30 Jun 2008

Why The Costs of Sexual Abuse and the Costs of Non-Enforcement of Anti-Sexual-Abuse Laws Are Too High

FindLaw - June 26, 2008

by Marci Hamilton

Recent reports indicate that the state of Texas spent many millions handling the events involving the FLDS compound in Eldorado, Texas. The money went to pay for attorneys’ fees for the state’s lawyers and the private lawyers appointed to represent the children, for DNA testing, and for the costs of overseeing foster placement for the over 400 children from the compound while they were being protected by the state.

The implicit message of the headlines about these costs is that this is a large and perhaps unacceptable amount to spend in this context. But how much money would be too much to spend to protect hundreds of children from pervasive statutory rape, sexual abuse, underage polygamous marriage, and a system of grooming boys to participate in abuse?

Or let me put the question more bluntly – for those implying that the rescue of these children was not worth the cost: Do you mean to say that Texas should have saved its money by ignoring what everyone knew was happening to these children? There is little question that the Yearning for Zion Ranch was a hornet’s nest, once jostled never to be made the same again, but that does not mean it should have been left to its crimes against children. The choice of insularity does not confer legal immunity.

Texas’s Money Was Well-Spent to Protect Over Four Hundred Children From Abuse and Enforce the State’s Criminal Laws

Despite the relentless coverage, the state never changed its explanation for the need to protect these children, and only the most jaded or naïve can reject their arguments given the stark facts: There were at least 20 known statutory rapes and numerous underage polygamous marriages (and in Texas, polygamy with a minor is a first-degree felony), all within one isolated, close-knit community. This was never about religious persecution and always about obvious sexual molestation and abuse.

Judge Barbara Walther, the trial judge in this case and thus the only judge to have personal knowledge of the facts and the ability to make credibility assessments, is a hero for children. The appellate judges who reversed her rulings did not rule that there was no harm arising from this group. Rather, as I discuss in a prior column, they held that there was not enough evidence from their perch to justify the state’s taking all of the children out of the compound. With the benefit of a closer perspective, however, Judge Walther knew better. She should feel at least partially vindicated by the fact that a grand jury has been convened to investigate criminal charges against members of the sect.

Recently, I debated Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff on NPR about his office’s failure to vigorously prosecute polygamists in his state, where it is well-known that underage girls are being subjected to polygamous marriage and underage sex. While Attorney General Shurtleff had to agree to the facts of the harm, his defense was that it is too expensive to pursue polygamists on child abuse charges. The headlines blaring the facts of the financial accounting in Texas -- as if it were shocking that protecting children and defending litigation would cost money -- provide an echo of such reasoning.

So the questions on the table are these: Should we be aggressive in pursuing child predators, even though it can be expensive, and who should pay for the costs of abuse?

We Face a Pernicious National Problem: We Have Failed to Focus on the Costs of the Failure to Deter Predators and Reduce the Incidence of Abuse

More generally, as a nation, how much are we spending to protect children from sexual abuse? Obviously, not nearly enough. With at least 20% of boys and 25% of girls, on average, sexually abused, the status quo is not acceptable. With all of our attempts to reduce pedophile access to children, we still have an enormous problem. Moreover, children don’t vote, and adults in power don’t yet understand that the costs of prevention and deterrence are made up in less abuse and, consequently, less expense to the entire society.

In Assessing the Costs of Protecting Children, One Must Keep In Mind the Massive Costs of Sexual Abuse and Violence, Too

The status quo is not just a moral outrage, but also an irrational economic situation. The costs to society of sexual abuse are enormous: Victims suffer from drug addiction; alcoholism; mental illness, often rising to the level of disability; suicide, and broken marriages, and as workers may be less productive than they could have been. The harm does not just extend to the victims, but also to their families, their future families, and eventually the entire economy.

In 2007, Minnesota estimated the state’s costs of sexual violence in 2005 at almost $8 billion, or $1,540/resident. According to the report, moreover, these are a “fraction of the true costs.” Child sexual abuse was a significant component of the study; the costs of child sex abuse were deemed to average $184,000/victim, exceeding the cost of adult rape, which averaged $139,000/victim. And those are just the immediate costs arising out of a self-contained event of abuse, not the long-term and astronomical costs generated by continuing effects. Suffice it to say that, when we fail to deter or stop sexual abuse, we pay. A lot.

Familial abuse (which includes abuse by family members and close family friends) is the largest category of childhood sexual abuse. Even self-contained groups, like the FLDS, impose costs on the rest of us. Girls are forced to start having babies as soon as they physically can. They are taken out of the minimal education provided, which means all of their resources are turned primarily toward one end – the production of numerous babies – and away from any other gifts or talents they might have. There is another cost arising from their large, polygamous families as well. Often, all but a man’s first wife find it necessary to apply for welfare to support their many children. (They apply as “single mothers.”) Whatever potential skills they might have contributed to society are snuffed out by their obligation to bear babies for the glory of their men in heaven, and like actual single mothers, they face substantial barriers to breaking free from the welfare cycle. There is also the cost imposed by the FLDS on the rest of us when they abandon boys on city streetcorners to keep the odds in favor of the men. Meanwhile, the group rests on the assumption that the government will pay for this lifestyle.

The truth is that reducing abuse in any situation is financially advantageous to all of us. Sometimes the monetary gains are not obvious at first glance. The investment in Texas may well have had an indirect financial benefit, as a number of the mothers have not returned their children to the sect’s ranch, even after the courts cleared the path for them to do so. That may well account for significant future reductions in abuse and its attendant costs. Even more optimistically, perhaps it will embolden those from within the group who know the truth to summon the courage to press charges against the felons, which would be the best means to reduce the number of victims and the cost to society.

Economic Arguments Against Enforcing Anti-Abuse Laws Do Not Hold Water If the Public Cost of Non-Enforcement Is Taken Into Account

Those who still think enforcing the law against child sex abuse is too costly should bear in mind the case of Mansa Musa Muhummed, who was just convicted in Murrieta, California of abusing and torturing his numerous wives and children. His defense was his Muslim faith. The authorities only were able to save the women and children after one of the wives slipped a handwritten note to a postal carrier. In this case, the state had to pay for the cost of prosecuting Muhummed for torturing at least seven children, as well as abusing them and falsely imprisoning his wives. And the state’s financial burdens are far from over, as it is hard to calculate just how expensive it will be to rehabilitate and assist the victims of this one-man crime wave. Even so, is there anyone who would say this was a waste of state funds? To be sure, the costs in Texas with respect to the FLDS are much higher, but that may have more to do with numbers than an honest assessment of public cost-benefit.

Financial arguments against legal reforms for sex abuse victims also have come from mainstream religions. The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has used economic arguments to block childhood sexual abuse legislative reform. It has steadfastly opposed eliminating the statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse, on the ground that it will cost the Church too much money if cases are reopened. The irony of such a position, of course, is that the alleged cost is obviously based on knowledge of the number of victims. The Church hierarchy vigorously point toward their alleged financial concerns as a means of distracting legislators from the reality that eliminating the statutes of limitations for child sex abuse reduces the costs of sexual abuse by publicly identifying predators, thereby reducing the number of victims, and by shifting costs away from the state to those private entities responsible for the abuse.

Of course, private parties are not the only entities responsible for imposing the costs of abuse on society. Sometimes it is the public schools or other public entities that are responsible and, therefore, costs still fall on taxpayers’ shoulders. The only way to reduce those costs is to prevent abuse by identifying and deterring predators in public as well as private organizations. In addition, there need to be strong means of ensuring that public entities do not increase abuse and its costs by covering it up. That requires a legal system calibrated to that end.

Criminal Prosecution of Perpetrators and Civil Litigation of Sexual Abuse Claims Result in Savings for Taxpayers

California opened the door to previously barred civil claims in 2003, and here is the financial equation: On the hierarchy’s side of the equation, insurance paid half of the settlements, while the rest was funded by the sale of non-religious property, and no services were cut. On the public savings side: The lawsuits fingered 300 perpetrators who had never before been identified, dramatically increasing the barriers to their further abuse of more children. Fewer victims, of course, mean fewer costs. Moreover, private parties bore the cost of investigating the facts of those cases, not the state, and private parties had to pay for the damages they plainly caused.

This is a crucial financial point: civil litigation for childhood sexual abuse is the one way to force those responsible for the abuse to cover the costs of their actions. Otherwise, the victim and/or taxpayers must pay for the therapy, drug treatment, and the host of other costs directly attributable to childhood sexual abuse.

The elimination of the criminal statutes of limitations also results in cost-savings. The conviction of a predator leads to incarceration and/or public identification on a sex offender registry. Both work toward reducing the incidence of future abuse. It is nonsensical to keep the current system in most states where the statute of limitations usually runs before a victim can come forward or is able to press charges. The math is simple. With no criminal statute of limitations, there are more predators convicted, fewer predators in the community, and better information, all of which adds up to fewer victims. Once again, fewer victims, less cost.

If costs matter, statute of limitations reform legislation is a no-brainer.

How does this relate to the FLDS situation in Texas? There, the state has had to bear the high cost of trying to aid children locked into an entrenched system of abuse. Think about this: If Arizona and Utah had enforced their laws against child abuse and polygamy decades ago, there might have been no FLDS child sex abuse for the Texas authorities to investigate. Texas is absorbing the cost passed on by years of failed law enforcement in those two states.

Texas, though, has now opened a door for the victims, who have glimpsed a larger world where abuse is not a given. That means we are likely to have FLDS child victims coming forward, needing and deserving justice. They are the ones who can shift the cost of the abuse from the state to the truly responsible parties. If they press charges as well, they are also the ones who can ensure that the child predators they know can no longer gain access to future children, reducing costs again. Only if Texas liberated the children, with all the attendant costs, was there any possibility that such a shift in cost could occur.

Unfortunately, Texas is like so many other states in that it gives the predators a substantial benefit through its short statutes of limitations. The result of these short statutes of limitations is that its actions to date may not lead to the appropriate shifting of costs onto those who are responsible. In Texas, the criminal statutes of limitation for child sex abuse are very short (none extends past the victim’s 28th birthday) compared to the time it takes most victims to come forward. The civil statutes of limitations are worse, with the latest being the victim’s 23rd birthday. By making it nearly impossible for victims to get to court on time, the Texas statutes of limitations perpetuate the cycle of abuse that generates more victims and more costs, as child predators operate under a legal cloak of anonymity. If Texas (and most every other state) is serious about protecting children -- in the most cost-effective manner -- statute of limitations reform is the next important step.

To return to my earlier questions: The financial equation calls for aggressive means of deterring child predators, and those who caused the abuse should be the ones paying for the high cost of the abuse.

Marci Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge 2008). A review of Justice Denied appeared on FindLaw on June 25, 2008.

