Texas child welfare officials have concluded that a dozen under-age girls living at the ranch of a polygamist sect that was raided in April were involved in “spiritual” marriages to older men.
It also said that hundreds of children at the ranch had suffered neglect through their exposure to such improper relationships.
“The Yearning for Zion case is about sexual abuse of girls and children who were taught that under-age marriages are a way of life,” the report said. “It is about parents who condoned illegal under-age marriages and adults who failed to protect young girls — it has never been about religion.”
According to the report, sexual abuse of children at the ranch was common, with 12 girls, ages 12 to 15, “spiritually” married to older men. Seven of those girls had given birth to one or more children, the report found.
Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the state agency, said the report showed why the ranch had been raided in the first place.
“We went in there to do an abuse and neglect investigation,” he said. “We didn’t go in there to remove and put kids in foster care.”
Say what? Now as you might recall, the biggest problem that critics (ourselves included) had with the raid was that it was initiated at least in part by a hoax, was overbroad in its focus, and resulted in hundreds of children-including infants-being taken away from their parents for an extended period of time. As you might also recall, Texas officials fought to keep those kids away from their parents, until the a Texas Court of Appeals said (and the Texas Supreme Court affirmed) that the agency had not justification for seizing the vast majority of the children. Thus, it's somewhat stunning to hear an agency official argue that the point of the raid was not to remove kids and put them in foster care, since that is most assuredly what they were trying to do.
Now to be clear, I don't believe that older men should be marrying girls who are underage; whatever their religious preference, that's illegal to one extent or another in every state of the union, and in a settings like the Eldorado compound its all too easy for those "marriages" to be the result of or end in physical and or emotional coercion. But state officials did no justice to those girls who may have been suffering legitimate abuse with their overbroad and incompetent investigation. And they did a grave injustice to those parents and children who they separated on the barest of justifications.