1. Sexism. In practice polygamy (at least religious polygamy) is sexist to the core. I was talking about government recognition of polygamy, however, not criminal polygamy or bigamy statutes, which I oppose. At the same time, let's be honest about "consent" in these situations. These are women who have been indoctrinated by a religious doctrine their entire lives, for the most part. This is not Big Love, or polyamory.

2. The legal problems associated with recognizing polygamous marriages. No, sorry, no dice. Marriage is fundamentally (in the law, at least) about TWO people. The problems are more than administrative, they are insurmountable. Who is married to whom? Who has the property claims upon divorce?

And that's the problem with polygamy: it is fundamentally different from our modern marriage laws.

3. Re: Age of consent and fraud. Speaking as someone raised in MI, where the age of consent was 16 and living in CA, where it is 18, I think the appropriate system is probably staggered: 18 for consent with everyone, and age appropriate staggering for those under 18 (i.e., under 14 off limits to everyone 18 or older, 15 for those 18-20 or younger, etc.; dunno what the most appropriate ages are, but it seems like the appropriate system). And while I don't think gender is that relevant, I do think that the risk of pregnancy in young girls and sexual confusion and trauma in young boys is something to think about.

As for welfare fraud...the problem is that it is related to polygamist practices. We're talking about men with dozens of children, in some cases. Now, I don't want to sell out the children here, and I would not do that in the case of undocumented workers. My point was that the charges are not, say, violations of the bigamy statutes, but practices arising out of how these individuals are maintaining their standard of living.

Look, prosecutors are not going after people living polygamous or polyamorous lifestyles in the suburbs or in cities. They're going after people living on compounds, and for a reason. While I happen to think 3+ person romantic relationships are unwise, this is not what we are talking about.

Posted by: Alec | Apr 21, 2008 2:21:22 AM

I've believed for a while that the laws banning polygamy in the United States probably violate the First Amendment. I realize there is a 19th Century Supreme Court case that says otherwise, but the late 19th Century court was hostile to personal liberties and the Mormon church was highly unpopular at the time - but it is not at all clear that a court today would reach the same conclusion given that there is much more respect given to unpopular religious groups and there could be a decent establishment clause argument as well as a substantive due process argument.

Posted by: Zack | Apr 22, 2008 2:52:23 PM

Just a concerned citizen.

Polygamy laws are extremely hypocritical given the serial polygamy practiced by most Americans. (Get married, then divorce, then get married again...) The families of polygamists aren't any more traumatized than that average American family. If there is a record that the parties took a marriage oath and they aren't committing incest then the interest of the state has been met.

All this freaking out about girls getting married at 14 is hypocritical as well. Most Americans send their kids to a government school where they start teaching them about how to wear condoms in elementary school. Even government statistics say that the majority of girls in government school have sexual relations and have contracted venereal disease before they graduate. That's why they're trying to force the warts vaccinations on school girls. Your daughter is more likely to have a teen pregnancy in a public school than in an FLDS sect.

My great-grandmother was a normal Appalachian Christian woman and got married at 14 and had a long and happy marriage. She lived until I was 12 years old. She was normal and happy, and our family was normal and happy.

Mormonism isn't the only polygamist religion/culture in the world. We also have an issue with Islam. If an Islamic family moves to the United states with three wives, should the state bust up the family?

Polygamist families can be dysfunctional and have a lot of additional stresses, as can be readily seen from the narratives in the Bible about Abraham and Jacob and their multiple wives. But, if the husband and father is providing for the wives and children, the state should stay out of it.

Likewise, a girl getting married at 14 is not "rape" or "sexual abuse" unless she objected to the marriage and was forced to marry against her express objection. If Texas law allows girls to marry at 14 with parental consent, then it isn't rape.

Even arranged marriages are a cultural thing - not a criminal issue. People from India do it all the time, and they have a very low divorce rate.

Most of the minor girls "saved" by Texas CPS are women who love their husbands and children and have been extremely traumatized by all this.

Where can we write to demand the CPS officials who pulled this caper to be fired?

Posted by: Ken | May 14, 2008 11:56:22 AM

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