Teen who ran away returned to polygamist community

Associated Press/February 9, 2004

St. George, Utah -- A 17-year-old girl who ran away to St. George from the polygamist enclave of Colorado City, Ariz. after an alleged altercation with her father has been returned to her home, a newspaper has reported.

The unidentified teenager spent two weeks in Utah and Arizona state custody before being returned home Jan. 30, The (St. George) Spectrum reported. The girl's return home came after 5th District Court Judge James Shumate dismissed a protective order she had obtained against her father, saying the St. George court did not have jurisdiction over an Arizona case.

Representatives from the Arizona Child Protective Services and Utah State Division of Child and Family Services said they found no evidence of abuse in their interviews with the teenager.

The girl, who left town on Jan. 17, spent 10 days living at a youth crisis center operated by Utah's Youth Corrections Facility before being turned over to Arizona custody Jan. 27.

Anti-polygamy activists were angered by the decision to return the teenager to her home.

Utah and Arizona's child protective services have failed to protect children fleeing abuse in their polygamist homes, said Flora Jessop, an anti-polygamy activist and former Colorado City resident.

"The kids are running from the predators of their own homes," Jessop was quoted in the newspaper's Saturday edition. "They are being sent back to abuse."

According to court papers, the girl said her father beat her with a willow branch, causing a bump on her head and a welt on her back.

Although officials with child protective services are not allowed to discuss case details, a spokeswoman for the Arizona CPS, Liz Barker, said the department found the girl wasn't sexually abused or being forced into a marriage.

The girl's father said his parental right was abused when officials with the Utah Attorney General's office put the girl into state custody without trying to contact him.

Sisco said the state followed the correct procedure in the case. Had the girl been found to have been abused or neglected, she said, she would not have been returned home.

Sisco has previously said that, barring signs of abuse or neglect, the mere fact a child lives in a polygamist home does not warrant the child's removal.

Last week, 27 Arizona state legislators called on the Attorney General Terry Goddard to ensure the safety of young people in Colorado City and to prosecute cases of criminal activity such as bigamy, rape and incest.

Officials from both Utah and Arizona have been keeping an eye on the twin communities of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah since early January, when the self-described prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Warren Jeffs, excommunicated at least 20 men.

Anti-polygamy activists had anticipated more runaways from the enclave, but thus far only three underage girls, including the girl recently returned, have left. The other two female runaways were taken to Phoenix, where a juvenile court ruled they would be allowed to remain in foster homes.

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