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29 Jun 2008

Cult expert: Texas shouldn't have released FLDS kids

Salt Lake Tribune - June 29, 2008

by Thomas Burr

PHILADELPHIA - By sending the children in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints back home, Texas has opened up the doors to groups who want religious protection for abusing children, a leading church/state scholar said Saturday.
Marci Hamilton, a professor at Princeton and Yeshiva University's Cardozo Law School, told a conference of the International Cultic Studies Association that the Texas Supreme Court's decision to release the FLDS children from foster care paired with a ruling Friday that tossed out an award for injuries a teenager suffered during an exorcism made a dangerous statement.
"When you add yesterday's decision to FLDS, the state of the Texas has just sent out an engraved invitation to any group who wants to abuse children," Hamilton said. The two decisions make "Texas a very dangerous place for children."
Hamilton, the author of "God vs. the Gavel" and a lawyer who has taken up several cases of child sexual abuse, addressed a packed house at the conference at the University of Pennsylvania. The conference of social workers, sociologists, psychiatrists and scholars is focused on studying cultic groups, and several forums this weekend plan to look at the FLDS situation.
Texas authorities raided the group's Texas ranch on April 3, taking some 460 women and children into state custody based on allegations of sexual, physical
and emotional abuse. All were released in June 2, though investigations continue.
At the Philadelphia conference Saturday, Hamilton said placing the children into state custody "put them in really terrible straits."
"They had to eat pizza. They had to learn to ride bicycles," Hamilton said. "They had to live in a universe where abuse is not normal. They saw a window of information they would have otherwise not gotten."
The Texas high court upheld an appellate court's order to release the children back to their parents, saying the removal was "not warranted."
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had other options to protect the children's safety "short of separating them from their parents and placing them in foster care," the court said in its ruling.
The other decision Hamilton pointed to came down Friday, when the Texas high court overturned a lower-court ruling awarding damages to a 17-year-old girl who was held down and injured during an exorcism.
In an afternoon session, two former polygamist wives spoke to a small group about their experiences in different sects.
Laura Chapman, who left the FLDS sect with her children and is now a social worker in Colorado, raised the point of the 1953 raid in Colorado City, Ariz., when state authorities removed some 263 children. Then-Gov. John Howard Pyle ordered the raid, saying that all children had the rights of other native-born Americans and maturing women shouldn't be given away as chattel.
"Has anything changed? This is Texas," Chapman said.
Like Texas, the children removed during the Short Creek raid were returned to their parents.
Chapman noted that the raid spurned even more fear from polygamous groups of government intervention, and many children -- including herself -- are taught that evil forces are out to destroy God's work.
"They still always say they're being persecuted for polygamy," Chapman said, of reaction to recent crackdowns. "Well, they're being prosecuted for crimes."
FLDS elder and sect spokesman Willie Jessop blasted discussion of the group at a conference focused on cults. He called it stereotyping.
Likewise, Mary Batchelor, co-founder of Principle Voices, an advocacy group for polygamous communities, said some people are unwilling to see the diversity in polygamous groups and only see good or bad.
"We have a legitimate culture and obviously there is variety in how that culture is practiced among the groups," Batchelor said. "Some may view it [polygamy] as a cult. We don't."

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Tiny Voices Defy Child Marriage in Yemen

New York Times - June 29, 2008

by Robert F. Worth

JIBLA, Yemen — One morning last month, Arwa Abdu Muhammad Ali walked out of her husband’s house here and ran to a local hospital, where she complained that he had been beating and sexually abusing her for eight months.

That alone would be surprising in Yemen, a deeply conservative Arab society where family disputes tend to be solved privately. What made it even more unusual was that Arwa was 9 years old.

Within days, Arwa — a tiny, delicate-featured girl — had become a celebrity in Yemen, where child marriage is common but has rarely been exposed in public. She was the second child bride to come forward in less than a month; in April, a 10-year-old named Nujood Ali had gone by herself to a courthouse to demand a divorce, generating a landmark legal case.

Together, the two girls’ stories have helped spur a movement to put an end to child marriage, which is increasingly seen as a crucial part of the cycle of poverty in Yemen and other third world countries. Pulled out of school and forced to have children before their bodies are ready, many rural Yemeni women end up illiterate and with serious health problems. Their babies are often stunted, too.

The average age of marriage in Yemen’s rural areas is 12 to 13, a recent study by Sana University researchers found. The country, at the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

“This is the first shout,” said Shada Nasser, a human rights lawyer who met Nujood, the 10-year-old, after she arrived at the courthouse to demand a divorce. Ms. Nasser decided instantly to take her case. “All other early marriage cases have been dealt with by tribal sheiks, and the girl never had any choice.”

But despite a rising tide of outrage, the fight against the practice is not easy. Hard-line Islamic conservatives, whose influence has grown enormously in the past two decades, defend it, pointing to the Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to a 9-year-old. Child marriage is deeply rooted in local custom here, and even enshrined in an old tribal expression: “Give me a girl of 8, and I can give you a guarantee” for a good marriage.

“Voices are rising in society against this phenomenon and its catastrophes,” said Shawki al-Qadhi, an imam and opposition member in Parliament who has tried unsuccessfully to muster support for a legal ban on child marriage in Yemen in the past. “But despite rejections of it by many people and some religious scholars, it continues.”

The issue first arose because of Nujood, a bright-eyed girl barely four feet tall. Her ordeal began in February, when her father took her from Sana, the Yemeni capital, to his home village for the wedding. She was given almost no warning.

“I was very frightened and worried,” Nujood recalled, speaking in a soft, childlike voice as she sat cross-legged on the floor in her family’s bare three-room home in a slum not far from Sana’s airport. “I wanted to go home.”

As she told her story, Nujood gradually gained confidence, smiling shyly as if she were struggling to hold back laughter. Later, she removed her veil, revealing her shoulder-length brown hair.

The trouble started on the first night, when her 30-year-old husband, Faez Ali Thamer, took off her clothes as soon as the light was out. She ran crying from the room, but he caught her, brought her back and forced himself on her. Later, he beat her as well.

“I hated life with him,” she said, staring at the ground in front of her. The wedding came so quickly that no one bothered to tell her how women become pregnant, or what a wife’s role is, she added.

Her father, Ali Muhammad al-Ahdal, said he had agreed to the marriage because two of Nujood’s older sisters had been kidnapped and forcibly married, with one of them ending up in jail. Mr. Ahdal said he had feared the same thing would happen to Nujood, and early marriage had seemed a better alternative.

A gaunt, broken-looking man, Mr. Ahdal once worked as a street sweeper. Now he and his family beg for a living. He has 16 children by two women.

Poverty is one reason so many Yemeni families marry their children off early. Another is the fear of girls being carried off and married by force. But most important are cultural tradition and the belief that a young virginal bride can best be shaped into a dutiful wife, according to comprehensive study of early marriage published by Sana University in 2006.

Nujood complained repeatedly to her husband’s relatives and later to her own parents after the couple moved back to their house in Sana. But they said they could do nothing. To break a marriage would expose the family to shame. Finally, her uncle told her to go to court. On April 2, she said, she walked out of the house by herself and hailed a taxi.

It was the first time she had traveled anywhere alone, Nujood recalled, and she was frightened. On arriving at the courthouse, she was told the judge was busy, so she sat on a bench and waited. Suddenly he was standing over her, imposing in his dark robes. “You’re married?” he said, with shock in his voice.

Right away, he invited her to spend the night at his family’s house, she said, since court sessions were already over for the day. There, she spent hours watching television, something she had never known in her family’s slum apartment, which lacks even running water.

When Nujood’s case was called the next Sunday, the courtroom was crowded with reporters and photographers, alerted by her lawyer. Her father and husband were also there; the judge had jailed them the night before to ensure that they would appear in court. (Both were released the next day.) “Do you want a separation, or a permanent divorce?” the judge, Muhammad al-Qadhi, asked the girl, after hearing her testimony and that of her father and her husband.

“I want a permanent divorce,” she replied, without hesitation. The judge granted it.

Afterward, Ms. Nasser, the lawyer, took Nujood to a celebratory party at the offices of a local newspaper, where she was showered with dolls and other toys. Nujood lived with her uncle for a time after the ruling but then insisted on returning to her father’s house. “I have forgiven him,” she said. She swears she will never marry again, and she wants to become a human rights lawyer, like Ms. Nasser, or perhaps a journalist.

Despite the victory, Ms. Nasser and other advocates say they are worried about the lack of legal means to fight early marriage. Nujood’s case only reached the court because she took such a wildly unusual step and happened on a sympathetic judge.

“We were lucky with this judge,” Ms. Nasser said. “Another judge might not have accepted her in court, and would have asked her father or brother to come instead,” and Nujood would probably still be married today.

A 1992 Yemeni law set the minimum legal age of marriage at 15. But in 1998 Parliament revised it, allowing girls to be married earlier as long as they did not move in with their husbands until they reached sexual maturity.

That change reflected the triumph of northern Yemen’s more conservative Islamic culture over the secular and Marxist south after North and South Yemen united in 1990. In South Yemen, the government had passed a law in 1979 setting the age of marriage at 16 for women and 18 for men. An extensive public awareness campaign, including songs and television spots with titles like “The Victimized Daughter of the Tribe” and “Traditions and Rituals” helped educate people about the dangers posed by early marriage and pregnancy.

But in Yemen, as in Afghanistan — another country where child marriage is common — the fight against Communism ended with the triumph of a hard-line form of Islam. After war broke out in 1994, Ali Abdullah Saleh, then North Yemen’s leader, sent jihadists to fight South Yemen. Critics say he has become politically indebted to conservative Islamists.

After Nujood’s case became public, Ms. Nasser said she received angry letters from conservative women denouncing her for her role. But she has also begun receiving calls about girls, some younger than Nujood, trying to escape their marriages.

One of them was Arwa, who was married last year at the age of 8 here in the ancient town of Jibla, four hours south of Sana. As with Nujood’s case, Arwa’s situation aroused a legal and social outrage.

Standing outside a relative’s house here, her hands clasped in front of her, Arwa described how surprised she was when her father arranged her marriage to a 35-year-old man eight months ago. Like Nujood, she did not know the facts of life, she said. The man raped and beat her.

Finally, after months of misery, she ran to a hospital. Employees there took her to a police station, she said. A local judge, on receiving her case, briefly jailed the judge who had approved the marriage contract. Arwa is living with relatives while her case awaits a resolution. But her relatives rarely let her out of the house, fearing that her husband, who has refused the judge’s demands that he appear in court, may take her again.

Asked what made her flee her husband after so many months, Arwa gazed up, an intense, defiant expression in her eyes.

“I thought about it,” she said in a very quiet but firm voice. “I thought about it.”

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28 Jun 2008

Why does sex play such a large role for fringe religious sects?

The Kansas City Star - June 27, 2008

By KIMBERLY WINSTON | Religion News Service

What is it with sects and sex?

The Texas probe into allegations of child abuse at a polygamous compound started with an anonymous phone call about underage girls having sex with adult men. Reports circulated of rumpled bed linens inside the sect’s glistening temple.

Its imprisoned leader, Warren Jeffs, reportedly has dozens of wives and would grant and deny wives to his male followers depending on their perceived worthiness. Without multiple wives, he taught, they could never achieve salvation.

