Salt Lake City -- For apparently the first time in more than 100 years, Utah prosecutors are going after a woman on polygamy-related charges.
The woman, Suzie Stubbs Holm, 36, is part of a polygamous household in rural Utah. But she is not directly charged with polygamy. Instead, she is accused of getting her 16-year-old sister to marry into the household.
Holm was charged by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff last week with abetting bigamy and illegal sex and could get up to 10 years in prison. Holm's husband, Hildale police officer Rodney H. Holm, 36, was charged with illegally marrying the little sister.
Utah men are rarely prosecuted for polygamy; there is only one other known case over the past 50 years or so.
And there is no known case over the past century in which a woman was charged with entering into a polygamous marriage or inducing someone else to do so, according to Martha Bradley, an author and researcher on polygamy in Utah.
Anti-polygamists said the case was long overdue.
"It is not only holding the man responsible but holding the other adults in the home responsible for not reporting child abuse," said Flora Jessop, a Phoenix anti-polygamy activist and former plural wife.
Polygamy persists throughout the West with an estimated 30,000 practitioners.
The Holms belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose members openly practice plural marriage. Most of them live in Hildale-Colorado City, twin desert towns straddling the Utah-Arizona state line.
The Fundamentalist church is an offshoot of the Mormon Church, which disavowed polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates those who practice it. More than 6,000 Fundamentalist church members live in the community, a modest town of houses clad in untreated plywood.
Authorities leery of voter backlash, particularly from large polygamist communities that have considerable political weight in rural Utah, have refused to prosecute men for taking more than wife, in part because of a 1953 raid on Colorado City that was a public-relations disaster.
"What's the political percentage? Generally, they haven't hurt anyone," said Utah historian Will Bagley. "It's been child abuse and welfare fraud that's brought prosecutions."
Last year, in what was believed to be Utah's first polygamy prosecution in a half-century, Tom Green, who has five wives and 31 children, was convicted of four counts of bigamy and failure to pay child support. Then last June, he was found guilty of child rape for marrying and conceiving a child with a 13-year-old girl. He is serving five years to life in prison.
The prosecutor in the Green case, Juab County Attorney David Leavitt, declined to charge any of Green's wives because he considered them victims. And that appears to be a widely held view.
"Women are seen as victims and men as predators in these cases involving sex, which are always dicey," Bagley said.
Rowenna Erickson of Tapestry Against Polygamy, an organization started by former polygamist wives, agreed plural wives are victims but said they still bear responsibility.
"Why not charge them?" Erickson asked. "Maybe this will help the women to wake up and say, 'I'm accountable.'æ"
Rodney Holm is accused of having sex with the 16-year-old at least three times. State law bans sex involving 16- and 17-year-olds when the partner is 10 or more years older, unless the couple is legally married.
The Holms' attorney, Rod Parker, who also represents the Fundamentalist church, said that Holm's marriage to the girl was not forced, and that the girl's parents consented to the arrangement. Though not legally married, they considered their 1998 wedding valid according to their faith.
Prosecutors say that the girl's older sister told her it was her godly duty to marry Holm.
The girl was warned that she would "burn in hell" if she refused to marry Holm, her attorney, Bill Walker, told The Salt Lake Tribune. Walker told the newspaper that the girl, who has since left Holm, was coerced by the church's late leader, Rulon Jeffs.
Suzie Holm's prosecution is "a groundbreaking case," Jessop said. "People don't understand this has nothing to do with religion. It's a human rights violation, a civil rights violation."