23 Dec 2008

Texas CPS releases FLDS report, claims 12 girls married underage

Deseret News - December 23, 2008

by Ben Winslow

Texas child welfare authorities claim 12 girls from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch are confirmed victims of sexual abuse and neglect because they were married at ages ranging from 12 to 15.

Those were among the conclusions reached in an investigation into the raid that resulted in hundreds of children from the polygamous sect's Texas ranch being placed in state protective custody. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services released it's long-anticipated report early Tuesday after a public records request by the Deseret News.

"There were 43 girls removed from the ranch from the ages of 12 to 17 — which means that more than one out of every four pubescent girls on the ranch was in an underage marriage," the investigation claims. "262 other children were subjected to neglect because parents failed to remove their child from a situation in which the child would be exposed to sexual abuse committed against another child within their families or households."

The report acknowledges the earliest of the spiritual marriages took place in 2004 and the latest was in July 2006.

"Two girls were 12 when married, three were 13; two were 14; and five girls were 15 when married," the report claims. "Seven of these girls have had one or more children after marriage. In each confirmed finding of sexual abuse, CPS identified as perpetrators the parents of the child and the 'husband' of the child."

CPS said its investigation began March 30 after receiving a report alleging physical and sexual abuse of a child on the YFZ Ranch. On April 3, law enforcement and CPS caseworkers went to the ranch.

"The very first interviews at the ranch revealed that several underage girls had been 'spiritually united' with adult men," the investigative summary said. "Investigators also noticed a pattern of deception. Women and children frequently said they could not answer questions about the ages of girls or family relationships. Children were moved from location to location in an apparent attempt to prevent investigators from talking to them. Documents were being shredded. Girls told investigators that no age was too young for marriage and that 'the Prophet' determined when and who a girl should marry."

CPS and law enforcement has claimed that on site they found other evidence of abuse, prompting a judge to order the removal of all of the children from the ranch. Hundreds of children were placed in state protective custody.

The 439 children were ultimately returned to their families two months later when a pair of Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly and not all of the children were at immediate risk of abuse. The phone call that prompted the raid itself remains under investigation but is believed to be hoax. A Colorado woman with a history of fake phone calls of abuse has been declared a "person of interest" in the ongoing probe.

A dozen men, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, have been indicted in a parallel criminal investigation. They face charges related to underage marriages from sexual assault of a child and bigamy to performing a marriage ceremony prohibited by law and failure to report child abuse.

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