Yet Jeffs isn’t the first sect figure to come under legal scrutiny for sexual practices that outsiders might consider unusual, immoral or even abhorrent. Indeed, many new religious movements — NRMs in scholar-speak — are distinguished not only by their unconventional beliefs but also by the sexual proclivities of their male leaders.

All of which raises the question: Why do people join or remain members of a group that practices unusual sexual behaviors? And what’s more, what kind of sexual power do the leaders of NRMs hold over their followers?

“Every group has its own dynamics and diversity,” said Catherine Wessinger, an expert in NRMs at Loyola University in New Orleans. “A leader can use sexual activity to diminish ties between followers and direct their affections and emotions. But the thing to remember is that no one has that charisma unless the people behind him or her believe that he or she has it.”

Often, the leader’s followers believe that God or other divine beings communicate through the leader, something that can endow the leader’s sexual relations with a special holiness or sanctity, Wessinger said.

In the case of the Branch Davidians, sex with prophet David Koresh was seen as normal and desirable, even when it involved girls as young as 14. Similarly, in the Peoples Temple, whose members committed mass suicide in the Guyana jungle in 1978, sex with leader Jim Jones was sometimes a reward for both men and women, married and unmarried.

“You would think that if you stole someone’s wife that would (tick) them off,” said veteran religion writer Don Lattin, who has written several books on NRMs, including Jesus Freaks, about an evangelical sect known as the Family.

“But in these groups the opposite often happens. The husband goes along with it and is controlled by it because it is all linked with his eternal salvation. By sharing his wife he is getting closer to the central power — the guru or prophet.”

In the case of Jeffs’ Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), his one-man power to arrange (or undo) marriages between young girls and older men lent a sanctity to their union, scholars say.

Yet while groups like Jeffs’ may garner headlines, they’re neither new nor unusual. American history has seen the rise — and often the decline — of NRMs, many with unusual sexual attitudes:

•In the late 1700s, the Shakers established a celibate community in upstate New York. They eventually died out because of a lack of new members.

•The Oneida Community, a utopian commune established in the 1840s in upstate New York, held that sex with someone “spiritually higher” advanced one’s spirituality.

•Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, proclaimed polygamy a divinely revealed concept, and it remained so until the mainstream Mormon Church disavowed it in 1890. That initiated the rift that would lead to the founding of the FLDS church.

•David Berg, the charismatic founder of the Family, reinterpreted Jesus’ teachings on love as sanctifying multiple sexual partners, including underage girls and boys. The group renounced sex with minors in 1986.

Wessinger also links “millennial” NRMs — those that focus on a coming end of the world, like the FLDS sect — with unusual sexual attitudes. Such groups, she says, often enact relationships they believe will exist in the afterlife.

That’s what prompted members of Heaven’s Gate, a millennial sect that committed mass suicide in San Diego in 1997, to practice celibacy and male castration — they believed there would be no sexual activity or relationships in their longed-for afterlife.

“I think it is absolutely connected, because in a millennial movement there is a belief that there is going to be an imminent transition to a collective salvation in which relationships will be completely transformed,” Wessinger said. “They are anticipating the way they think relationships will be after their collective salvation.”

Many spiritual experiences involve the body — Pentecostals speaking in tongues, fire-walking Hindus and Buddhists or even the bleeding wounds (stigmata) attributed to some Catholic mystics and saints. It isn’t such a leap, then, for NRMs to marry the sexual with the spiritual.

“Intense religious experiences often involve the body,” Lattin said. “It is a spiritual ecstasy that can be like a sexual ecstasy. You have that physical experience of body which is very real and very integral to religious experience.”

Sarah Pike, a religious studies professor at California State University-Chico, says there may be something distinctly American about NRMs and sex.

“I think it has something to do with the fact that from the very beginning Americans have had this sense that they are in the process of creating a new society and new governance,” Pike said. “It seems there is a willingness to experiment.”

But other scholars disagree, saying unusual sexual activities were once part of many mainstream religions. Early Christians, led by St. Paul, wrote of celibacy as a means to holiness — an outrageous idea to ancient societies that placed high value on procreation. “Paul writes long passages about being celibate, like he is, because in the kingdom of heaven there (will) be no marrying or giving in marriage,” Wessinger said.

Timothy Miller, a professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas, says he sees very little difference between the sexual activity in NRMs and other, more traditional religious groups.

“I think it happens in regular religious movements,” he said, citing the recent sexual abuse scandals in the Hare Krishna movement and the Catholic Church, among others. “You see the same situation — someone with authority and a lot of trust has the same weaknesses and desires as anyone else. These people are human. I think that is the bottom line.”

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Exposing the abuses and frauds of cults makes advocate a target for regular legal and physical threats

Convicted molester sentenced to 45 years to life

The Press-Enterprise - California    June 27, 2008

by Tammy J. McCoy

A Murrieta man used his daughter's slumber parties to satisfy his perverted desires, a judge said Friday, then ignored calls for mercy and sentenced the 50-year-old father to a prison term of 45 years to life.

"The court has little doubt that if released he will move immediately to molest little children," Judge F. Paul Dickerson III said. "The court feels there are other victims out there who have not come forward."

Dickerson said he was compelled to impose the harshest penalty, given the pain defendant Gilbert Simental inflicted on the girls and the peril he would pose to children if released.

In April, a jury at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley convicted Simental of molesting two sisters, then ages 9 and 10, on separate occasions in 2005 and 2006.

Frank Bellino/The Press-Enterprise
Gilbert Simental, of Murrieta, reacts Friday during his sentencing at Southwest Justice Center in French Valley.

The Press-Enterprise does not routinely publish the names of minors who are victims of sexual abuse.

Prior to sentencing, defense attorney Miles Clark and eight of Simental's friends and relatives asked the judge to be lenient with Simental, repeatedly describing him as a good man who made a bad mistake.

"Continuing to love in the face of something terrible . . . that's what is important, that we continue to love one another," Simental's 22-year-old son, Alex Simental, said. "I ask for your mercy."

Later, the father of the two victims expressed anguish and rage that his daughters were sexually violated by a family friend.

He applauded his daughters for having the strength to endure so much, including testifying before a jury of strangers about intimate facts that children should not have to discuss.

"My daughters . . . in time will recover from their ordeal," he said.

During his trial, Simental admitted that he twice molested the younger girl but he denied abusing her older sister.

Leaders of Simental's congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses contradicted his statements and testified Simental, during the course of their religious inquiry, admitted touching both girls.

Prior to the trial, the case broke new legal ground in California about when statements made to clergy members are deemed confidential, prosecutor Burke Strunsky said.

"This case makes a bold statement to any religious organization that we are not going to allow you to abuse confidentiality privileges in order to suppress the confessions of child molesters," said Strunsky. "The stakes are way too high."

Elders John Vaughn and Andrew Sinay balked at testifying against Simental, when subpoenaed by Strunsky. They cited the confidentiality afforded by the penitent-clergy privilege.

Dickerson ordered them to testify after finding the Jehovah's Witnesses' judicial committee system is not designed to keep information confidential.

As a result, the penitent-clergy privilege does not apply since state law protects statements made to clergy members who are required by their faith's practices to keep them secret.

While Simental did not make a statement on his own behalf Friday, he said he did not get a fair trial when interviewed for a pre-sentencing report filed by Deputy Probation Officer Julia Meeks.

"The jury was made up of mostly women, so there were lots of emotions," Simental told Meeks. "I'm sure as much as he (the judge) tried to be a good judge, I think he was biased."

Simental will be in court July 28 in connection with another molestation case against him involving another girl.

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Fraser Coast Chronicle - Australia
June 28, 2008

by Jessica Grewal
A Maryborough teacher has recalled the devastating day that her husband, an elder at the Maryborough Christian Fellowship, told their children he was leaving them because they were "of the devil".
The woman, whose name has been withheld, is the fourth Fraser Coast resident to come forward and blame the church they refer to as a "cult" for the destruction of their family.
She says she loved her husband but never knew when he would wake up as "nice daddy" or "cult daddy".
Her family's involvement with the "cult" began when her husband started work for a couple who were members.
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Utah official lectures at seminar on cults

Salt Lake Tribune - June 28, 2008

Many at conference wonder why the state has not been more vigorous in polygamist prosecutions

by Thomas Burr

PHILADELPHIA - Top officials for the Utah and Arizona attorneys general were peppered with questions about prosecuting polygamous crimes at a conference here focused on cultic groups.
Abutting events on the lessons learned from the mass suicide at Jonestown and recovering from membership in a cult, Paul Murphy of the Utah Attorney General's Office and his counterpart in the Arizona Attorney General's Office, Jane Irvine, gave what could be considered a primer on polygamous groups in the Southwest and detailed actions taken against those who allegedly have abused children, encouraged young brides and ousted teenage boys.
Murphy and Irvine took pains to not to label polygamous groups in their states or others as cults, but discussed the efforts both states have made to crack down on abusive situations inside the scattered, and in many ways, closed-off groups. Many in the audience, filled with social workers, former cult members and sociologist and scholars, wondered why the states weren't doing more to protect the children and women in the communities.
In the aftermath of the raid by Texas authorities into the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints' Yearning for Zion ranch, polygamous sects are an issue of discussion at the International Cultic Studies Association meeting this weekend at the University of Pennsylvania.
For some attendees, there was no question the FLDS sect and
polygamy should be included in the conference discussions.
"It's definitely cultic," said Beth Davies, who left a cult some 19 years ago. "There's a point when you have to call an ace an ace."
Janja Lalich, a professor of sociology at California State University-Chico, didn't go as far, but said the group has "hallmarks of a cult." She added, though, that the media has a political over-correctness complex about using the word cult, and she got laughs from the crowd when she said that the FLDS has now pledged not to perform any underage marriages.
Later, Murphy and Irvine took turns explaining polygamous groups, but many in the audience wanted to know why more wasn't being done.
"In any other universe, I think child protective services will step in," one questioner declared when the discussion turned to the so-called Lost Boys ousted from the communities and left to fend for themselves.
Murphy stressed the work his agency and others have done in previous years and now to investigate crimes and open up the dialogue with polygamists.
"Some people just say, 'Why don't you just arrest them all?' " Murphy, the director of communication and policy with the Utah office, said. "That's an important question to ask. Society has to determine do we care enough what is going on between consenting adults to put 10,000 adults in prison and 25,000 children in foster care?"
Irvine said they welcomed guidance. "We came here for help," she said.
For many, the introduction to the nuances was taken with sheer fascination.
"There's a bit of culture shock going on right here in this room," said Livia Bardin, a licensed clinical worker from the Washington, D.C. area.
Murphy took one last stab to explain how Utah has approached the issue.
"What we want to stop is the abuse," Murphy said. "We could care less about what they believe but we do care about the abuse and we want it to stop."

