He’s charged with conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to rape. This story is all over the news networks and print media but you have to look surprisingly hard to discover the substance of these charges. You’ll hear that he married an underage girl to an older man, but it sounds a lot less dramatic when you learn we’re talking about marrying a 16 year old woman to a 28 year old man:
In a chilling account laid out in court papers released Thursday, a woman identified as “Jane Doe” said Jeffs demanded she marry and have “husband-wife” relations with an older man despite her protests and pleas that she be released from the union.
Jane said she followed the instructions because she considered Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to be a prophet of God.
Utah authorities praised Jane’s courage in sharing her account with Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Shauna Jones earlier this year and said they hope it will lead other victims to come forward.
As for Jeffs, he is “not exempt from the law despite his position or beliefs,” said Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap. “To those who may be considering coming forward with information but fear repercussions, to yourself or your family, I want you to know that we will do all in our power to respect your concerns, preserve your privacy and provide assistance.” Jeffs, 50, is a federal fugitive wanted on Arizona charges of facilitating sexual conduct with a minor. He has not been seen publicly in more than a year. Brock had asked a 5th District judge to issue a no-bail warrant, but the judge set a cash-only bail of $500,000.
Belnap would not divulge the woman’s age but said she was between ages 14 and 18 and the events occurred within the past four years. Jane’s account is backed up by photos documenting her marriage and other events she said took place.
Utah law allows a person who facilitates a rape to be charged as an accomplice, with a possible penalty of life in prison. Jeffs did not commit any sexual act with the victim and was not present when it occurred, Belnap said.
“This case is about a violation of the law by someone in a position of power and authority over a vulnerable, young girl,” Belnap said.
According to an affidavit, Jane said she met with Jeffs, who told her God had revealed she was to be joined in a “spiritual marriage” to a man identified as “John Doe.” Jane, who grew up in Hildale, told Jeffs she felt she was too young to marry. Jeffs’ reply: It was her spiritual duty to submit to the arrangement, which was “from God.” Jane said she and John were then taken to Nevada, where Jeffs performed a marriage ceremony and told them to “multiply and replenish the earth and raise children in the priesthood.” They returned to Utah and a month later John approached Jane and reminded her of Jeffs’ instructions, telling her “now was the time.” He then forced Jane to have sexual intercourse, she said.
Once again, Jane went to Jeffs and told him she did not want to stay in the marriage because she hated having “husband-wife” relations with John.
During that conversation, neither she nor Jeffs used the words “sex” or “sexual intercourse,” Jane said, because such language is not culturally permitted. But, Jane said, there was no question Jeffs understood what they were talking about.
Jeffs told her to stay in the marriage, Jane said, and do whatever John demanded because he was her priesthood leader.
“Go back and repent,” Jane said Jeffs told her. “You go give yourself mind, body and soul to your husband like you’re supposed to. He will take you into the heavenly kingdom. Go back and do what he tells you to do.” Jane said she did as instructed by Jeffs and continued to have sexual relations with John despite her objections. In a later meeting, Jeffs told Jane that in time she would grow to love John and that having a baby by him would change everything.
In another meeting, Jeffs told Jane that, “No matter what happens you cannot fight with the priesthood because if you do you’ll lose your salvation.” Those remarks frightened her enough that she stayed in the marriage, Jane said.
Her decision to speak out against the crime now brought praise from Utah officials.
“The great thing is that this young woman has demonstrated she is going to trust government,” said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. “I hope she is an example to others, who will follow suit.” Jane’s story parallels that of woman who testified before a Mohave County grand jury last summer about her own forced marriage. The woman said she was 16 when Jeffs assigned her as a plural wife to Randolph Barlow, then 28, in 2002.
Like Jane, she was taken to a motel in Caliente, Nev., where Jeffs performed their marriage ceremony. He also gave the girl and Barlow instructions to “multiply and replenish the earth.” She protested that she was too young to have children; despite that, the girl said Barlow forced her to have sexual intercourse.
Barlow now faces two assault charges and a June trial.
In Washington County on Thursday, Belnap said he has not yet decided whether to file rape charges against John. “I’m not ruling anything in or out,” Belnap said. “It is still under investigation.” Arizona has charged Jeffs with sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor for his role in arranging the Barlow marriage. Last June, the FBI issued a warrant for Jeffs’ arrest for fleeing prosecution on those charges. There is a $60,000 reward for information leading to his capture.
It appears that it is the Barlow case in which Jeffs is chared with rape. Oddly enough the alleged rapist does not appear to be charged with rape. So what did Jeffs actually do? He married a 16 year old to a 28 year old. That may be illegal in some states but it’s hardly a shocking event in the historical context of marriage in America. There are states in which to this day a 16 year old woman can marry entirely at her own discretion. And Jeffs also preached to the woman. And this amounts to conspiracy to rape? This appears to be a novel and imaginative charge. But it sure sounds a lot worse if you omit all details.
I suspect that the other criminal charges facing Jeffs all involve marriages of fertile young women who are legally underage, but who would have been accepted to be of marriageable age though much of U.S. history. I don’t think it’s at all fair to characterize Jeffs as a child abuser on the basis of such acts. In fact I don’t see that the criminal charges relate to moral crimes at all.
His followers better watch out though, because the talking heads are speculating that they may be involved in the next Waco or Jonestown.