FLDS in Texas: How to assess?

Yesterday I put forward what I have been able to gather about the FLDS events in San Angelo, Texas. I asked for readers’ opinions about the events, and the comments were particularly impassioned and came from radically different points of view. I said I would write today about my opinions and interpretations of the events. I acknowledge that some of yesterday’s commenters, and everyone who agrees with their perspective, are going to disagree with me. There’s no way around that. But I still feel compelled to outline my reaction.

First, I want to point out that it seems that if you (1) distrust the media and/or (2) distrust the state of Texas, you’re going to be inclined to think a horrible thing has been done here. On the other hand, if you’re inclined to (1) trust the media and/or (2) trust the state of Texas, you’re going to be inclined to think that justice is in the process of being served.

So where do I stand on the general trustworthiness of the media and the state?

I believe the media is tied to advertisers – and is really only interested in gathering eyes for the advertisers rather than actually conveying relevant and important information. So I think they over-state and sensationalize everything to increase viewers. But there is generally a grain of truth if you dig hard enough.

I believe the state generally, and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services specifically, are made up of hardworking people who are dedicated to doing the best they can to keep children safe. However, these people are generally over-worked, under-paid, and do incredibly hard work. So they absolutely make mistakes, including occasionally over-reacting or under-reacting.

And here’s a bedrock belief that I think guides everything else: Marrying young girls to much older men to produce babies is wrong. This is a form of gender-based slavery (rather than ethnicity-based slavery), and it is wrong. Is it wrong if the FLDS’ religious doctrine tells someone to do it? Yes. Is it wrong if Muslim doctrine tells someone to do it? Yes. Is it wrong even if it was the norm 1500 years ago? Yes.

Was the FLDS compound marrying young girls to much older men to produce babies? All indications suggest that at least some parts of the community were. And that has to be stopped.

Because of the world we live in, it’s most likely the state who is going to step in and demand that the FLDS give their girls enough time to grow up before they become wives and mothers. Is that ideal? No, of course not. But the children must be kept emotionally, developmentally, and sexually safe while it is determined whether and under what conditions they can be reunited with their families.

But here is where I am at a loss. The children who have been taken from the FLDS compound have lived very – extremely – sheltered lives. The foster care system is absolutely not in any way the place for them to live. But where else to go? Not home – not to foster care. This is where my grief at the situation reaches the place where I circle back on myself, not knowing where to turn.

These children need quiet, attentive homes where the daily rhythms are as close as possible to what they have known all of their lives to live in until they are (hopefully) able to go back to their families with an action plan in place. I called the Texas foster care hotline this morning to see if there was a way to become a foster placement for these children. But there is not. I understand – they certainly wouldn’t want to fast track individuals simply to meet the needs of these children because they would inevitably approve people who should not be approved. But nevertheless, this is an extraordinary situation. And I hope the state rises to extraordinary heights meet the needs of these children.

There is so much to talk about in this case – feel free to ask me questions in the comments section and I’ll try to answer as thoughtfully and fully as I can.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Do you think it would be possible for them to live at home with their parents, but with extra supervision from the state?

  2. I do, in many situations, think this is possible. But I don’t think that’s a possibility in the case of sexual abuse. I do think that overall the FLDS adults seem honest and law abiding – and it might be that they would be willing to negotiate with the state. I know it’s been asked if the children could return home if all of the men left the ranch, for example. But given the pervasiveness of the problem, I’m not sure.

    For example, in general sex abuse cases, if a mother is aware that sexual abuse is taking place and does not move to stop it, she is considered to have been abusive as well. In that case, the state would keep the child during the duration of the investigation.

    So the state is suggesting that the fathers and the mothers have allowed their children to be sexually abused – and are therefore not providing a safe environment. So I doubt the state would agree to such a situation.

    What do you think, Alice?