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27 Jun 2008

Episcopal Church convicts Philadelphia bishop of cover-up

The Associated Press - June 26, 2008

by Joann Loviglio

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — An Episcopal bishop was found guilty by a church panel of covering up his brother's assaults of a teenage girl in the 1970s.
Charles E. Bennison Jr., 64, was convicted of two counts of engaging in conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy, according to his attorneys and the church verdict, dated Tuesday and released Thursday. He could be reprimanded, suspended or ousted from the church.
"We are proud of the Episcopal Church for holding Bishop Bennison accountable, and for using an open and transparent process that allowed the truth to come to light," church attorney Lawrence White said in a statement Thursday.
It was not immediately clear when the sentence would be handed down for Bennison, bishop of the nation's fifth-largest Episcopal diocese. The special Court for the Trial of a Bishop must wait at least 30 days before handing down a sentence, and Bennison's attorneys said they will request a hearing before sentencing.
The victim, now 50, testified during a four-day ecclesiastical trial this month that the abuse by the bishop's brother, John Bennison, happened three to four times a week for several years. She testified that an encounter in a Sunday school classroom and another in a church office in 1973 were witnessed by Charles Bennison, who "opened the door, took a look at us, turned around and walked out."
At the time, Charles Bennison was rector of St. Mark's Church in Upland, Calif., in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and his brother was a married lay minister there.
The Associated Press generally does not disclose the names of sexual abuse victims.
The bishop testified that he heard rumors of sexual impropriety and confronted his brother, who was about to leave the California parish where he was a youth counselor. Bishop Bennison said he kept quiet to protect the girl and the church from scandal, and because he didn't know the rumor to be fact until years later.
Attorneys for the church suggested that Bennison kept quiet to advance his career. They accused him of "selective amnesia" and other psychological phenomena that he described in his own 1997 book on the effects of harboring secrets about clergy sex abuse.
Charles Bennison's legal team, led by attorney James Pabarue, declined to comment on the verdict but said in a statement that it would appeal.
"The appropriateness of his actions is reflected by the actions of numerous Episcopal bishops, priests, officials and lay members who knew of Bishop Bennison's conduct as early as 1979 and who for 28 years never felt that his conduct was improper (or) warranted charges being brought against him during that time," the statement read.
Pabarue has said the young rector handled the situation as best he could with his limited experience and a lack of church guidelines, particularly in an era when views about sexual abuse were not as enlightened as today.
Bennison was ordered to cease all church duties in November.
A church indictment, called a presentment, charged that Bennison failed to investigate his brother's actions and protect the victim. The presentment also charged that Bennison knew about the abuse but didn't halt the 1974 ordination of his brother.
John Bennison, who never faced criminal charges, left the priesthood two years ago.
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Clergy-abuse prosecution limits clarified

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - June 26, 2008

Court rules against priest who left Wisconsin

Associated Press and Journal Sentinel

Madison - Clergy can be prosecuted for decades-old sexual abuse in Wisconsin if they left the state before a six-year statute of limitations expired, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The decision came in an appeal brought by Father Bruce Duncan MacArthur, 86, who was charged in 2006 with sexually assaulting girls who were patients at a Beaver Dam hospital where he was a chaplain between 1965 and 1972.

The court ruled that the statute of limitations is in effect for all crimes that happened before 1989, when the law was changed, but that the clock stops ticking when someone no longer lives in Wisconsin.

MacArthur is retired and living in a community for abusive priests near St. Louis.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an organization that assists victims of clergy abuse, said in a news release Thursday that the decision upholds about 15 cases brought against clergy who fled Wisconsin, including three cases awaiting trial.

Earlier this week, the group announced that it is suing the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese for fraud in connection with the sexual abuse of an altar boy in the 1970s by a now-defrocked priest.

According to a draft of the lawsuit, the archdiocese knew or suspected that Franklyn Becker was a child molester and a danger to children before he molested a child at St. John de Nepomuc parish in Milwaukee and Holy Family parish in Whitefish Bay between 1971 and 1973.

By placing Becker at those parishes, the archdiocese, through its agents, including the late Archbishop William Cousins, affirmatively represented that Becker was not a danger to children and that it had no knowledge of his history of abusing children, the suit claims.

The lawsuit demands a judgment in an amount to be determined at trial, according to the draft.

Last year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the church could be sued for fraud for not telling the public about abusive priests before placing them in public ministry.

Becker, 70, who is accused of assaulting children in California and Wisconsin, lives in Mayville.

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Parents who call minister instead of doctor believe they do right

Biblical Recorder News - June 26, 2008

by Kevin Eckstrom | Religion News Service

Madison, WI - Carl and Raylene Worthington are facing charges of manslaughter and criminal neglect in Oregon for the death of their 14-month-old infant daughter, Ava, from pneumonia and a blood infection.

On June 17, the girl's uncle, 16-year-old Neil Jeffrey Beagley, died from a urinary infection that caused his kidneys to shut down. Both deaths, officials said, could have been prevented with standard medical care.

The family belongs to the isolated Followers of Christ Church, which shuns medical treatment in favor of prayer and annointing. Shawn Francis Peters, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has studied the Followers and is the author of "When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children and the Law."

Q: What do we know about groups like the Followers of Christ? How common are they?

A: It's actually difficult to ascertain how many churches adhere to these beliefs and how many children have died. These groups tend to isolate themselves. What we know is really only the tip of the iceberg.

Q: Are they withdrawn because of some sense of shame? Are they hiding something?

A: I wouldn't say it's shame, but they think they are misunderstood. If you talk to them, they'll say that the government wants to outlaw their religion. They'd rather not have it publicized, because the publicity they get tends to be bad.

Q: How would they be different from, say, Christian Scientists or Jehovah's Witnesses?

A: I'd exclude the Jehovah's Witnesses because they don't believe in one specific thing: blood transfusions. I wouldn't categorize them as faith healers.

Christian Scientists don't self-identify as faith-healers because they don't believe in the reality of illness. But in terms of objections to secular medicine, they also do not see secular conventional medical treatment as being an effective treatment of illness. If you got them in a room with the Followers ... they'd both tell you that people die in hospitals every day.

Q: Would you call them a cult?

A: I would not. Cult has become such a pejorative term. They are a very closed community that's not open to doctrinal growth or public disclosure. They're a church whose beliefs are not radically different from most Christian churches - except for this one belief about prayer and illness.

Q: Here's a hypothetical. A member of the church is stricken with either a mild heart attack or early signs of a stroke. A trip to the hospital could save their life. Do they go or do they pray?

A: They pray. They will say this is a crisis but we know that the Lord is powerful enough to bring people out of these kind of physical crises. They'd say the minister will come to our house, not the paramedics.

Q: What about more minor ailments, say a headache or the flu? No trips to CVS?

A: Nope. Nothing. Remember, most Americans believe in the healing power of prayer, they just don't believe it to this extreme.

Q: Can you explain the theology behind choosing prayer over medicine?

A: James 5:14 says, "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church ... and the prayer of faith will save the sick man." There's no mention of doctors in there. That's the lodestar, the touchstone for these groups. They interpret that very narrowly and very literally.

Q: Does the thought ever enter their minds that the answer to their prayers - healing - may be right there in the medicine cabinet?

A: It really doesn't. It's really not part of their worldview. People who are brought up in the faith have grown up viewing (medicine) negatively. They're kind of conditioned ideologically not to look at secular medicine as a viable alternative to prayer.

Q: Does a lack of healing signal a lack of faith, or does more healing signal stronger faith?

A: The parents will say a child's death shows that I wasn't faithful enough, or shows a lack of spiritual strength. Or they'll say it was just God's will, and medical treatment could not have changed what was God's will.

Q: Do you detect any sense of regret among the parents of children who have died, a sense of 'Maybe we should have gone to the doctor ...'?

A: That's one of the things that's really tragic. The parents are doing what they think is right; they honestly think prayer is going to work. There's never any intent to harm the child; in fact, they're trying to help their children.

Q: A decade ago, Oregon enacted laws to hold parents criminally responsible for the faith-healing death of a child. Do those laws work?

A: Prosecution isn't as much of a deterrent as you might think. The parents believe they're being persecuted for their beliefs; prosecutors don't like going after devout well-meaning parents; and the community doesn't have a sense that justice is being served. No one is coming out of these cases feeling good about what happened.

Q: So, if a post-mortem prosecution doesn't work, and many of these kids might be at risk but nobody knows they're in danger, is there a workable solution?

A: Yes and no. I don't think litigation is necessarily the solution. But if there was a discussion between law enforcement and these churches, if there was a dialogue about the relationship between medicine and faith, maybe we'd see more an evolution in people's beliefs. The courtroom is a horrible place to have a dialogue.

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Canada accused of undermining international court

Canwest News Service - June 26, 2008

Could set back the whole basic movement of rules of law against crimes against humanity, including child soldiers

by Kathryn May

OTTAWA - In a bid to bring a peace deal to war-torn Northern Uganda, Canada may end up undermining the very credibility of the International Criminal Court that has been a key piece of this country's foreign policy.
International justice advocates say Canada appears to be quietly promoting a proposal to drop charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against notorious rebel leader Joseph Kony, head of the Lord's Resistance Army, to help seal a peace deal that could end the brutal war that has ravaged Northern Uganda for more than 20 years.
A copy of an unclassified document that Canadian officials are said to have circulated to member countries of the UN Security Council says Canada is open "in principle" to the idea of Uganda asking the security council to defer the indictments against Kony and his band of commanders. Canada played an instrumental role in creating the court, based in The Hague, and the indictments against Kony are among the first it issued. Its president is Canadian Judge Phillip Kirsch.
Lloyd Axworthy, a former foreign minister for the Jean Chretien government, said such a move undermines Canada's leadership in international justice and the "human security" approach to global issues. He argued it opens the door to impunity for Kony, who in his violent fight to bring in a government based on the Ten Commandments, kidnapped thousands of children and terrorized them to fight as soldiers in the war. Axworthy was a panellist here Thursday, discussing Canada's role in international justice at the official launch of the Canadian Centre for International Justice.
"If we let him and his chief commanders off the hook we will have set back the whole basic movement of rules of law against crimes against humanity, including child soldiers," Axworthy said.
"Using the judicial systems as a form of sanction and deterrent is a very powerful tool and I think that if the Uganda government and the Security Council give in to blackmail, they will set the cause of international justice back to where it was before (General Augusto) Pinochet or Idi Amin," said Axworthy.
Axworthy argued the proposal trades justice for a quick peace deal, but lasting peace will be impossible without justice for those who raped, mutilated, kidnapped and killed so many.
The peace negotiations in Uganda have been marked by a highly divisive debate over how to mete justice to Kony and his rebel leaders. Many have argued the ICC indictments have stood in the way of reaching a peace agreement. Thousands of people, displaced by the war, are still living in squalid camps and don't want to return to their homes until Kony signs the peace deal. They feel Kony will never surrender unless the ICC indictments are dropped.
Robert Fowler, a longtime diplomat who served as Canada's ambassador to the UN and personal representative for Africa for former prime ministers Chretien and Paul Martin, and current leader Stephen Harper, said Canada and the rest of the international community face a "Hobson's choice" in resolving the Uganda conflict.
"It's not easy. This is not a black-and-white situation. Neither choice is a good one," he said.
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26 Jun 2008

Suit: Savannah diocese ignored warnings about priest

The Post and Courier - South Carolina
June 26, 2008

by Adam Parker

A lawsuit filed by a local attorney alleges that the Catholic Diocese of Savannah ignored warnings about a priest many thought was dangerous to children.

