I’m horrified by what’s happening to the children of the religious sect in Texas — and on so many levels.
More than 400 children were removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch during a weeklong raid in early April. The raid was prompted by a call to a domestic-abuse hotline by a teenager reporting that she was beaten and sexually abused by her much-older husband. That call may or may not have been a hoax. So far, the girl hasn’t been located. The children were removed from the ranch, which is owned by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, because the group supposedly forces girls into marriage and child-bearing.
Let me say that no women of any age should ever be forced into marriage or sexual relations. Period. And I agree with the government that girls under the age of 16 should be protected from these atrocities and removed from the abusive situation promptly.
Yes, state of Texas officials, you’re right to take abused girls away from their abusers.
But why exactly did you take all of the girls, from nursing babies to teenagers, away from their families? And why did you insist on removing all the male children as well? The argument that the boys are being groomed as perpetrators holds a tiny bit of water, but not for the young ones. I can’t even groom my 6-year-old to wipe his mouth with a napkin.
In Texas’ fury to protect the innocent, I think they’ve done the opposite: They’re punishing the innocent—the children.
Despite protests from the parents, most of whom say they are not engaged in polygamous or underage marital practices, every one of their children has been ripped away from home and put into foster care. Supposedly, officials are now letting mothers of babies under 12 months stay with their babies in a group facility. I guess feeding nursing moms is less expensive than formula.
Obviously, this is a complicated situation. But why haven’t the abusers been arrested? If this crime’s so widespread, why haven’t the men who perpetrated it been removed from the ranch instead of the children? Is even the whiff of polygamy so horrendous that it’s worth traumatizing more than 400 children?
The state says that the children who haven’t been abused may be returned to their families, although it could take several more weeks to review each case. These children have already spent weeks in a holding facility, and many are now being bused to foster-care institutions around the state, some more than 500 miles away.
The Texas Legislature reformed the state’s foster-care system after a series of highly publicized abuses in 2004. However, serious problems remain, according to a 2007 report prepared for Texas Appleseed, a group that researches social-services issues. So these children are entering a foster-care system that’s already seriously stressed. These are sheltered kids who’ve for the most part been home-schooled, have rarely seen television, and are used to eating food grown on the ranch. Just imagine the fear and confusion those kids must be feeling, especially if they land in a group home in downtown Houston.
The court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Bruce Perry, claims that the fundamentalist Mormons’ belief system is “abusive. It’s very authoritarian.” Yet he also concedes that the children could suffer in traditional foster care. Again, it makes sense to remove those most likely to have been abused from the situation. But why separate toddlers from their mothers when there is no evidence that they’ve been abused?
My family belongs to a church, and I imagine that there are a few members of our church who have done things that endanger their kids. Maybe they’ve gotten drunk and then driven their kids somewhere. Maybe they’ve smoked pot around their kids. So should the government come in and take all 300-something Unitarian-Universalist kids if a few parents mess up? Is the government telling the FLDSers that, because of their religious beliefs, they aren’t allowed to have kids? That sounds so 19th century.
The state of Texas seems to assume that every member of this church should not be allowed to have children. A divorced father, living in Nebraska (far, far away from the ranch) found out that his kids
had been forced from their home, where they lived with their mother, and into foster care. When he showed up at the holding facility to pick them up, his kids were loaded onto a bus and driven away.
Supposedly, more than 130 women, some of them mothers, voluntarily left the ranch when offered the opportunity. Why can’t these women have their kids back? Why can’t the children stay with relatives outside the ranch? Don’t some of them have grandparents?
I realize it’s been difficult to ascertain parentage with certain kids, and DNA testing has ensued. OK, then. Figure out who belongs to whom. Figure out which girls have been abused. Figure out which men have perpetrated these crimes. Then arrest their asses. Break up the sect if they’re breaking the laws. But don’t take loved children away from their parents until there is no other choice.