18 Apr 2008

Child Protective Services took a necessary risk in seizing FLDS kids

The Dallas Morning News
April 17, 2008

But there’s ample evidence that what they were overlooking was infinitely more disturbing

by Columnist Jacquielynn Floyd

The state of Texas took a big risk when it removed more than 400 kids from the polygamous separatist compound in West Texas, and even more when the decision was made to isolate the older children from their mothers.

It risked a crushing burden on its own perennially strained Child Protective Services apparatus. It risked a chaotic and protracted court fight.

It risked a tornadic storm of criticism – one Texas-based advocate for parents of children in the child-welfare system, incredibly, was quoted by ABC News as likening the state’s actions to "the Nazis and how the parents and children were divided on the train platforms."

In short, there’s not much of an upside for the state. Not much, besides the protection of some of our least visible and most vulnerable citizens.

Looking the other way while the secretive FLDS (not, for the thousandth time, to be confused with mainstream Mormons) flourished in isolation was a long-held policy in Arizona and Utah, where the splinter group is concentrated.

Those states were understandably wary of the investigatory obstacles deliberately constructed by the sect, and of the political consequences of separating entire communities of children from their parents.

So for years, they practiced discreet inaction, treating the FLDS as a wacky but benign order of sectarian oddballs on par with communal nudists or free-love herbivores.

But there’s ample evidence that what they were overlooking was infinitely more disturbing: A creepy authoritarian cult that favored older men with sexual access to underage girls in the guise of multiple "spiritual wives." An isolated community where children are conditioned from infancy to accept abuse and degradation. A self-governed, self-policing enclave that ignores the laws and safeguards that regulate most of us.

"The fact that this has been going on all these years, and the fact that justice has not been there to protect women and children … from amazing civil rights violations – it is an embarrassment," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the Los Angeles Times in 2006. "I don’t want to indict the states of Utah and Arizona, but mea culpa – we are responsible."

The Times exhaustively documented evidence that the group’s leader, the now-imprisoned "prophet" Warren Jeffs, personally assigned underage "wives" to older men (including himself). It cited the group’s practice of banishing teenage boys and young men to restrict the pool of marriageable males.

Most disturbingly, it found claims of domestic violence, child molestation and incest that were allegedly covered up by church leaders.

And as media scrutiny intensified in Arizona and Utah, the sect started construction on its new compound in Texas.

Listen, we are accustomed to storming City Hall in protest if a harried caseworker returns an abused child to an unrepentant mother or if a convicted child molester is paroled into our neighborhood.

Do we have a different standard for the protection of children who are kept out of sight by a secretive cult?

Do we leave children in the care of blindly obedient mothers who may have acquiesced to the rape of their daughters because they were subjected to similar treatment themselves?

There is no doubt that it’s traumatic for children to be separated from their families, questioned by strangers, placed in foster care.

One of the few even more traumatic scenarios I can imagine would be to endure a lifetime of brainwashing, abuse and sexual enslavement.

There’s not an ideal alternative here, no choices that aren’t certain to mean hardship and censure.

But if we don’t act, mea culpa – we are responsible.

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