Allan Carl Ranta Jr., a student in schools operated by the diocese, was repeatedly taken across state lines into South Carolina and molested by Wayland Yoder Brown, a priest many in the diocese had worried about for years before the abuse, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit against the Diocese of Savannah was filed in the Jasper County Court of Common Pleas because the alleged abuse occurred there, attorney Larry Richter said.

The diocese asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that South Carolina had no jurisdiction over it, but the request was denied, according to Harper Todd, a lawyer at the Richter firm who is handling the case.

Brown, who is a registered sex offender in Maryland, recently was released from jail after serving five years of a 10-year sentence on two counts of child molestation in that state. Brown, 64, will remain in the Baltimore area while paroled.

The suit alleges that Brown, then an employee of the Savannah diocese, came to know Ranta through counseling and mentoring, and that for nearly five years, from 1978 to 1982, he molested the boy in Georgia and South Carolina.

His modus operandi was to take children on "field trips," Todd said.

The suit claims that diocese officials had been informed long before the abuse began of Brown's affinity for young boys, "emotional immaturity" and lack of "holiness."

Concerns were expressed as early as 1969, when Brown was assigned to St. James Catholic School and Parish, according to the suit. In 1972, when Brown applied to seminary, observers warned of his proclivities, the suit alleges. Other clergy expressed their concerns to the bishop once Brown completed his first year of seminary. One wrote, "I really feel he will do more harm than good for the church," according to the suit.

More warnings came in 1974, 1975 and 1976, when the bishop postponed Brown's ordination. A year later, another warning: "I personally feel that Wayland's (Brown) ordination will discourage many vocations and discourage many people," wrote a priest, according to the suit. "I think we would be better off to have no priest rather than an unholy priest."

Despite these warnings, Brown was ordained and was allowed to be close to young boys, the suit alleges.

Joseph P. Brennan, an attorney based in Savannah representing the diocese, would not discuss the particulars of a pending case, saying only that the diocese was "denying responsibility for acts of this priest that are outside his priestly duties."

Barbara King, communications director for the Savannah diocese, said this was the only lawsuit of its kind filed against the diocese. She would not comment further on the case.

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Two Portland men join sex-abuse lawsuit against Boy Scouts, Mormon church

The Oregonian - June 25, 2008

by Peter Zuckerman

Two Portland men filed an $8.5 million lawsuit today against the Mormon church and the Boy Scouts, bringing to eight the total number of former Boy Scouts alleging sexual abuse by Timur Van Dykes, who was a church and scout leader in the 1980s and early 90s.
The lawsuit contends that Timur Van Dykes molested Boy Scouts in Troop 719, which was supervised by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Dykes, a registered sex offender who now lives in Southwest Portland, has been convicted of at least 26 sex crimes since 1983.
Together, the pending abuse cases filed in Multnomah County Court against the scouts and the church seek $33.5 million.
Six of the alleged victims agreed earlier this month to enter talks to settle their lawsuits but failed to reach a resolution.
At least a dozen Oregon child-abuse cases are pending against the Boy Scouts.
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Saudi marriage official says ok to marry 1-year-old girls & have sex with 9-year-olds

The Middle East Media Research Institute
June 19, 2008

Following are excerpts from an interview with Dr. Ahmad Al-Mu'bi, a Saudi marriage officiant, which aired on LBC TV (Lebanon) on June 19, 2008

Dr. Ahmad Al-Mu'bi: Marriage is actually two things: First we are talking about the marriage contract itself. This is one thing, while consummating the marriage – having sex with the wife for the first time – is another thing. There is no minimal age for entering marriage. You can have a marriage contract even with a one-year-old girl, not to mention a girl of nine, seven, or eight. This is merely a contract [indicating] consent. The guardian in such a case must be the father, because the father's opinion is obligatory. Thus, the girl becomes a wife... But is the girl ready for sex or not? What is the appropriate age for having sex for the first time? This varies according to environment and traditions. In Yemen, girls are married off at nine, ten, eleven, eight, or thirteen, while in other countries, they are married off at 16. Some countries have legislated laws forbidding having sex before the girl is eighteen.


The Prophet Muhammad is the model we follow. He took 'Aisha to be his wife when she was six, but he had sex with her only when she was nine.

Interviewer: When she was six...

Dr. Ahmad Al-Mu'bi: He married her at the age of six, and he consummated the marriage, by having sex with her for the first time, when she was nine. We consider the Prophet Muhammad to be our model.

Interviewer: My question to you is whether the marriage of a 12-year-old boy with an 11-year-old girl is a logical marriage, which is permitted by Islamic law.

Dr. Ahmad Al-Mu'bi: If the guardian is the father... There are two different types of guardianship. If the guardian is the father, and he marries his daughter off to a man of appropriate standing, the marriage is obviously valid.


People find themselves in all kinds of circumstances. Take, for example, a man who has two, three, or four daughters. He does not have any wives, but he needs to go on a trip. Isn't it better to marry his daughter to a man, who will protect and sustain her, and when she reaches the proper age, he will have sex with her? Who says all men are ferocious wolves?

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25 Jun 2008

Wounds run deep for two-time abuse victim

Post-Bulletin, Minnesota
June 24, 2008

by John Weiss | Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Tom Mahowald spoke slowly, without emotion: "I'm a victim of abuse twice. Both were very violent."

He was an altar boy in a town near this region and when he was 14, the priest asked him to take some boxes into the basement. He pushed Mahowald into a room and locked the door. "I tried to push him away. I told him no. He told me God wanted me to do this for him. He raped me."

When Mahowald, who lives in Alma, Wis., and works in Winona County, tried to get away, the priest crushed one of his testicles.

"I was scared, petrified because he told me if I told, no one would believe me, he actually said God would be mad at me," he said. In 1961, Mahowald finally told a teacher at the Catholic school and she told an assistant pastor, who told him to not go to the police because all the boys and girls would know.

Mahowald told his story to church authorities, who said his story wasn't credible. "I was angry as hell. To me, that was worse than being raped, because I trusted those people to do the right thing."

Other altar boys heard about him talking. Mahowald said he was spit on, beat up and dumped down a window well. Oddly, those boys were probably also the priest's victims. "They were told this was something special, they really thought they were going to have a special place in heaven," he said.

One testicle never grew and the other was too big. "I became the laughing stock of the locker room. I was a physical freak. I never really forgot, I had a daily reminder when I showered."

Another rape

When he was 14, an English teacher tricked him into coming upstairs with him in his house. Mahowald thought he was safe because the teacher's wife was there. She left, and he was raped. This time, Mahowald was silent.

When other boys spoke out, the teacher killed himself.


The result was a bitter young man. "Any rule that was a rule, you broke it," he said. "I ended up self-destructing." He had idiosyncrasies, like wanting to sit with his back to the wall, mood swings, lack of intimacy, depression.

He married and kept his secret from his wife for 22 years. Then in 2000, stories about clergy abuse and shuffling abusing priests around instead of doing something began to surface. Mahowald spilled out his story to a co-worker. "He was crying before I got done," Mahowald said.

There was no going back.

He joined Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. He didn't want revenge, he wanted to talk with others who were abused. He found he wasn't alone.

Mahowald is haunted by those memories. His next step is education. "To me, it's educating the legislature, educating people," he said. And he's still bitter at the Catholic church. He came forward in 2002 and told his story; he was told it would be investigated. "They just put me aside and didn't do anything to help," he said.

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Dead Cult Leader's Wife Continues to Terrorize Abuse Survivor

The Daily Telegraph - Australia
June 26, 2008

Woman's fake beard was 'bogus'

by Byron Kaye
THE last time Jan Hamilton failed as an actress - getting dumped from the lead in My Brilliant Career - Judy Davis got the part and became famous.

But Hamilton's latest bad performance, allegedly dressing as a man, donning a wig and fake beard and holding bogus theatre auditions, has landed her in court.
Hamilton, who with her child sex-accused husband Ken Dyers founded the Kenja cult in Sydney's north shore, yesterday fought an apprehended violence order over the alleged stunt.
A former cult member seeking the AVO said it was part of Hamilton's attempt to "terrorise" her over the suicide of Dyers, whom she had accused of sexually abusing her weekly from age 12 to 15.
Downing Centre Local Court heard how the young woman - who was born into the cult and cannot be named - turned up to the audition for Chekhov's Three Sisters at West Pymble Community Hall on October 17 last year.
The man and three women holding the auditions were disguised in dread- locked wigs and talking in phoney American accents. The women introduced themselves as "Paul", "Brandon" and "Moshi".
But Nicole Saunders, who was hired to help with the auditions and did not know the others, said within five minutes of arriving the former cult member became hysterical.
"She walked straight out the side exit," Ms Saunders recalled. "She was shaking and she was calling out to a car, 'It's Jan! Jan's here! She's wearing a moustache!"
The young woman's father was waiting in the car. Ms Saunders told the court: "She said the woman inside, her name is Jan Hamilton, her husband sexually abused her and he had suicided and they were blaming her.
"Things were not what they seemed. All these strange oddities started to fall together so that it was one big oddity. I wanted to leave."
The woman's father, a cult member for 25 years until his daughter raised the sex abuse claims, told the court he went into the hall and immediately recognised the unusual attire.
"I'd seen it before at Kenja's in the clowning classes. They use it as props and things. It wasn't a very good disguise. It looked quite silly," he said.
The former cultist told the court she had lied to school friends about her involvement in Kenja: "I told them that I was a dancer and I had to go to dancing competitions interstate every weekend. I was ashamed of being in the cult."
Kenja also forced her to sign a false statutory declaration denying the abuse, she said. The case continues.
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Teacher Accused of Branding Kid With Cross

ABC News - June 20, 2008

An Ohio Teacher Stands Accused of Teaching Creationism and Burning Student


The school board of a small central Ohio community voted Friday to fire a teacher accused of preaching his Christian beliefs despite staff complaints and burning the image of a cross on students' arms, according to the Associated Press.

Mount Vernon Middle School veteran science teacher John Freshwater has denies any wrongdoing, his attorney told the Mount Vernon News.

Freshwater also displayed the Ten Commandments in his classroom and taught creationism, according to an independent investigation launched after the parents of the student who was allegedly branded filed a lawsuit.

The suit alleges that he regularly discussed Christianity in his science class, even "teaching the meaning of Easter and Good Friday," and kept at least one and sometimes several Bibles in the room.

The investigation commissioned by the Mount Vernon school board and conducted by HR On Call, Inc., a human resources company, conducted interviews with Freshwater, faculty and students.

In its report, released Thursday, the company found Freshwater "did improperly use an electrostatic device on the student who filed the report" and had violated Ohio State standards by "teaching creationism and intelligent design."

