Friday, April 18, 2008

FLDS, Islam, Oneida, age and sex

One point that comes up in both news stories about the FLDS and discussion on my blog is that relatively young women—how young is not yet clear—were having sex with considerably older men. Many people see as obviously a very bad thing. One commenter took it for granted that having sex at twelve or thirteen was something which "99% of the world" would find abhorrent.

That particular claim is clearly wrong. According to Islamic tradition, Mohamed consummated his marriage with Ayesha when she was nine. I doubt that many modern Muslims consummate marriages that early, but I gather that in some communities twelve or thirteen is not unusual. And Mohamed is supposed to be an exemplar for mankind, so if he did it it cannot be abhorrent to a believing Muslim.

This is also relevant to Ms Voss justifying the removal of boys from their parents on the grounds that "I believe that the boys are groomed to be perpetrators." Pretty clearly what she means is that they are being taught a system of beliefs which justifies FLDS marriage patterns. Anyone brought up in traditional muslim beliefs is being taught that both polygamy and marital sex with women well below the current U.S. age of consent are entirely proper. Presumably, if she knew that and was consistent, Ms Voss would want to remove all Muslim children from their parents.

A further interesting point concerns the Oneida commune, also mentioned in an earlier post. They quite deliberately and openly paired up younger women with older men and younger men with older women; I have a brief explanation in a comment to the previous post. The same pattern which lots of moderns see as outrageous they saw as optimal.

Getting back to the question I raised in my comparison of FLDS and Oneida, it occurs to me that the problem FLDS is having may be in part due to the accident of simultaneously offending left and right. The left dislikes them because they are patriarchal, the right because they are not monogamous.

Which leaves almost nobody to defend them.


At 7:28 PM, April 18, 2008, Blogger Stephen Smith said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 7:30 PM, April 18, 2008, Blogger Stephen Smith said...

You misquoted me. What I said was that 99% of the world would find what happened here wrong. What happened is not simply a 12/13-year-old having sex – that's not terribly uncommon in any culture. What I said was not accepted by 99% of the world was a 12- or 13-year-old being FORCED to have sex with someone three, four, or five times her age (because if you think any 12-year-old would do that willingly, even with religious influence, you're crazy), in a polygamous relationship at that. Of course I can't prove that, but the only example you came up with was the prophet Muhammad...which seems to me like an obvious exception – he's the goddamn prophet, he can do anything he wants! Not to mention that it would be a mortal sin for a Muslim to say anything bad about the prophet. But my statement surely holds true throughout South America, North America, Oceania, and Europe. And I'd guess that most people in Muslim, sub-Saharan, and Asian countries would feel the same – I've heard stories about 14- and 15-year-old girls being forced to marry, but there's a big difference between 13 and 14, and a HUGE difference between 12 and 14 when it comes to sexual development. I mean, 80% of the world's population is probably pretty disgusted with polygamy, and 90% is probably disgusted with 12-year-olds being given to middle-aged men, and 75% is probably disgusted with rape. Put it all together and I'll bet you'd get a number in the high 90s.

How you as a libertarian can see this incident as anything but one government fighting with another, I do not understand. Why do you treat this any differently than you'd treat a government that forced 12- and 13-year-old girls into relationships with 40-year-old men chosen by the president/dictator? It's just an example of one state invading the other, as far as I'm concerned. However, it seems like the US is a far more benevolent state than the Yearning for Zion ranch (undoubtedly a government of some kind, albeit one that's been invaded by the US). From what I understand, there aren't many departments of the federal government that regularly force 12-year-old girls to have sex with middle-aged men.

I'm personally against all forms of government, not just ones with embassies.

But ultimately, my opinion of the YFZ ranch wouldn't change even if the women were all 18: the leaders made rules, and anyone who was born into that world had no choice but to give in. Do you honestly believe that if a 12-year-old had said, "I think I'd rather not be raped by you, 50-year-old man!" they would have let her go about her business? What if she said she didn't want to live there?

