Friday, April 18, 2008

FLDS Phone Call Postscript

On Thursday, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said on CNN's "American Morning" that "the case really doesn't hinge upon that particular 16-year-old."

Which suggests that they may now suspect the call was a fake. Legally speaking it doesn't matter; the call gave them grounds to search the ranch and they can then act on what they found. But I find it interesting that, so far as I can tell, nobody but the FLDS people has actually raised the issue of whether the call was real.

"It's our belief that these children who are under the age of 17 have engaged in sex with older men, which is a violation of Texas law, which is also a potential violation of the bigamy laws," he said.

Legally speaking I believe he is correct, provided that the older men were not legally married to the "children" or else the latter were under sixteen. On the other hand, a little googling for data on teen sex indicates that, in the U.S., about one sixteen year old in four has had intercourse. So while it may be illegal, it is also common enough to make such a massive response look very much like selective prosecution.

Another interesting quote comes via CNN from Angie Voss, a supervisor for investigation at Texas Child Protective Services, who said that about 130 of the children removed were under the age of 4.

Boys were also removed from the ranch, Voss testified, because "I believe that the boys are groomed to be perpetrators."

Or in other words, bringing up children in their parents' religion is itself child abuse, provided that the doctrines of the religion are sufficiently repugnant.


Stephen Smith said...

16-year-olds often have sex, but not to 50-year-old men. Regardless of how you feel about the state acting, 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.

I think a lot of things went wrong here (would these people be walled up in a compound like this if they were allowed to legally marry more than one wife? if they weren't walled up in a compound, is it possible that most of the people here would have left?), but you have to treat the compound for what it was: a government. The head of the compound was the ruler, and everyone else was a loyal citizen. He had the power to distribute private property and force young girls (of course, it's irrelevant how old they are if they're being coerced) into sexual relationships with older men. The leaders of this church are as guilty as the leaders of any government, and the willing members are as guilty as citizens of government who don't make a fuss.

David Friedman said...

Stephen refers to a sixteen year-old with multiple children; I don't know what the source for that is. I've mostly been going by CNN stories.

I think his claim that 99% of humanity would find sex starting at 12 or 13 abhorrent is almost certainly false. It seems to be generally accepted that Mohamed married Ayesha when she was no more than eight and consummated the marriage when she was nine--and the people who accept and approve of that account (whether it is correct or not) make up a lot more than one percent.

For a discussion of young marriage in present day India, where it is illegal but apparently practiced and where there is some effort to change the law, see:

Unknown said...

Stephan did have one valid point - 16 year old have sex, but according to the info you linked, they generally have sex with other young people. Last I remember (and I could easily be wrong) the statute involved in statutory rape is sex between a minor and an adult. TX could be being consistent by prosecuting that, since I believe they often do.

Anonymous said...

I think we are in a period of extraordinary puritanism. See

A government that seperates four hundred children, very young children, from their mothers does not care about the best interests of those children, and when police take those children's cell phones away, I rather think that some of those children are about to fall down several flights of stairs in a one story police station - as the state finds itself with an increasingly urgent need for replace testimoney.

Christian Prophet said...

I've been reading the hundreds of comments from outraged citizens at:

Also, I've seen the video of Texas Foster Care system horrors at:

Whew! What a situation!

Jonathan said...

"In other words, bringing up children in their parents' religion is itself child abuse, provided that the doctrines of the religion are sufficiently repugnant."

Hm, I'm not religious. I think the doctrines of all religions are repugnant and could seriously damage children who are exposed to them. Let's take away the children of all religious parents and bring them up in a nice, sane environment. Then we'll have no more religious wars and terrorist acts...

David Friedman said...

Rick suggests that prosecuting older men who had sex with sixteen year olds might be consistent with Texas policy, since most under age sex is with partners of about the same age. That may well be correct.

But there is a large difference between prosecuting some number of men on evidence that those men had sex with minors to whom they were not legally married and seizing 400+ kids, about a third of them four or younger, on the theory that being brought up to believe in polygamous sex is child abuse.

Anonymous said...


1) A lot more than 1% of the human population is not disgusted by the idea of sex after puberty. Sex after puberty has been widely considered normal during most of human history, and even now the people that find it "abhorrent" are I think a minority.