According to On Call's report, Freshwater told investigators, "I teach evolution."

Company investigators, however, concluded that "contrary to Mr. Freshwater's statement, the evidence indicates he has been teaching creationism and intelligent design and has been teaching the unreliability of carbon dating in support of opposition to evolution. He has passed out materials to students for the past several years challenging evolution and then collected the materials back from the students. He has done so in spite of specific directives not to teach creationism and intelligent design."

In the civil suit brought against Freshwater, the plaintiffs the student, identified as James Doe, and his parents, identified as John and Jane Doe allege that in December 2007, "Mr. Freshwater burned a cross in James Doe's arm using an electric device."

The burned area allegedly "resulted in an easily identifiable cross consisting of red welts with blistering, swelling and blanching in the surrounding area," according to the lawsuit.

No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the cross incident, school officials said.

On April 7, 2008, Freshwater received a letter from the school's principal, William D. White, ordering him to remove a Bible and other religious materials from his classroom.

On April 16, Freshwater wrote a letter in response, agreeing to remove the Ten Commandments from a collage, but he refused to remove his Bible.

"In addition, my superiors have ordered me to remove the Bible from the desk of my classroom. Because the Bible is personal, private property and the source of personal inner-strength in my own life the removal of it from my desk would be nothing short of infringement on my own deeply held, personal religious beliefs granted by God and guaranteed under the 'free-exercise clause' of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution," Freshwater wrote in a letter obtained by ABC News.

Neither Freshwater nor his attorney, Roger Weaver, returned calls placed by ABC News.

The teacher's friend, David Daubenmire, who was himself sued by the ACLU in 1999 for praying with the high school football team he coached, called the accusations against Freshwater a "witch hunt."

"The science experiment [the alleged burning of the student] took place in December, and the parents did not go to the police and didn't file a criminal complaint. It was not until April, when John Freshwater refused to remove his Bible, that the school board rapidly made the decision to accuse him of things and then go back and find evidence," he said.

"With the exception of the science experiment, John Freshwater is teaching the beliefs and values that the majority of people in this community agree with. The only thing the On Call report found is evidence that Mr. Freshwater is a Christian."

Stephen Short, the district superintendent, who along with the principal is also named as a co-defendant, told ABC News that the school board began investigating "with the cross incident and other things followed after that."

He said he could not comment on details of the case because it was a pending legal matter. The board hired an independent company "to ensure the findings were properly vetted."

He said both he and Principal White did not take their current positions until early in 2008.

School board members were scheduled to meet Friday afternoon to discuss the findings in On Call's report.

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24 Jun 2008

Lawyers for 16-year-old girl seek restraining order against high-profile FLDS member

Deseret News - June 24, 2008

Hearing today on restraining order against FLDS' Jessop

by Ben Winslow & Pat Reavy

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Lawyers will go to court today seeking a permanent restraining order to keep a high-profile FLDS member from contacting a 16-year-old girl.

The girl has fired off a letter to the judge overseeing the massive custody case involving the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch, seeking a new lawyer. In e-mails sent to the Deseret News and posted on pro-FLDS Web sites, Teresa Jeffs accuses her court-appointed lawyer of not acting in her best interest.

"My attorney is going against my wishes. Maybe you need a restraining order that you can absolutely have nothing to do with me and you have to stay 1,000 feet away from me! What do you think of that?" she wrote in an e-mail to her attorney ad litem, Natalie Malonis.

Jeffs has been subpoenaed to testify Wednesday before a grand jury investigating crimes involving FLDS members. The Texas Attorney General's Office said it could not find Jeffs to subpoena her, and Malonis went to court seeking a restraining order against FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop. In court papers, she accused Jessop of coercing the girl to avoid the subpoena and interfering with her relationship with her client.

Judge Barbara Walther signed a temporary restraining order that technically prevents Jeffs' mother from allowing her daughter to have any contact with Jessop. A hearing on a more permanent restraining order will be held this afternoon.

On Monday, Malonis said she spoke with the attorney for Jeffs' mother, but no agreement could be reached.

"I hoped we could, but no ... ," she told the Deseret News.

Malonis said she is prepared to call witnesses and present evidence to suggest that the girl is being intimidated and pressured by FLDS members. The judge is not expected to consider Jeffs' request for a new lawyer.

When the Texas Supreme Court ordered the hundreds of children taken in the April 3 raid to be returned to their parents, Jeffs was exempted.

Malonis said in court papers it was because the girl was an identified sex-abuse victim who had been "spiritually united" to an older man at 15. A special order was put in place for Jeffs, preventing her from contacting her father — FLDS leader Warren Jeffs — and a man named Raymond Jessop, who was not further identified.

But Rod Parker, a Salt Lake attorney acting as a spokesman for the FLDS, believes Malonis is not following her court-appointed duties. Because Malonis is Teresa Jeffs' attorney ad litem and not her guardian ad litem, her job is to be an advocate for the child, he said.

"Her duties under the statute are to represent the child's expressed objectives. And if the child expresses certain objectives the child wants pursued, that's what the attorney is supposed to do," Parker said.

Having Malonis represent Jeffs is not in the young girl's interest, said Parker, who doesn't like what Malonis has been saying in interviews, including an appearance on the Nancy Grace show.

"I think that she's really out on a limb in doing what she's doing and injuring her own client in a very public way," he said. "This is just a very unhealthy and dysfunctional attorney-client relationship. The court ought to grant Teresa's wish and give her another lawyer. This system of justice does not work appropriately when attorneys and their clients are at odds with each other."

Parker noted there were exceptions to the attorney ad litem rules for extraordinary circumstances. But he said, "I don't see them in this case."

Although the hearing is supposed to be limited to the restraining order, Parker hoped the issue of Jeffs' attorney would be brought up, since that was what initially led to the restraining order.

Parker said he did not know if Jeffs currently has a guardian ad litem representing her.

The Deseret News normally does not name sex-abuse victims, but the girl has gone public in media interviews and in an e-mail forwarded to the Deseret News. She insists she is not a victim.

In her e-mail, the girl said neither Willie Jessop nor Raymond Jessop has ever threatened her.

"That have treated (sic) so very kindly," she wrote.

Jeffs wrote in the communication with Malonis that she did not want the grand jury subpoena, but acknowledged being served.

"Well, they want me to appear before a grand jury. I do not have confidence in you and how can I get you to help me in such a situation that I am in when it feels like to me all you are doing is going against me," she wrote. "So, that is the reason that I am asking you to step aside and let me do what I need to do to and get me a different attorney."

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23 Jun 2008

Ex-cult members speak out over abuse

NEWS.com.au - June 23, 2008

FORMER cult members have spoken out to warn others of a Brisbane church they say is emotionally abusing its followers.
Former followers have told ABC's Four Corners program, to air tonight, the Brisbane Christian Fellowship, in the north Brisbane suburb of Stafford, was ripping apart families under a veil of secrecy.
They said elders, including leader Victor Hall, made all members' decisions and drove wedges between couples, siblings and parents and children to create fear and control followers.
Followers are banished if they disobey directions.
The church is linked to others worldwide, including the Melbourne Christian Fellowship, and has been operating under different names in Australian since the 1950s.
Former member Helen Pomery, who was expelled for refusing to shun her excommunicated daughter, said she had considered suicide during her time with the group and had to travel to a deprogramming centre in the USA after she left.
"I was very sick emotionally, mentally, and I was at the point of suicide and I knew if I didn't get help then I would probably suicide... but if anything that infuriated my husband and the elders even more that I should go outside of the home for help,'' she told Four Corners.
Ms Pomery said the emotional abuse was dished out as a way to control people.
While she was disciplined for things such as cooking too much food or making the bed the wrong way, her husband had obeyed orders so that he was not responsible for his family's damnation, she said.
Former BCF group leader and electrician David Lowe, whose job was to provide counselling to members, said the congregation's secrets were immediately conveyed to elders.
He said he had spoken out as a way to reach his wife and three children who remain church members.
"They need to know from me as a husband and a father that I believe they're in a bad place,'' Mr Lowe said.
Ms Pomery said she and a handful of others had spoken to the program.
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Yearning for Zion: What next for the polygamists?

The Sunday Times - UK
June 22, 2008

Girls, believed to be the victims of paedophilia at the hands of a religious sect in Texas, were rescued in April. So why are they now back with their alleged abusers?

by Bryan Appleyard

Six-year-old Samuel Jeffs has only one leg. On April 3 he was taken away from his home and his mother by the Texas Child Protective Services (CPS). His father, Warren Jeffs, is in prison, convicted in Utah of being an accomplice to child rape.

On May 19, Samuel’s mother, Sharon Barlow, is sitting in a San Angelo courtroom with her attorney to hear a review of Samuel’s care. She is wearing an ankle-length turquoise dress, cut roughly in the style of a 19th-century prairie housewife’s. She has reddish hair, a pointed nose, sleepy eyes and poor skin. The hair rises in a high wave from her forehead, a thin strand is plaited into a circle on top of her head, and the rest is bundled into a heavy braid. She looks unwell. It is 100F outside, but the courtroom is over-air-conditioned and freezing. Judge Barbara Walther constantly adjusts a thermostat on the wall behind her, but it seems to have no effect.

Samuel is well represented. He has his own attorney, a CPS worker and a court-appointed special advocate. This is a review hearing to check on his progress. He has the judge on his side too. She asks searching questions about his medical care. She sympathises with his handicap. The judge had polio as a child and wears callipers. Daily she hauls herself onto her dais, from which she presides over this monumental, unprecedented case. For Samuel is not the only child involved. There are another 460-plus children, all taken in one night from the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) ranch by the CPS, sheriff’s deputies and Texas Rangers. The ranch, which belongs to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), is near Eldorado (pronounced locally Eldoraydo), 45 miles south of here. They were being saved from what was alleged to be an abusive environment

“Why,” asks the judge, “does he have only one leg?” The lawyers look at each other and eventually agree on a genetic defect. As the legal wrangling ends, Samuel’s attorney rises to make one last, important point. “He’s a great little guy!”

On May 13, I had watched Judge Walther preside over a preliminary hearing in the case of Pamela Jeffs, aka Pamela Jessop. Again the turquoise prairie dress, again the sleepy eyes, again the sharp nose, but this time the hair is lustrous and even more elaborately arranged, the braid at the back forming a pattern like a prawn shell. The skin is fresh and clear. In profile she could be 14, and there is something childish about her whole demeanour. She chews her tongue a lot and she has a cereal bar in the side netting of her bag. Full-face, however, she looks older, anything between 18 and 25. It is this ambiguity about her appearance that is the point of this hearing.

