Eyes Wide Shut

From Governor Janet Napolitano down, Arizona authorities have protected polygamous sexual predators with their indifference

The possible solution that has recently begun to emerge is an expansion of the planned new $500,000 justice court just outside Colorado City to include a victims' advocacy center.

The current justice court is about 20 miles east of Colorado City, in the tiny town of Moccasin. The county has been leasing a trailer that serves as a courtroom from longtime Justice of the Peace I. McKay Heaton since 1991 -- which has raised conflict-of-interest concerns. Mohave County records show that Heaton receives nearly $1,100 a month for rental of the building and office equipment.

Attorney General Goddard and Governor Napolitano have said they will consider the plan to build the county-state justice center complete with the victims' advocacy facility. Mohave County leaders, including County Attorney Ekstrom, Sheriff Tom Sheahan and Supervisor Pete Byers, have put their stamp of approval on the concept.

Napolitano's ignorance of the law regarding polygamy suggests to activists that she will do nothing to stop polygamists from sexually abusing young girls.
Fred Harper
Napolitano's ignorance of the law regarding polygamy suggests to activists that she will do nothing to stop polygamists from sexually abusing young girls.
Colorado City polygamists have 
thrived in their remote enclave beneath Canaan Mountain about 240 miles by 
highway from Mohave County’s administrative center in Kingman. Prominent polygamists live in huge homes, lower left, that house plural “wives” and children.
John Dougherty
Colorado City polygamists have thrived in their remote enclave beneath Canaan Mountain about 240 miles by highway from Mohave County’s administrative center in Kingman. Prominent polygamists live in huge homes, lower left, that house plural “wives” and children.

Notice that the leaders have not said they are in favor of the new justice facility and victims' advocacy center, just that they will study the idea.

"That's something that I think we can take a look at," Napolitano said in the interview with New Times. "I think it is certainly something that is a good idea."

But to think that Napolitano -- who has ducked the polygamy issue in Colorado City for years, first as AG and now as governor -- will push to get funds allocated to build and operate the center as part of the justice court may be a pipe dream.

Anti-polygamy activists say the concept should be expanded to include Utah and Washington County. The key to success, they say, is to make sure personnel staffing the facility are independent from the fundamentalists who control Colorado City. This would require hiring workers from outside the area, most likely from towns within commuting distance like St. George, Utah, and Fredonia and Page, Arizona.

Activists say a governmental center with a sexual advocacy facility would demonstrate that the state is finally committed to ending the statutory rape of underage girls trapped in the polygamous society of Colorado City and Hildale.

The center would provide outside law enforcement with victims willing to testify, which would enable the state to show other women in the fundamentalist community that they have a viable alternative to remaining in polygamy.

Such a center should not be viewed as a threat to the community, since it would be impossible to completely unravel the polygamous system that has been more than 150 years in the making, says Bob Curran of Help the Child Brides in St. George. It must be stressed, he says, that the center is about assisting abuse victims, particularly teenagers who are involved in illegal cohabitation.

For the center to work, says Curran, who puts prosecution of abusers in the back seat, "The people need to know that the main goals are not punitive and that it is no one's intention to break up families or harm anyone."

Anti-polygamy activist Pennie Petersen says a nonbiased, state-and-county-operated governmental center near Colorado City would be welcomed by many women who want to leave polygamy but are afraid and lack the resources to break away.

"It's a beautiful idea," she says. "It would give these kids a way out."

But Petersen isn't ready to celebrate.

For nearly a decade, she's been telling state authorities about the ongoing sexual assaults of underage girls -- including at least three of her sisters -- in Colorado City.

While the victims' advocacy center is a step in the right direction, Petersen says, state and Mohave County authorities have let polygamists off the hook for as long as anyone can remember. What is needed is for outside authorities -- namely the state AG's Office -- to set up shop in Colorado City and make cases against fundamentalist Mormon leaders in the area who are themselves sexual predators. Arizona should not leave it up to Utah to seek justice. Petersen doubts that any serious legal action will ever come to pass.

"To get away with the rape of young girls," Petersen says, "all you have to say is you're a polyg."

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