Group Urges More Polygamy Prosecutions

Associated Press in NY Times/June 16, 2005
By Jacques Billeaud

Salt Lake City -- Rachael Strong said she was 18 and ''too scared to resist'' a marriage to a polygamist in his 60s who scheduled nights with his 17 wives on a calendar and ordered them to use birth control.

She eventually broke away from the polygamous sect and said she can provide evidence of rape and bigamy at The True and Living Church in Manti, Utah -- but claims authorities won't listen.

''Here I am,'' the 20-year-old Strong declared Wednesday at the Utah Capitol, in a lobby two floors under Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's office. ''For over six months I've been willing to testify.''

Strong made her appearance as an anti-polygamy group accused authorities of going after only the most visible polygamous leaders and ignoring the vast majority of cases of child abuse, incest and bigamy in the secret societies throughout Utah and Arizona.

Although polygamy is illegal, it's believed that tens of thousands of Mormon fundamentalists and others across the West continue the practice.

Tapestry Against Polygamy, which helps women escape polygamous homes with their children, said last week's felony indictment of Warren Jeffs, president of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, underscored the gulf that leaves many other polygamy victims without the support of law enforcement.

A grand jury in Arizona indicted Jeffs last week for sex crimes for allegedly arranging a marriage between a teenage girl and a 28-year-old man who already was married. Jeffs is still a fugitive.

''It's pathetic what's going on without (help) from the attorney general's office. We want something done. We're tired of waiting. There's thousands of children affected adversely by polygamy,'' said Vicki Prunty, the group's director.

The fundamentalist sect split from mainstream Mormonism after the broader church renounced polygamy more than a century ago. The fundamentalist group touts that men must have at least three wives to reach heaven.

Shurtleff, the attorney general, has said prosecuting polygamy isn't easy, especially with many women and children fearful of stepping forward to testify against family members.

His spokesman, Paul Murphy, said Shurtleff has done more than anybody else recently to crack down on polygamous communities that have thrived for more than a half-century without interference.

''Anytime there is a victim who will come forward to testify, we'll take the case,'' Murphy said. ''Those victims have been few and far between.''

Murphy said investigators were working on Strong's case and had accepted a case file prepared by an investigator for Tapestry Against Polygamy, despite the group's complaint it was being ignored.

In Arizona, Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith on Wednesday promised more indictments of polygamists living under Jeffs' control in the FLDS strongholds of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., on the Utah-Arizona border.

Smith told The Associated Press he was seeking indictments against another 10 to 15 married men in Colorado City for having sex with girls under 18.

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