When taken from the ranch, Pamela was regarded by the CPS as a child, though she gave her age as 18. She was pregnant and, if she was a child, this amounted to sexual abuse. The baby, Jonathan, was born after her removal from the ranch. She also has another 18-month-old son, Matthew; his age suggests she must have been pregnant when she was underage. The father of both is said to be 22-year-old Jackson Jessop, whose whereabouts is unknown. But today the CPS has accepted Pamela is 18. She is no longer a child but the authorities still have her children. This has led to appalling legal complications about who is allowed to represent whom. As a result, tension is mounting between the social workers and the lawyers. The legal wrangling suddenly explodes. “I take great offence that you should discuss this in front of the press!” shouts Randy Stout, a lawyer acting for the child. He gestures with contempt at the local-paper guy and me and storms out. “You started it, Randy!” yells Andrea Sloan, one of Pamela’s attorneys. Finally, Stout, a kind of fat comedy Texan, but decent, is placated and some sort of deal is done.

In care, the YFZ children have been a problem, not just because of the trauma of separation from their families. Life at the ranch was strict. Children seldom, if ever, went outside – women did so, but apparently only when accompanied by their husbands. The children were “home-educated” and they did seem to have mastered basic skills. But outside reading, writing and arithmetic, there were issues. They had been taught some very weird science and had limited experience of play.

“When the children first came into care,” says Debra Brown, who runs the San Angelo court-appointed special advocate (Casa) scheme, “they had never seen crayons. A crayon is a pretty standard, normal deal for an American child. When I went into the ranch, you would not have assumed children even lived there. There were no toys, no stuffed animals, no dolls, no footballs. The concept of play was not in their upbringing: they worked from a very early age.” The children eagerly gardened, made their beds, organised the laundry and washed dishes, exactly what they had done at home. Much of their ranch life was taken up with praying and singing and listening to tapes of the sermons of Warren Jeffs, the leader and prophet of the FLDS. Some, I was told, were still listening on cassette players in foster care.

These sermons are what you and I would call mad. In a gentle, hypnotic, “listen to me carefully” kind of voice that seems to be designed to draw you in closer, making you collude in the insanity – a technique Hitler used in small groups – Jeffs explains that women must be utterly subservient to their men, that black people were put on Earth as Satan’s representatives, that the Beatles – “useless people nobody would hire” – corrupted the world by spreading black music, and so on. The children thoroughly absorbed his messages. Once outside, they pointed and laughed at blacks. He had also taught them that the colour red was forbidden, as it was reserved for Christ’s robe on his return to Earth. They recoiled from the colour. They were convinced that the world outside the sect, especially its laws, was evil and that the “gentiles” – non-members of the FLDS – were damned. “I’m getting used to being called an evil gentile,” says one of the children’s lawyers in court.

The mothers, Sharon and Pamela, had two things in common. First, the sleepy eyes and the nose, combined with a slightly absent expression. They share these features with Jeffs. Secondly, they were both convinced that Jeffs was the one true prophet, in touch with God daily. Jeffs has told them that their sole purpose in life is to “keep sweet” and to serve and honour their husbands without complaint. The ranch being a polygamous society, they must do this in harmony with many other wives. Jeffs is thought to have had between 60 and 90. A man, it is said, cannot get to heaven unless he has at least three wives.

On TV, one ranch wife, Margaret Jessop, was asked why almost everybody else in America regarded polygamy with distaste. Her glasses glinted in the studio lights. She smiled. “It must be because they are uneducated.”

But why polygamy? “Because there’s just not enough good men to go round.”

Leaving polygamy, racism and the oppression of women aside, Jeffs – the man who dictates these clothes, these manners, this life – is also a convicted child-abuser. From all the accounts I have read, from all the reports and evidence I have heard and from all I have been told, I can say, unhesitatingly, he is a monster.

Nevertheless, in individualistic, libertarian Texas there is anger about the raid. One day, at the back of the courtroom, I fall into conversation with an enormously fat lawyer who doesn’t want to be named. (This case is characterised by very fat lawyers and very thin defendants. Jeffs imposed rigid anti-obesity laws on his own family, and wherever he went the rest of the sect followed.) In the florid dialect of this unique and infinitely exotic state, the fat lawyer casts doubt on the legality of everything the CPS has done. “They went in with a search warrant wide enough to turn an 18-wheeler round in.” He says there may have been “bad apples” at the ranch, but that couldn’t justify the mass seizure. He also mutters about the “vagina mafia” – feminists out to attack the ranch’s patriarchal structure. Men, he believes, are okay. “Everybody I met on Mars was a pretty nice guy and I have never been to Venus.”

He had, it turns out, a point. A few days after the Pamela and Sharon hearings, the Texas appeal court overrules Judge Walther’s decision to endorse the CPS’s seizure of the children. There was, the judges argued, no immediate danger to the children and the mass seizure was unjustified. Any such action should have been done on a case-by-case basis.

The CPS went into a huddle and then struck back. State attorneys released pictures in court of Warren Jeffs with a 12-year-old girl he was said to have married in July 2006. In one he is kissing her in a “husbandly way”. It was Jeffs who dominated life on the ranch – his portrait is in almost every room – and here was clear evidence that the “Jeffs way” involved underage sex.

The state appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. On May 30, this court backed the lower court, though it acknowledged the need to continue official involvement with the children, and it looked as though the children would be returned. When I heard this news, I felt sick. I e-mail Steve Singular, author of When Men Become Gods, a devastating exposé of FLDS life under Jeffs: “I suppose that exhausts the options.” “There may be more options,” he e-mails back.

I hope so. Children should have crayons.

Then there are further twists. Judge Walther resists the move to return the children involved in the appeal. She won’t sign the papers. She wants to add restrictions to the parents’ movements. I would guess she is playing for time. DNA tests on all the families were to be completed soon. They will establish paternity and maternity, incest and maybe child abuse. They may disentangle the complex and concealed familial relationships on the ranch. They could lead to criminal charges that could put the civil case in an entirely different light. But, finally, Walther succumbs, the children are returned, though they can’t leave the state and a watch will be kept on the families. Meanwhile, in Arizona, Warren Jeffs, on trial again, had to give DNA samples to aid the Texas investigation. The court documents also state that records from the ranch suggest he was recently “married” to two girls, one 12, one 14. There is, in this case, more, always more.

I drive south from San Angelo. The landscape is green; it was an unusually wet spring. Eagles and vultures circle the long straight road. As I approach Eldorado, I notice a strange-shaped block on a hill. This is Pave Paws – a phased array warning system, basically a big radar, a relic of Reagan’s “Star Wars” defence system. It’s where, at 9pm on April 3, men from various sheriff’s departments with an armed personnel character, Swat teams and Texas Rangers mustered to move on the YFZ ranch below.

They were responding to a call, made on March 29, from somebody called Sarah, who claimed to be a 16-year-old girl who had suffered physical and sexual abuse at the ranch. The call may have been a hoax, and there is speculation about this five-day gap. But it seems, to me at least, pretty obvious that the authorities had 1993 on their mind. This was when they besieged a ranch near another Texas city, Waco. Inside lived the Branch Davidian religious sect, led by David Koresh. The siege was a human and political catastrophe. The ranch burnt down and 76 people died. There had been rumours of arms caches on the YFZ ranch and nobody knew what orders Jeffs had given the sect, so some force was necessary. But nobody wanted a repetition of Waco; this time, nobody was going to mess with Texas. And as for the possible hoax – well, the authorities had a lot more than that one call to go on. Sheriff David Doran of Eldorado had had an informant within the FLDS ever since the FLDS took over the ranch in 2004.

In the event, after two hours of negotiations, the rangers and deputies were allowed in. They called in the waiting CPS staff. They could search the ranch for children, though attempts were made to hide them. But they were refused entry to the temple, the huge white building that counterpoints Pave Paws in this otherwise almost empty landscape. They brought in the “jaws of life” – the big expanding tools used to cut people out of car wrecks – and forced their way in. It remains unclear what they found there.

Eldorado is a town of 2,000 people with 13 churches. It was one of the last places to be settled in Texas. There was no water to be found until they drilled deep into the ground. Now the local economy is doing okay on the back of ranching, hunting, oil and natural gas. People here are as extravagantly friendly and hospitable as they are everywhere else in west Texas.

During one visit, I am in my car when I am deafened by sirens. Is this another raid? I see a fire engine and a sheriff’s car racing down the highway. It turns out to be the baseball team leaving town: they always get an escort out and in. If they win, they get a full-blooded street parade. It’s a real town, Eldorado, a real place in Texas, a very real state. In fact, everywhere I go, people insist on the benign reality of their communities. The lawyers are proud that around 400 attorneys stepped forward to represent the children on a pro bono basis. In the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in San Angelo, a quilting group started making quilts for every child. “It’s a way of showing these children someone cares,” says the group leader, Judith Lester. Some expressed hope that the kindness of the outside world would persuade the children of the folly of the Jeffs way.

A few miles northeast of Eldorado is the ranch, dominated by the architecturally illiterate temple. Metal gates bar the way onto a long approach drive, which ends with some kind of guard tower. This dumb, lumpen block is where the story, for the moment, ends.

The story began in 1630 when, before setting sail for America, John Winthrop, the English leader of a group of Puritans planning to settle in New England, delivered his sermon A Model of Christian Charity. “For we must consider,” he said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill.”

For good or ill, American exceptionalism had been born. The phrase “city on the hill” is still evoked to describe the highest idealism and the lowest folly. The idea that this nation is unique in history has informed political rhetoric from Winthrop to Jefferson, Lincoln, Reagan and Bush. The idea that the US has alighted on a human system superior to all others still drives the neo-conservatives and the Christian right. It drove the supremely noble act of America’s salvation of Europe in the second world war as surely as it drove the supreme folly of the occupation of Iraq.

But one interpretation in particular leads to Eldorado and Judge Walther’s courtroom. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the Mormons – is founded upon visions, exclusively granted to one Joseph Smith, in which angels told him the true church had been lost and must be restored. Following Smith’s death, Brigham Young led the members of this new church to Utah. Salt Lake City remains the headquarters of the Mormon faith. America, the city on the hill, was to be the birthplace of the new, true Christianity. And the scale of the country, its great open spaces, allowed the Mormons to seek out and settle their own Zion, the new Jerusalem.

The early Mormons practised polygamy. It was said to be a divine mandate, but it was also a way of spreading and defending Mormonism by increasing the birth rate. In 1890 the church abandoned polygamy under pressure from the federal government. A hard core never accepted this decision, and from them sprang the FLDS. It has an estimated 10,000 members, primarily in the cities of Hildale and Colorado City, in what used to be called Short Creek on the border of Utah and Arizona. Though there are no legal polygamous marriages, the FLDS has “spiritual” marriages. These have, in fact, become the tool of a remarkably rigid patriarchy.

The mainstream Mormon church had bought into the idea of America as the city on the hill, but the FLDS had taken a crucial step away from this idea. Now everybody was wrong except them. The city on the hill could still be built in America, but it would have to be built in spite of the majority of the population; the rest of the country could – would – go to hell. This idea anticipated the conviction that America was not living up to its true destiny, the conviction that inspired the resurgent evangelism of the Christian right from the late 1960s onwards.

Life on the state line was fairly peaceful for the FLDS, not least because the local cops were members of the church, so any awkwardness involving, for example, errant wives was hushed up. In any case, a significant proportion of the population of Utah is of polygamous descent, so local sentiment tended to be sympathetic.