PS, you asked me for a citation on that 12 or 13 year old girl being pregnant thing. I can't find it now, but I remember very specifically on the radio a mention that one of the girls was 16 and was pregnant with her fifth child, which would put the first pregnancy at around the age of 12. Not very satisfying

At 8:01 PM, April 18, 2008, Blogger Clayton said...

I have been casually following this FLDS story since it broke and it just appears to me to be law enforcement flexing its muscles because it can. As you noted, neither left nor right will defend the FLDS because it's offensive to both ends of the spectrum.

In an online political debate forum, I presented a counterfactual raid of exactly the same type, but taking place in your average American neighborhood and asked why people would be outraged in that instance, but are not outraged in this instance. The responses were all of the variety "but, but, but this wasn't your *typical* neighborhood" (as if I had not just said that in my opening post.) If liberty is reserved only for typical people, then I'm in trouble.

At 8:02 PM, April 18, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

Stephen, no proof has been offered of such force being used (to make 12-13 y/o girls marry and have sex with older men). You have no right to judge of what someone else is or is not willing to do.

I have come to clearly realize over the recent past, (from having to do a lot of business traveling in other parts of the world) that our way is not the only way.

To quote George Bernard Shaw, "He is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."

I'm sorry Stephen, but if you think that you can judge what a 12-13 year old girl raised in a drastically different culture from yours (which the Fundamentalist Mormons are) will or will not be willing to do, then you are the crazy one.

At 8:02 PM, April 18, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Stephen accuses me of misquoting him, but I think if he reads his own comment on the previous post he will see that he indeed said what I reported:

"...the fact that they found a 16-year-old with multiple children means that she was having sex starting at age 12 or 13, and it's incredibly hard to believe that she would have done that had she known that 99% of humanity would have found it abhorrent."

The only referent in what he wrote for his "done that" and "it" is "having sex starting at age 12 or 13," so that's what he was claiming that 99% would find abhorrent. It may not be what he meant but it's what he said.

Not only does what he wrote there not imply that she was forced to have sex, it implies that she was not, since he is saying that she wouldn't have done it if she had known, and if she was forced she wouldn't have had the option of not doing it.

Stephen also asks why I don't treat the FLDS as a government. The obvious answer is that, despite the talk about forcing people, there is no evidence that they prevented people from leaving, or at least none that I have seen. Persuading someone to do something that is bad for him may be wicked, especially if the someone is young and not very capable of seeing through the arguments, but governments don't limit themselves to persuasion, even very forcible persuasion.

Between a group that can get younger women to sleep with older men by telling them they will go to hell if they don't and an organization that can step in and take four hundred children away from their parents by force, I think there is a very large difference.

So far as Stephen's "because if you think any 12-year-old would do that willingly, even with religious influence, you're crazy," that's pure argument by assertion. As Stephen may have noticed, quite a lot of people willingly, under religious influence, strap explosives around their bodies and blow themselves up.

At 8:11 PM, April 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That female Judge and Marleigh Meisner look like a total w*h*o*r*e*s. I'll bet the judge has at least four tattoos. I'd guess that Meisner probably has w*h*o*r*e*d around with at least 84 different men.

Only a slut would want those kids taken from their wonderful families. I am praying that they both comes down with brain cancer--several large tumors each. I would enjoy a youtube video showing their diseased bodies flopping around on a hospital bed.

The patriots who are standing up for these kids and the constitution need to get together and form an organization to resist this and other atrocities by the government and their henchmen.

Further, all baptist churchs should be picketed on sunday to protest the invovlement of the el dorado baptist church in assisting the pigs, providing buses and acting as collaborators. this is a huge problem.

At 8:55 PM, April 18, 2008, Blogger Joe said...

8:11, you forgot to sign your comment.

