14 Oct 2008

Texas officials say they want to help at-risk girls and sexual-abuse victims face emotional issues

Salt Lake Tribune - October 11, 2008

by Brooke Adams

Texas authorities are asking parents from a polygamous sect to send daughters ages 10 to 17 to counseling sessions designed to teach them about sexual abuse and marriage laws.
The individual "therapeutic education" sessions are being offered to 63 girls who were among 439 children at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado when it was raided in April. The ranch is home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Counselors, who also conducted parenting classes for FLDS mothers, are providing information on how to identify, prevent and report sexual abuse, said Patrick Crimmins, spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
"The goal of the sessions is to educate girls who are at risk, who may already have been sexual abuse victims, and to deal with any emotional issues related to the topic," he said in an e-mail.
The material is age-appropriate, he added.
Some parents have asked to be allowed to attend with their children and "that is up to the counselor," Crimmins said.
It takes four hours to cover the material, though it can be divided into shorter sessions, Crimmins said. Some children have already completed the counseling, but he would not say how many.
"If a child does not attend the sessions despite our recommendations, those situations will be assessed on a
case-by-case basis to determine if there is any additional action we might take," he wrote, including seeking a court order to require cooperation.
Asked if the department was requiring completion of the course as a condition of dismissing a case, Crimmins said, "Yes, it can be."
Texas has nonsuited 315 cases to date, which includes 26 women the state initially alleged were minors.
FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said parents were complying with the request in hope that "they'll dismiss all these cases after they take the class."
Polly Rea O'Toole, a Dallas attorney who represented an 8-year-old who also had older sisters in state custody, said the counseling request did not seem an "onerous burden."
"At best these children will be educated on subjects that they need to be educated about and at worst they shut it out and just sit there and don't absorb anything," O'Toole said. "But either way, there doesn't seem to be a huge downside to encouraging attendance at these [sessions], especially when there have been numerous indictments against this community for sexual assault of children."
If the result is the community avoids problems that led to the April raid and another generation being ripped apart, "that is a good thing," she said.
But several attorneys have said parents are concerned about the sessions' content, particularly any sexual material that may be inappropriate for children as young as 10. Some FLDS parents say they were angered when their children were shown cartoonlike drawings of the backsides of adults while in foster care as part of asking them about sexual abuse.
The FLDS children spent two months in state custody after authorities raided the ranch because of allegations of sexual and physical abuse. The call that initiated the raid is now believed a hoax, but investigators said they found evidence of abuse that warranted the children's removal.
The state has asked the court to dismiss cases as it determines children are safe or have turned 18.
A Schleicher County grand jury has indicted nine FLDS men on charges related to underage marriages; some also face bigamy allegations.

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