Nevertheless, in 1953 the Arizona governor John Howard Pyle, hearing stories about the ranch, instituted a large raid. Men were dragged out at gunpoint and children were separated from mothers. Press pictures captured the scene and sympathy swung away from Pyle and towards the FLDS. It was a political disaster that anticipated Waco. All returned to “normal” until Warren Jeffs took over in 2002. Jeffs succeeded his father, Rulon, as the sect’s prophet. Rulon was comparatively liberal, but his son was to become a rabid totalitarian. Born in 1955, he came of age in the midst of an astonishing – and, by secular liberals, entirely unexpected – rise in evangelical and fundamentalist religion, both in mainstream and radical cults. The world was, once again, divided into good and evil. And nowhere was it more divided than within the FLDS under Jeffs’s rule. Carolyn Jessop fled from the tyranny, and in her book, Escape, she describes Jeffs as having “zero charisma”. But he imposed his will by other means. “Warren thrived,” she writes, “on brutality, and seemed to love hurting people. He’d pull some kids out of their classroom and beat them on an almost daily basis. Warren targeted the kids from bad homes whose parents wouldn’t make waves even if their kids told.”

He imposed an ever stricter dress code. Under their prairie dresses the women are required to wear special long underwear. He removed all the FLDS children from the local public schools and insisted they be educated within the compound by almost entirely unqualified members. He intensified the control of the men over the women and frequently ejected members from the FLDS, promising them eternal damnation.

The ejection of males is crucial to the preservation of the community. The dynamics of the society are obvious: through polygamous marriage to brides chosen by the prophet, old and middle-aged men retain access to young women. Jeffs forbade contact between young men and girls. This leaves a surplus of young men. Many are ejected or drift away – former FLDS boys tend to fare badly in the outside world and are known as “the lost boys”. Those that remain provide a pool of free labour for the FLDS businesses – mainly construction, at which they seem to excel. (They have also been involved in government business. Members of Congress have been asking questions about how an FLDS business came to be a supplier to the Pentagon.)

But nobody should be fooled by the obvious sexual motivation of the older men into thinking they don’t believe what they say. These people are unquestionably believers in their mad religion.

Jeffs went too far. From a variety of different directions – fiscal and criminal – the authorities were closing in. He went on the run for two years. He was one of the FBI’s 10 most-wanted men. He organised safe houses up and down the west. “There,” in the words of Steve Singular, “he would preach, get laid, deliver a sermon, tell them to be more obedient and then leave.”

In 2004, his nephew, Brent Jeffs, testified that he had been sodomised by Jeffs when he was five or six. And, fatefully, a girl called Elissa Wall came forward to say that at 14 she had been forcibly married by Jeffs to her 19-year-old cousin. Jeffs was finally recognised by a cop and arrested in August 2006 in Nevada. Wall’s testimony earned Jeffs 10 years to life. He is now appearing in Arizona on further charges. Meanwhile, Jeffs’s evasions and contempt for gentile law had led Utah to seize $100m in FLDS assets, and the accountant in charge is pursuing funds in Texas – the ranch is valued for tax purposes at $20m.

Jeffs started the Eldorado project when things were getting hot in Colorado City and Hildale. They bought up the land and he sent down his most faithful followers. Eldorado was remote and Texas tends to be very permissive about home schooling, another case of the culture’s absolute faith in the individual against the state. A fierce lobby defends the right to teach at home. I asked one lawyer, Guy Choate, why the ranch hadn’t been inspected for the quality of its education. “Don’t even go there,” he said.

Jeffs put Merril Jessop in charge, a man who, judging by the book by his former “wife” Carolyn, is quite a piece of work. The first thing to say about him is he’s one hell of a builder. The land outside Eldorado was bought, as far as the locals are concerned, under false pretences. “We knew about the purchase but we didn’t know who they were,” says Randy Mankin, editor and proprietor of the paper The Eldorado Success. “They represented themselves as a hunting lodge. They were deceptive from the get-go.”

Mankin and his wife had their suspicions and began arranging flights over the land. What they saw was not a hunting lodge. With incredible speed, huge log cabins – around 30,000 square feet – went up and the colossal foundations of the temple were dug. Most of the structure seems to have gone up in under a month. All the buildings are of phenomenal quality. One of Mankin’s pictures shows a gathering of workers praying, led, Mankin believes, by Jeffs. Mankin, a great roly-poly guy, is like something out of a film. In fact, locals have talked about which actors they would like to play them in the film of the FLDS story – Mankin favours Tom Selleck. He has few doubts about the uses of the ranch – “a camping ground for paedophiles”. A quarry was dug to provide the temple’s limestone cladding. There was a cement works, and a farm was created with a cheese factory and fields of, among other things, alfalfa. “Alfalfa,” writes Carolyn Jessop, “was one of Merril’s hobbies.”

Merril’s building competence seems to have been matched by political savvy within the FLDS. Under Rulon’s reign, he tied himself to the Jeffs family by marrying his daughters to Rulon’s sons and then to Warren – “Merril,” writes Carolyn, “saw it as a shrewd move.” By the time Jeffs was arrested, it was clear that Merril was to be his main man in the outside world.

But at this point, Merril’s competence fails him. His personal life seems to be one disaster after another, an appalling advertisement for polygamy. His multiple wives were dominated by Barbara, who paid only lip service to polygamy and effectively demanded almost unique access to Merril. In spite of his total power over his women and his freedom to take as many wives as he chose, he managed to be henpecked by one woman. He had all the disadvantages of monogamy and none of the advantages of polygamy.

Merril is a fool. That much is comic; the rest is not. Carolyn’s book portrays a man of callousness and brutality. At one point he seems to be willing a sick son of his to die as a rebuke to Carolyn’s mounting indiscipline. The lives of the women were made miserable by his casual indifference to their welfare. Merril was so bad at all this that he managed to inspire rebellion among his wives, unthinkable within the FLDS. But he was always backed by Jeffs, and most of the women believed every word Jeffs spoke – primarily that “keeping sweet” and obeying the command of their husbands was their only hope for heaven.

Until Jeffs’s arrest, things seemed to be going well for Merril. The locals were suspicious about the ranch, but grateful for the money. The FLDS spent freely on building materials and farming products. In San Angelo they now say most of the money was spent in Eldorado and in Eldorado they say it was mostly spent in San Angelo, but, one way or another, it was spent. The FLDS always paid in cash. They also paid local taxes of $450,000 a year and, curiously, did not claim the exemption available to religious organisations. The men were seen about town – identifiable by shirts buttoned up to the throat and down to the wrist and, often, bib overalls – but women were seldom seen and children, as far as I could establish, never. The only big news was on April 6, 2005. Jeffs had forecast the end of the world and the national press descended on the ranch. Mankin had a friend dressed up as the Grim Reaper standing at the gates – “We thought it was a pretty good joke.” The world did not end.

But for those who knew about the sect, this calm hid a terrible reality. Jeffs’s arrest held out the hope that his tyranny might be about to end. Merril may be a good builder, but he’s no prophet, so there may have been a spiritual vacuum. Hopes were raised further when, in prison, Jeffs cracked. He appeared in court drooling, out of control. On January 24, 2007 he told his congregation by jail telephone that he was a wicked man because of things he had done in his youth with a sister and a daughter. This meant he wasn’t a true priest and couldn’t be the prophet. These hopes were dashed, however, by Jeffs’s recent courtroom appearances in Arizona, healthy-looking and suited. Videos smuggled out of the jail show him talking to his wives, telling them God’s wishes. He was the prophet once more. He is said to have been talking to one group the night before the April 3 raid. He seems to be directing operations at the YFZ ranch and still able to command the unwavering devotion of his followers.

Back at San Angelo on May 19, the media circus was in town again. It was the start of the review hearings needed to take place 60 days after any child has been taken by the authorities, and the supremely photogenic parade of strangely clad, weirdly coiffed women up the courtroom steps is about to begin again. Satellite trucks are lined up on the streets and TV reporters are hanging about with camera crews. The media role in this story has been crucial. Access to the sect members has been controlled by Rod Parker, a suave attorney in Salt Lake City. He has been running a campaign to normalise the FLDS. This has involved a few media visits to the ranch, escorted by the equally suave Willie Jessop, who at one point waved his hand across the pastoral spectacle of the farm and said: “This is America!” Parker has also orchestrated interviews with the most talkative and fresh-looking sect members, though with the supercilious Margaret Jessop – “Because there’s just not enough good men to go round” – he seems to have blundered. She came across as your worst nightmare.

The legal and media actors all seem to be co-ordinated. They are carefully trying to uncouple the ranch from Jeffs – not easy when all the pictures show images of Jeffs in every room. That “few bad apples” remark of my fat lawyer was echoed by all the lawyers, and repeatedly on TV. This anticipates the criminal case. Even if child abuse is proved, then the sect may be saved if it can be shown it was not systemic. Meanwhile, the criminal case is likely to be just as brilliantly handled by the defence. The FLDS has hired some of the best criminal attorneys in Texas.

Jeffs has always warned his followers of the wickedness of government and the law beyond the walls and fences of their compounds. And he knows how to spread confusion and dissent among the media and the lawyers. In the end, I suspect, the outcome will be decided in the corridors of Washington. Harry Reid is the majority leader in the Senate. He is a Mormon. Few things can be more embarrassing to the Mormon church than the FLDS, and there are plenty of whispers suggesting Reid wants it sorted out. It’s a crazy sect run by a man who, if not mad, is certainly bad. But is it legally vulnerable? This goes to the heart of the American way.

In his book, Steve Singular argues that the law is the best weapon against religious extremism. At Short Creek in 1953 and Waco in 1993, the failure of force became apparent. Singular links this point to the failure of force in the war on terror. Just as in Iraq and at Guantanamo, the law has been abused. Due process works; force doesn’t. “There may be lots of jokes about lawyers,” he says, “but they are really the way to go.”

The problem is, of course, what does the law actually say? If there was systematic child abuse at the YFZ, then the case is made. But what if there wasn’t? Will the FLDS then be allowed to continue to enclose its children, making them incapable of handling the outside world other than with suspicion, their heads full of nonsensical science, racism and sexism so extreme as to defy belief? American libertarianism, the mentality of the settler and the frontiersman says yes, but government is closing in. America is still in a state of becoming.

Sleepy, sun-bleached, late-settled Eldorado – the name is derived from the golden city of God of the Spanish conquistadors – is where this is all happening; and San Angelo, a frontier town once known primarily for hookers and gamblers and where you can lunch on a brothelburger at Miss Hattie’s, the old whorehouse – are where the battles are being fought. The geography makes sense, for this is the old edge of America, a liminal land where mental and physical borders remain ill-defined. Like the rest of the great territory that runs from west Texas through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho and Montana and is known simply as the west, it is incompletely settled. In these vast empty spaces, people can still lose themselves in their dreams of the city on the hill. But what they are really looking for is a home, a home full of quilts and kindness, a home from which six-year-old Samuel Jeffs can find his place in the world on only one leg.

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