At 9:47 PM, April 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Genocide is more than killing. Transporting children out of a culture for the purpose of changing their culture is considered genocide. The Nazis did this to Arian looking Poles. Thanks to Texas, the USA can now be accused of committing Genocide.

At 11:37 PM, April 18, 2008, Blogger Stephen Smith said...


I don't need 100% proof to make my own judgments. We're not in a court of law. But, crucially, I'm not involved in the lives of these people, nor would I ever want to be. You have every right to judge whomever you'd like. But ultimately, your opinion in this situation doesn't really matter if you don't believe in government – because without a government, something like this likely wouldn't have happened in the first place. This particular FLDS sect has its isolationist roots in another raid by the government – Short Creek, in 1953. Since then, they've been particular insular, which is presumably why something like this (private property, wives of any age, and even your own children being doled out by a leader) has been allowed to exist. It's essentially a polygamist communist government, and as we all know about communist governments, when the people are exposed to life outside of them, they don't stay. However, because the leaders can keep their members out of the real world by recalling Short Creek and current American polygamy laws, they can keep them in this bubble. Basic knowledge of how human culture and sociology will tell you that isolated groups (in this case, isolated by government rules) breed differences. You can try to tell me that a 16-year-old girl being unilaterally awarded by a leader to some man for sexual pleasure and eternal heavenly bliss isn't necessarily a bad "difference," but I think we can just sidestep the whole judgment thing and say this wouldn't have happened in the first place if it weren't for the US government.

@david friedman:
When I said "that," isn't it reasonable to assume that I meant what actually happened (or at least what I heard happened – but I'm willing to stand by that statement up to 14 or 15, if you give me the benefit of a little hyperbole and we drop that 99 down to maybe 95)? What happened is that a young girl was raised in an environment where she didn't question the decision of the leader to unanimously award her to a man possibly four times her age, and that's what happened to her (and by "her" I mean likely a lot of these girls). How is this different from what a government would do, and why do you (it seems) bemoan the fact that there is nowhere to advocate for the rapists?

At 5:55 AM, April 19, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A technical quibble, from someone whose home town is about 15 miles from Oneida. It's "Oneida Community," not "Oneida commune." Not sure, but I think "commune" is a modern word, or at least its use in that sense is modern.

At 6:33 AM, April 19, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Setting aside the issue of whether what was going on in this particular case was morally objectionable, on which I have insufficient data: I think it's clear that the claim that 99% of humanity would find sex between 12- or 13-year-olds and men several times their age morally wrong is overstated. David has cited the example of the prophet Muhammad consummating his marriage with a nine-year-old, and given Muslim attitudes toward Muhammad's life and actions, that's one big chunk of humanity that doesn't agree. There is also the case of child marriage in India, up until the British suppressed it, or tried to; Mayo's Mother India, published ca. 1920, is pretty explicit about the gynecological consequences of girls aged 5-10 marrying adult men and having the marriages consummated, and apparently this was accepted as not merely legitimate but morally desirable. Back when I was an undergraduate and taking a couple of courses on anthropology we learned about Australian tribes that routinely married young girls to middle-aged men, and then when the men died of old age, their widows became the first wives of men in their twenties who had just accumulated enough social capital to get into the system of marriage alliances. So this claim strikes me as an example of Americans assuming that the entire world agrees with American laws and moral assumptions—which is all too common an attitude among Americans.

As to "forced to have sex," well, through most of history, arranged marriages have been commonplace; marriage by personal choice is something of an innovation. Any system of arranged marriages bears some suspicion of being "forced," I think.

At 9:10 AM, April 19, 2008, Blogger Stephen Smith said...

No doubt in times past it was not uncommon for young girls to be married off to older men. However, we are not in those times, and no one can seem to give me a modern example. I don't accept that just because Muhammad did it, all (or even most) modern Muslims would find the practice okay: the original Mormons were obviously polygamists, and yet the vast majority of the modern Mormon church will bend over backwards to convince you that they're not polygamists. Similarly, the Old Testament is rife with references to polygamy, and yet modern day Jews and Christians generally agree (and by generally I mean the overwhelming majority) that that sort of thing is not okay now.