2) Argumentum ad populum is a logical fallacy. In what way is what 99% of the people believe relevant? To justify morality, you need to do better than "a lot of other people feel the same way."

I am always confused by the people that claim sex after puberty but before the local age of consent is disgusting. I thought we all agreed that it is natural, but simply unwise in our present-day society.

Isn't age of consent higher than puberty only because we think young women are too easily exploited otherwise?

I can think of only way to justify the the bizarre belief that sex after puberty but before the local age of consent is abhorrent. Some people first have to convince themselves that sex before the age of consent is really appalling, instead of just unwise, because otherwise they will have difficulty restraining themselves.

montestruc said...

Why is it repugnant for an older man (say 40 y/o) to have sex with the 16 year old girl and not repugnant for a say 17 year old boy to have sex with her?

Seriously, why?

From the perspective of social good, if one is bad as the girl is too young, then if both are too young to support offspring then the 17 year old having sex with her is worse as he is (in the vast majority of cases) less able to provide for children.

Only if you are advocating a totalitarian sort of society where regulation of who may have sex with whom is a matter for public authorities to decide is such a prejudice going to benefit someone. That being those in power who can use frustrated sex drives to control people.

Factually also this age prejudice while common to the USA, is far from universal in other societies, including advanced industrial nations. Google on age of consent in various nations.

David Friedman said...

Montestruc raises the question of why sex with a sixteen year old is fine if the partner is of about the same age, but wicked if much older.

Interestingly enough, the Oneida commune, which I mentioned in an earlier post, deliberately matched younger women with older men and younger men with older women.

In part it was a system of birth control. The men were trained in what seems to have been coitus reservatus, orgasm without ejaculation. So the older men, who had mastered the technique, could have sex with fertile women without getting them pregnant unless pregnancy was desired, and the younger men had sex with infertile women.

The commune's population was about 300 and over a period of decades they only produced about 200 children, which suggests that the system worked at least reasonably well.

montestruc said...

I would like to expand that I have a theory that the way in which sex between persons of substantially different ages became a big taboo in the USA and to a lesser extent other English speaking nations is the US adopted co-educational almost universal public school system where children are strictly segregated by age into graduating class yeas, and this was continued till the child was a legal adult.

This social pattern included such things as dating and publicly funded school dances and proms where bringing a date of substantially different age (like more than a year or so age difference) to such a social function was a major social blunder, and these stereotypes were perpetuated for generations with teachers who grew up in this system enforcing ever stricter age difference prejudice.

Prior to the introduction of this universal age segregated public school system, age differences while not irrelevant in marital pairings, were not accorded anything like the import they are today.

Charles T. Wolverton said...

"To justify morality, you need to do better than 'a lot of other people feel the same way.'"

"I thought we all agreed that it is natural, but simply unwise in our present-day society."

I find these confusing. The first suggests that the designation "immoral" requires justification beyond, say, majority vote. The second suggests that even something "natural" can be banned if it is "unwise". I therefore infer that you consider neither social convention nor natural law to be a justifiable basis for morality, but that reason may be.

Assuming this inference is correct, how should a society decide whose reason prevails if not by, say, majority vote?

- Charles

Anonymous said...

Actually if the call was faked there is a large chance the judge will throw out the warrant. If they lose the warrant, they loose all the evidence they have collected.

David Friedman said...

ParatrooperJJ suggests that if the phone call was faked the search warrant is likely to be held invalid.

I don't think that is correct. As I understand it, if the application for the warrant truthfully described the basis for it, the fact that some of the information later turns out to be false doesn't make the warrant invalid.

If the police had themselves faked the phone call--which pretty clearly was not the case--or if they knew it was fake when they applied for a search warrant and didn't tell the judge, which is at least possible, that might invalidate the warrant.

Tibor said...

I don't know if this approach of intrusion before you have any evidence with an incentive to actually find some on the spot is common with the police in the US, but this was a doctrine (not an official one of course) of the Czech StB (communist secret police) as well as the Russian (or you could say Soviet) NKVD and KGB. Of course they were even more thorough - they held the people in prison then and interrogated them to find evidence...and made it up if those people did not do anything even against the communist laws (which hopefully does not take place anywhere in the "west" today...although the name of Assagne comes to mind and the accusations about him raping those two prostitutes are at least suspicious)