FLDS girls to attend classes on underage marriage

Deseret News, Utah/October 10, 2008

Girls from the Fundamentalist LDS Church are being required to attend classes in Texas that address sexual abuse, underage marriage and the law.

"These are sessions that deal with issues related to state laws on underage marriages and sexual abuse, along with ways to identify, protect, prevent and report sexual abuse," Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for Texas Child Protective Services, wrote in an e-mail to the Deseret News. "The goal of the sessions are to educate girls who are at risk or who have been sexual abuse victims and to deal with any emotional issues related to this topic."

Approximately 63 children, ages 10 and up, have been asked to attend the sessions provided by therapists in the San Angelo area. They run a total of four hours, either in one-hour or two-hour blocks. If providers have knowledge of sex abuse, it can be included as long as it is age appropriate and does not include sex education, Crimmins wrote.

"These are not formal classes, but sessions with a contracted provider and the information described above is to be addressed in the session in addition to other items that may be relevant for the individual child," he said.

The classes are part of requirements made by family service plans signed by the girls' parents in the ongoing custody case surrounding hundreds of children taken in the April raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado. The therapists are the same who are providing parenting classes, Crimmins said.

"Attendance or lack thereof is assessed on a case by case basis," he wrote.

Lawyers for some children said FLDS families may not be happy about it but will attend the sessions to avoid being dragged into court again or risk losing their children.

"It seems to me that they have yet to identify, in many cases, anything more than a cookie-cutter, generalized, you-live-at-the-wrong-address argument," said Mark Ticer, a court-appointed attorney for four children ranging in age from 5 to 10. "What else are you going to do? Pick your battles. If the cases are going to go away, suggest to your client they cooperate."

Ticer would not say if any of his clients were attending the sessions, but CPS indicated in a court hearing earlier this month that one of them would be.

Approximately 439 children were taken into state protective custody during the raid on the YFZ Ranch, when CPS caseworkers and law enforcement responded to a phone call alleging abuse and underage marriages. The children were ordered returned to their parents two months later when an appeals court in Austin and the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state acted improperly and the children were not in immediate danger of abuse.

To date, 315 children have been dropped from court oversight as the nation's largest custody case moves forward. That tally includes 26 "disputed minors," whom CPS initially believed were children but later were determined to be adults.

One child has been returned to foster care: a 14-year-old girl allegedly married at age 12 to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. A judge ruled her mother failed to protect her from abuse.

As the custody case goes on, Ticer said CPS will have to show exactly what evidence it has of child abuse. Many lawyers went to court complaining they have not been given discovery. The agency, which said it was overwhelmed, signed agreements to provide that evidence.

"We've got a really good judge down there that understands what's going on and is not going to let CPS take away children except, perhaps, in the most extreme circumstances," he said.

A criminal probe into the Utah-based polygamous sect continues. Nine men, including Jeffs, have been indicted on charges connected to underage marriages including sexual assault, bigamy and failure to report child abuse. The grand jury investigating the cases meets again Nov. 12.

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