As for the aboriginal Australian tribes, ditto on the that's-not-today part. And I'm actually pretty skeptical that wildly pre-pubescent girls (5 years old?!) were forced into sexual relationships. (Cue some commenter attacking me for assuming that a five year old girl wouldn't want to be vaginally penetrated by a man five years from death.)

At 9:14 AM, April 19, 2008, Blogger Sabrina Raaf said...

Ok, so here's the voice of someone who actually had the experience of once being a 12 year old girl... Friedman, do you believe that, if these girls were given equal treatment in their community - i.e., equal education, access to news + information from outside of their community, equal wages, as well as the right to serve with an equal voice of authority in their community's governance - that they would continue to view marriage to older men and baby-making with these men as their calling in life? Just because some cultures have managed to keep girls/ women in a lock of subservience for centuries, doesn't mean that their 'values' (as you put it) must have something to them - and that we should all just back off in our judging. What it means that you seriously have your head up your ass - and probably also that you secretly wish you had a 13 year wife too.

At 12:45 PM, April 19, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

sraaf said...

Friedman, do you believe that, if these girls were given equal treatment in their community - i.e., equal education, access to news + information from outside of their community, , , ,
----end quote

Do you believe that people should be forced to live in communities which violate their sensibilities of right and wrong and that require them to raise their children in a manner they find morally repugnant?

The issue is that the FLDS people are who they are 99% because they, and their ancestors choose to be who they are. They are the decedents of Mormans who emphatically were volunteers in every sense of the word, and who held to their religious beliefs against the repeated attacks of the United States Government.

It is a fact that a fraction of FLDS women every generation choose to leave the religion, it is also a fact that most do not.

At 12:52 PM, April 19, 2008, Blogger Clayton said...


I agree with David's analysis of this situation so far. I am not making an apologetic for FLDS culture. Rather, my concern is the presumptiveness and cycnicism of law enforcement in employing dragnet tactics that would have generated total outrage if used in almost any other US community - exactly because they knew there would be no outrage.

If the US public did not get outraged at the mistreatment of some other traditional minority (blacks, Jews, Irish, etc.), would it then be justifiable for the police to use dragnet tactics in their neighborhoods? Oh wait, that's already happened before!

At 1:13 PM, April 19, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Stephen writes:

"No doubt in times past it was not uncommon for young girls to be married off to older men. However, we are not in those times, and no one can seem to give me a modern example."

To begin with, modern Muslims routinely defend the practice, as you can find out with five minutes of googling. Beyond that, the Islamic legal system is, or at least purports to be, based largely on traditions of what Mohammed did or said, on the basis that he was an exemplar for mankind.

For one modern example of people arguing for, and engaging in, the practice of marrying younger than you think they should, take a look at the BBC piece webbed at:

You still haven't gotten around to conceding that I accurately reported what you said, whether or not it was what you intended to say. Having made a strikingly false factual claim, the appropriate thing is to withdraw it, not pretend you didn't make it.

So far as the case of the Mormons is concerned, they abandoned polygamy as a result of being invaded and occupied by the U.S. army. Most Muslims live in societies ruled by Muslims, so have been free to retain it.

At 4:25 PM, April 19, 2008, Blogger Joe said...

"What it means that you seriously have your head up your ass - and probably also that you secretly wish you had a 13 year wife too."

What an ugly way of saying "I disagree with you; I don't think that the values of societies with a noncoercive, socially enforced system of different roles for men and women are a worthy subject of discussion."

I'm against polygamy and this sort of isolationism, but I don't think the possibility that people should be allowed to marry young is offensive even as a topic of discussion. If you do think it is, you should try to defend it without just spewing garbage...