  3. Using the word “abuse” as a noun or a verb is useless to describe what you think is wrong with the FLDS or anyone for that matter. The word is a broad brush that may miss the mark or soil the intent of the message. It assumes that the hearer of the word can read minds and oft as not it fails miserably.
    Ask yourself, “Specifically, how do you think a nursing mother is likely to abuse her infant?” It is hard for me to even imagine the list of activities and whether a description could even be put forward in a court of law. If in infant is not allowed to receive his/her mother’s milk, who is the abuser if a third party prevents contact? Can the mother sue the abuser in a Texas court? It would seem like she should be able to.
    If a person willingly enters into a sacred covenant to marry, obey and cherish a man who will care and provide for her for all eternity and then has sexual intercourse for the purpose of having a child, has she done anything wrong? Most people believe that marriage is ordained of God and yet Texas claims no authority from God to perform marriages. When a woman is married she is no longer a child regardless of her age. She should not be treated as a child. A young girl who is not married and has a child is still a child.
    Instead of calling it abuse you should specifically name the activity and assure that the activity is legal or not. Name calling could be abuse but may be legal. Sexual intercourse with an unwilling partner is illegal and must be proved in a court of law to be punishable.
    Without going through a list of activities of interest to the courts, we should go through the list of unlawfully detained individuals and determine their possible infraction of any law.
    Since chastity is a must for living in the community. It is not likely that anyone, male or female, is having any sexual intercourse outside the bonds of marriage. The best evidence for chastity is the dress uniform, covering the body by 200 to 300 percent. Some couples married for many years have never seen each other naked, believe it or not. The likelihood of nudity should not even cross your mind with this group.
    You can rule out all the males in the children group. They will not be fondled or stimulated or seduced in any way. The only reason to keep the boys would be if they show scars from being beaten. Texas, let the boys go home.
    All the girls have worn pant like clothes under those long dresses all their life, since they were just a few years old.
    Some people in our society would consider the absence of TV viewing to be a form of abuse. Well, folks, I use the V chip in my satellite system and I still cannot control the filthy things that come up on our TV. There are good things and bad things about TV and this group has made their choice. Who is to say they made a bad choice?
    These people hold themselves to a high standard that most of the world do not even understand.
    Instead of yelling abuse, name it and make sure it is provable. I predict that the unintended consequence of what is happening in Texas will precipitate the acceptance of polygamy and civil unions over the entire country. This will solve the problems of unregistered births and marriages. Things will eventually get better, or worse. (how profound)

  4. This is what I mean, Karen. IF the children are being sexually abused, then of course they shouldn’t be allowed to go back home. But I find it hard to believe that all 400 of them are being sexually abused and I would be horrified if they were permanently removed from their homes on circumstantial evidence or hearsay. This is why the state has the duty to find out exactly what happened to each individual child before making any long-reaching decisions. And if the only issue is underage marriage, I do think there should be a way for the state to address (“correct”) the problem without destroying a whole community.

  5. Boise – touche! Thank you for encouraging me to be more specific.

    Encouraging underage girls to have sex with much older men is sexual abuse.

    I disagree with you contention that a young girl who marries is an adult, while a young girl who has a baby is not. Marriage does not adulthood confer – particularly, and let me stress this – when the marriage is arranged by adults to an adult man.

    Yes, I agree that there is absolutely no indication whatsoever that any of the children or teenagers are being hit or ignored. There is no indication that children under early puberty are being sexually engaged in any way – or that adolescent boys are being sexually engaged at any age.

    However, and this speaks to Alice’s question/point as well, the children and teenagers who are not pre-teen/teenage girls are learning that pre-teen/teenage girls can and should be sexually abused, because that is what God wants. And that is just not okay.

  6. […] artist or pornographer? As long as we’re talking about the line between appropriate and inappropriate adolescent sexuality, I thought I would bring up Jock Sturges. There is much controversy about Jock Sturges‘ […]

  7. Has anyone made a case for the young male kids to be in danger? They are not married young, and not even an allegation of abuse has been made regarding a boy. They seem to be in a safer spot than Catholic alter boys. Only the young girls who hit puberty are in danger. Maybe send the boys back.

  8. Thanks for the question, Nate. The answer is that no, no one has made any allegations that the male children have been sexually approached in any way.

    However, the state’s policy is that if *anyone* in the household has been sexually abused, no children may return to that household. Basically, I agree with that policy. Even though the boys are not being sexually abused, if the girls are, then the boys are learning that sexual abuse of girls is okay. And that is not a supportable position.

  9. Hello, I followed your comment back from Paul’s post. This situation is very troubling for me. I think Alice speaks closest for my take on this as well. Yes the State is empowered to act on allegations of abuse, but the summary nation of their actions are disturbing. To make the judgment that foster care is the only option and remove so many children before determining the actual circumstances is wrong. I feel strongly that many if not most of the children will wind up being returned to their mothers after the legal hearings and appeals are done. But at what cost to the children themselves? I feel that the State has abused these children by the heavy handed way they have treated them.

  10. Forcing/pressuring underage girls to marry older men should be illegal, but that’s not the main issue in the FLDS raid. The biggest problem is that even if they had evidence of sixteen or seventeen-year-olds being abused in this manner (which is not certain) they had no evidence whatsoever that pre-adolescent children were being abused. Raising children in a isolated environment and teaching them values that mainstream society finds abhorrent may be unethical and reprehensible, but it is not abuse and it is not illegal, nor should it be.

    Taking small children away from their parents without probable cause to do so is totally unconstitutional and should be vehemently opposed by anyone who is concerned about the Bill of Rights and protecting civil liberties even if you find the FLDS religion abhorrent (which I do). Remember the famous quote of H. L. Menken: “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

    I’ve written about this (in even more detail, if youcan believe it 😉 ), here.

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