[See CORRECTION below.] I don't have a lot to say about the FLDS raid. It sounds to me like there might well be some criminal behavior by FLDS members, but at the same time I agree with David Bernstein that the raid seems vastly more intrusive than it needed to be, especially given the removal of small children as to whom (from all I've heard) there was seemingly no reason to fear imminent abuse. Such summary removal of small children, with no reason to fear imminent danger to them, is itself child abuse. As to the other details, I don't know enough to have a bottom-line opinion.
Child Protective Services spokesman Darrell Azar says 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 were living on the ranch in Eldorado. Of that group, 31 already have children or are pregnant....
Whatever we might think of marriages by 16- and 17-year-olds, Texas allows marriages at age 16 with parental consent. (It also seems to allow marriages of younger teenagers with a court order, but I set that aside for now.) Now of course this wouldn't count if the girl is a second or later wife in a plural marriage, since that doesn't count as marriage under Texas law. In such situations, the sex would be considered extramarital, and the age of consent would be 17 (unless the partner is less than 3 years older).
CORRECTION: The AP article that I cited was apparently a very much abbreviated version; the fuller version adds "Under Texas law, children under the age of 17 generally cannot consent to sex with an adult. A girl can get married with parental permission at 16, but none of these girls is believed to have a legal marriage under state law." So the AP at least noted the age of consent, and added a fact which suggests the 16-year-olds might not have been legally married (though I'd like to know more details about why this is so). Thanks to commenter jccamp for alerting me to this; I've corrected the post below accordingly.
So many of the
16- and 17-year-olds may have gotten pregnant with no law being broken , and in fact within a legally recognized marriage. Of course, many might have gotten pregnant at 14 or 15, or at 16 outside marriage and with an adult. And naturally if any of these pregnancies were the results of forced sex, that would clearly be a very serious crime. People who were complicit in this crime, or lesser crimes, should be held accountable. But the 31-out-of-53 number given by a Texas state spoken completely ignores the distinction that Texas law itself draws, and I suspect in a way that many readers won't immediately recognize on their own.
Some people might of course fault FLDS for encouraging the marriage of 16- and 17-year-olds [CORRECTION: or sex by 17-year-olds in a relationship they view as marriage but that is not a legal marriage], even if the girls are consenting and the marriages are permitted under the law. I wouldn't wish such a marriage on a 16- or 17-year-old daughter of mine. But I don't see such marriages as a justification for Child Protective Services action, unless there's some evidence of force or serious coercion (and evidence of force should of course be relevant even for marriages of adults).
It therefore seems to me CPS's statements in this case (or, if this is the AP's fault, the AP's report of CPS's statements in this case) should have focused on data that reflects illegal conduct and not on data that may reflect perfectly legal behavior. And if CPS doesn't know exactly which category any particular teenager falls in, the statements should have at least made that uncertainty clear.
UPDATE: The original version of my opening paragraph was apparently a bit confusing to some commenters -- I wrote, "... I agree with David Bernstein that the raid seems vastly more intrusive than it needed to be, especially given the removal of small children as to whom (from all I've heard) there was seemingly no reason to fear imminent abuse. Such a raid is itself child abuse." The "such a raid" referred to the aspect of the raid mentioned in the previous sentence -- the removal of small children, with no reason to think that they were facing imminent danger; I've revised that sentence to make that extra clear.
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