At 4:27 PM, April 19, 2008, Blogger Joe said...

"Ok, so here's the voice of someone who actually had the experience of once being a 12 year old girl..."

Last year?


Sorry for stooping. I couldn't resist.

At 5:59 PM, April 19, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I find interesting in this discussion (both here and elsewhere) is that the focus keeps coming back narrowly on the sex, sex, sex.

What I find problematic is not the idea that some people might believe in their hearts that polygamy is a good thing, or that "marrying" at an age younger than our own cultural norms is okay (even if personally I might not like these things), but rather the isolation and mind-control.

Some people in this discussion rightly talk about liberty and freedom--that "mainstream" people need to butt out and stop being so judgmental of others exercising their freedom to choose their beliefs and act on them.


Any system that teaches that the leader (prophet or whatever) is "always right" and that to disagree or disobey will result in eternal damnation; any system that teaches that to explore the outside world (where other views might be encountered) is also grounds for damnation, represents the opposite of liberty, free will, free choice, or freedom of religion.

If you raised a child in a room with no windows, and told her that to walk out the door would result in her being eaten by a ferocious monster, and also result in her soul being damned to hell, the child would likely "choose" not to leave. But is that free choice? If she's never heard other opinions on life outside of the room and other ways to live, she will doubtless believe that her way is the best way. But this is not the same thing as exercising her "liberty to remain in the room."

The Amish, by the way, also choose isolation from the wider culture, but no one takes their children or call them abusive. The Amish, too, have some beliefs that don't jibe with the broader culture. But the difference is that the Amish don't fear that their beliefs won't hold up to close examination. Their adolescent children explore the outside world before deciding whether to return to the Amish religion and lifestyle. They have a choice. They have knowledge of the alternatives.

This is what is missing from the YFZ FLDS, and in my mind it is more important than the problem of who is having sex with whom. If the kids don't have alternatives and choices, if they are not free to choose their religion, if they are threatened with eternal damnation for every small infraction or failure to comply with authority, then that in many people's minds is an abusive and harmful system.

At 7:48 AM, April 20, 2008, Blogger Thomas L. Knapp said...


You write:

"No doubt in times past it was not uncommon for young girls to be married off to older men. However, we are not in those times, and no one can seem to give me a modern example."

Go to any Bible Belt community and visit any Pentecostal church. When I was a kid in such a community and such a church, I distinctly recall attending the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of a couple from our church. She was 64. I don't know how much older he was, but he was certainly older.

I do find it interesting that you bring time into the question. Girls begin puberty much earlier now than they did even in the early 20th century. Children are also exposed to a much wider variety of life experience now than they were a century ago, due to the existence of mass media and the availability of cheap, fast transportation. Why should the age at which we condone sexual activity, or even marriage, go up rather than down?

At 12:41 PM, April 20, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"If the kids don't have alternatives and choices, if they are not free to choose their religion, if they are threatened with eternal damnation for every small infraction or failure to comply with authority, then that in many people's minds is an abusive and harmful system."

Yes. But that doesn't tell us if it should be illegal. And the problem with making it illegal is that that transfers to the state the power to decide what people ought to believe and be taught. Indeed, it gives the state the power to decide what is religious truth.

To put the final point somewhat differently, suppose you are a parent who believes in the religion. To not tell your children that if they violate God's rules they will go to hell would be inexcusable neglect--like keeping your children ignorant of the risks of smoking, or of unprotected sex, only much worse since the dangers is so much greater. The reason the parents' behavior looks like abuse to you is that you are quite confident that their religion is wrong.

So am I, but I don't think it's a decision for the government to make--in part because governments have so much more power than groups like the FLDS.

At 4:55 PM, April 20, 2008, Blogger Mystical Cosmic Sea Turtle said...

