Cycle of Abuse: The FLDS Raid

The raid on the West Texas compound of the renegade Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) had a precursor.[i] The McMartin daycare abuse tragedy  blazed a trail.

In 1983, Judy Johnson, an alcoholic paranoid schizophrenic, told police that a daycare provider's adult son had molested her two-year-old son. Among other things, she claimed that her infant son had been sodomized, had been forced to drink the blood of a murdered baby, and had been raped in a health club by an AWOL marine and three models.

No tangible evidence of sexual misconduct was produced after a thorough search of the daycare center. Nevertheless, the local police chief sent out letters to about 200 parents advising them that their children might have been sexually abused.

The ensuing public fear and frenzy, from the local government's actions, resulted in $15 million dollars being spent on criminal trials with no convictions.

Kyle Sapp, a key eight-year-old witness for the prosecution, initially told investigators that he had not been abused and that he had never even seen the alleged abuser at the daycare center. After extensive psychological interrogation and counseling, his story changed. The young Sapp testified, in grand jury and preliminary hearings, that he had been sexually assaulted. Twenty years later, in 2005, Sapp recanted his childhood testimony.[ii]

The infamous 1980s Manhattan Beach McMartin abuse case was the first of its kind. It established the standard for how not to handle child abuse cases.

Skip twenty years. On March 29, 2008 a female telephoned a Texas domestic violence shelter. She identified herself as "Sarah," a resident of the Yearning For Zion Ranch (YFZ Ranch). "Sarah" claimed that she was sixteen, pregnant, the mother of an eight-month-old baby, and that she had been forced to have sex with her 49-year-old husband.

A 33-year-old Colorado resident, Rozita Swinton owns the cell phone that was used by "Sarah" to make the call to the Texas hotline. Swinton has made false reports to authorities in the past. She has made calls claiming to be an abused child held in a basement. She once pretended to be suicidal mother threatening to abandon her newborn child.

Texas authorities had the Colorado cell phone number of the caller who identified herself as "Sarah." They elected, initially, not to track down the owner of the cell phone and confirm "Sarah's" story. It appears from a media report, this was the opportunity authorities had been hoping for. They seized it without pause.

Four years of investigation with an informant had failed to provide the Eldorado sheriff's office with any evidence of criminal conduct at the FLDS compound. An unverified phone call was all it took for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to raid the ranch.

Searches in April of the FLDS ranch failed to produce "Sarah" or her alleged husband. Nevertheless, Texas state authorities simply ripped 468 children from their families. The state placed them first in shelters, then in a coliseum, and ultimately in foster homes and detention centers.

Children, "raised by a village," identified many different women as their mothers. The state failed to consider the possibility that the children knew the many women involved in their caretaking as mothers. Accordingly, DFPS characterized the children's responses as deceptive.

This is similar to the McMartin case. Children, separated from their families (and in Texas held against their will), are being instructed by the DFPS, either by word or action, that their answers are not acceptable.

The DFPS's website, starting with a post on April 4, maintains that children had been abused or were in imminent risk of future harm. DFPS has made public comments that 41 children may have suffered broken bones.

An evidentiary hearing was set for April 17, at which time DFPS was to present its preliminary findings and evidence of abuse.

After creating a massive public outcry, DFPS had 12 days to x-ray the 41 children and produce evidence of any broken bones indicative of abuse. DFPS had the children examined by health care providers. It had 12 days to produce concrete evidence of specific acts of child molestation. [iii]

The state agency had 12 days to focus on the 27 girls it asserts are between the ages of 14 and 17 and to establish that any were under the age of 17, not married, and engaging in sexual relations with older men.[iv] Instead of producing such evidence, DFPS's case pivoted on beliefs and opinions. The agency specifically maintained, "they're [FLDS families] living under an umbrella of belief that having children at a young age is a blessing" and that "there is ‘a pervasive belief' among the residents of the ranch that it is acceptable for girls to marry, engage in sex, and bear children as soon as they reach puberty and that this ‘pervasive belief system' poses a danger to the children."[v]

DFPS's positions are rooted in guilt by association -- since the agency's witnesses admitted under examination that not all FLDS families are polygamous and not all FLDS families allow their female children to marry as minors.[vi]

In this country, we should not destroy families because the majority of us believe that a particular community of other families is bad.[vii] Legal proceedings require individual proof, in every case, to protect the child as well as the family from overreaching governments and mass hysteria.

By failing to carefully gather information from the onset of its investigation, DFPS has severely compromised its ability to effectively protect the FLDS children. Many of the FLDS children now have abandonment issues and may suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Assuming standard examinations for child abuse have been conducted, the FLDS children have been subject to genital exams and in some cases may have been subjected to manual penetration.

Many FLDS children have been placed in separate foster homes. Foster parents have been referred by DFPS to its Cultural Awareness Guide for Children from Eldorado. In this guide, the department makes the following unsubstantiated statement:

"Children [from the YFZ Ranch] are socialized to believe that sexual activity with adults is positive."

We have no idea how many damaging conversations are now being held between the children and foster parents regarding child/adult sexual activity.

Prior to placement in foster homes, the children did not attest to physical abuse. All the children's' future testimony will now be tainted and subject to challenge. Lawyers for the cult will be able to argue, following the McMartin case, "the child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome."

Now that the appellate court decision has put DFPS on the defensive for its actions, there is no knowing to what extremes this case may go. What will the DFPS be willing to put these kids through to prove that the state is and was right?

Tragically, the act of separating all the children from their families before building individual cases may simply have served to carve into the souls of these children the beliefs of cult leader Warren Jeffs ... that they will be persecuted, that they should not trust government workers, and that we of the outside world are evil.

Eileen McDevitt is a retired lawyer. Larrey Anderson is a philosopher and writer. Both can be reached at

[i] In the McMartin investigation, experts adhered to the "child sexual abuse syndrome" that held a therapist should use any means (coercion) necessary to help a child "disclose." In the Texas FLDS custody battle, we now have "culturally sensitive" experts who are creating unworkable family reunification plans that may deny the children any possibility of permanent release to their families.

[ii] Sapp's statements appeared in the October 30, 2005 Los Angeles Times Magazine article, "I'm Sorry: A long-delayed apology from one of the accusers in the notorious McMartin Pre-School molestation case," by Debbie Nathan.

[iii] "There was no evidence that the male children, or the female children who had not reached puberty, were victims of sexual or other physical abuse or in any danger of being victims of sexual or other physical abuse." Texas Court of Appeals, page 5

[iv] "[T]here was no evidence regarding the marital status of these girls when they became pregnant or the circumstances under which they became pregnant..." Texas Court of Appeals, page 5.   

Only three girls were alleged on the record to be presently pregnant, one is turning 18, one refused to take a pregnancy test, so one girl was at issue as to her age at time of conception. Salt Lake Tribune, "FLDS Attorney challenges Texas count of pregnant minors from polygamous sect," April 26, 2008.

A lawyer for the 14-year-old girl alleged to be pregnant has disclosed that the girl has submitted to a pregnancy test confirming that she is not pregnant.

[v] Texas Court of Appeals, pages 5-6.

[vi] Texas Court of Appeals, pages 6-7.

[vii] Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the Salt Lake Tribune that while he supported Texas, he believed that they would have to prove abuse on a case-by-case basis.

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