No matter how horrible the FLDS leadership is, that doesn't justify punishing the victims while leaving the abusers' lives pretty much unaffected. The kids are being taken from their mothers and their homes, and plopped down in a completely alien culture. Normal American kids don't do so great in foster care, just look up the statistics, and imagine how much worse it'll be for the FLDS kids. The mothers haven't had a whole lot of options either, and now they're separated from their children, who were the center of their lives. Who knows how many months it'll take for CPS to get the paperwork done for them to get psych evals, much less go through counseling, get jobs, save up money for apartments, etc. So, they're going to have to completely change their lives and keep it up for months, even years, before CPS decides if it's okay for them to get their kids back.

Now, what effect is this going to have on the high-ranking men who have multiple wives and too many kids to keep track of? Well, if their wives leave them, that will deprive them of sex. But how much will they miss kids they barely know? dddd

It'd have been so much better if CPS had done their homework and gotten the abusers removed, while letting the victims stay in their own homes. Of course, that is completely outside the scope of the CPS mentality. They have this idea that once they "rescue" a child, that child will be in a wonderful perfect fantasy world called foster care, where nothing bad ever happens, and they will dance with pixies and unicorns.

Speaking of unrealistic expectations, the average American girl hits puberty at 12 and doesn't get married until 25. If most Americans believed that premarital sex was immoral, we would not be so shocked over teen brides.

At 12:11 PM, May 17, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok this topic is one there will be some disagreement on. However there will be one group you will find in complete agreement on this topic. Twelve year old girls who have been given fair access to good education and permitted to expres their opinions would tell you this is something they definitely do not want to do. There is no questioning this. Everyone wants to be given the opportunity to have a choice their mates, there is no dispute of that fact.

The very articulate legal arguments put forth by men are to drown out the voice of reason. Honestly there are no decent, loving and generous people who beleive this is an acceptable culture. The people standing on legel grounds recognize this and therefore feel compelled to find a way of defending FLDS practices.

We must be reasonable in what we say and do, our legel system shouldnot be used to defend clearly illegal and dishonorable actions.

At 4:23 PM, May 18, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous writes:

"We must be reasonable in what we say and do, our legel system should not be used to defend clearly illegal and dishonorable actions."

I don't know how much of the case you have followed--you might want to look at my more recent posts. I think it is clear that:

1. The raid was based on a bogus phone call by a 33 year old woman in Colorado and a set of assertions by an unidentified "confidential informant" who there is no reason to believe had ever been in the Texas ranch.

2. The CPS has repeatedly lied about the facts, in an attempt to justify their actions. In particular, they have made assertions about the ages of the women they are holding which they cannot know to be true and have good reason to believe are false, since the CPS has refused to accept birth certificates as proof of age, and so is going on their own assertions about how old girls look.

Recently they finally conceded that both of the pregnant "minors" who they had held in custody until after they delivered were in fact adults, one of them 22.

If the FLDS really acts in the way you assume, wouldn't you suppose that six weeks after CPS got control over all of the children they would have found some real evidence to support their claims, instead of having to pretend that pregnant adults are minors?

In any case, I agree with your sentiment--and conclude that the Texas authorities ought to be liable for the acts of mass child abuse, fraud, unlawful restraint, and defamation that they have perpetrated.

Unfortunately, they are probably shielded from liability by sovereign immunity, meaning that even if it is shown that they deliberately lied in order to justify their actions, they will not be liable--for taking 460 children away from their parents.

What is your view on that subject? Should the authorities be liable for damages if it can be shown, by the usual legal standards, that their actions were wrong? Under current law they are not.

At 7:21 PM, May 19, 2008, Blogger Stephen said...

Given that the state of Texas has an overall teen pregnancy rate higher than the FLDS compound, and given that the statistics show 95% of all teen pregnancies involve older men (vis a vis the age of the woman), I'm guessing that the court involved will not let the FLDS move to anywhere in Texas if underage childbearing is an actual concern.

At 8:22 AM, June 01, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Job :)


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