Eyes Wide Shut

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

So far, neither Mohave County nor the state has made even the most minimal effort to make it easier for these women to testify against their abusers.

A big problem is distance. Colorado City is more than 240 miles away from the Mohave County seat in Kingman, and few victims have the financial resources or independence to travel that far.

What the state needs to do -- if officials like Napolitano are doing anything more than paying lip service to wanting to prosecute the sex offenders in Colorado City and remove their victims from harm -- is bring services and legitimate investigators into the remote area.

Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow's political clout helped keep his son out of prison after he confessed to repeatedly molesting his five daughters.
John Dougherty
Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow's political clout helped keep his son out of prison after he confessed to repeatedly molesting his five daughters.

In recent weeks, Arizona political leaders have expressed support for studying a proposal to build a joint state and county governmental justice center near Colorado City -- which could include a "Children's Justice Center."

Mohave County has already allocated $500,000 to build a new justice court in the area. Construction of the new facility might be expanded to include the children's facility, officials are now hinting. Such a center would have a child-protection-services office, a department of economic security office (to oversee welfare programs that now hand out more than $10 million a year to the polygamous community on the Arizona side of the border), a Mohave County sheriff's substation, a county attorney's satellite office and -- most important -- a sexual-assault-victims' advocacy office.

The advocacy office would specialize in assisting sexual-assault and sexual-abuse victims in what authorities say would be a protective and nurturing environment. The center would have medical equipment for examinations and would be staffed with trained interviewers who would gather videotaped evidence needed to competently prosecute cases.

The governmental center could pay for itself by increasing Mohave County's ability to assess and collect property taxes in Colorado City. The town is violating state law by failing to provide a list of new building permits it issues to the county assessor's office and state Department of Revenue each year.

The theory is, because of the center's proximity to Colorado City and the lengthy statute of limitations in Arizona, scads of victims would come forward and enable unbiased authorities to gather sufficient evidence to routinely level prosecutable cases.

"This problem is not going to be solved by criminal prosecution," maintains Attorney General Goddard. "It's going to be solved by individuals who have a grievance having a safe place to go."

Rampant Sexual Abuse

Women who have left Colorado City have long claimed that incest and other sex crimes are widespread in the fundamentalist Mormon area and rarely reported to police, let alone prosecuted. Their horror stories are common on anti-polygamy Web sites.

Colorado City leaders have dismissed such accounts as malicious rumors spread by a handful of disgruntled women.

New Times' review of public records in Mohave County Superior Court dating back to 1992 provides strong support to the claims of rampant, FLDS-condoned sexual abuse of minors under the single roofs of the large polygamous households of Colorado City.

Religious admonishments against sex outside polygamous unions and the indoctrination of females to be obedient to men have led to fathers preying on daughters and brothers molesting sisters, court records and interviews show.

During the course of New Times' investigation, numerous personal stories of abuse have been related. In some, the molestations are mentioned in passing, underscoring contentions that they are common. Nearly all of the women refused to allow their names used because they fear retribution, not just of them but of their loved ones.

Pennie Petersen is one of the few women willing to come forward with an on-the-record account of what happened to her and her family under polygamy. Petersen says she fled Colorado City when she was 14 after she was sexually assaulted by the husband of her 14-year-old girlfriend.

Petersen says the man -- who has never been charged -- climbed into bed with her during a trip to Las Vegas. She woke up to him fondling her.

"I rolled out of that bed and ran as hard as I could," she recalls.

Her girlfriend, Petersen says, had already told her she had been repeatedly raped by the man after she was forced to marry him.

"I knew exactly what I was heading for," she says. "I might as well have put a gun to my head and shot myself [rather] than [have dealt] with that."

Petersen managed to get home and report the story to her parents, who asked the advice of Leroy Johnson, the area's religious leader at the time. The Prophet commanded that Petersen immediately marry a 48-year-old polygamist who Petersen claims had already sexually abused her.

"I said, Whatever,'" Petersen remembers.

That night, she sneaked out of the house and phoned friends, who picked her up beside the road and spirited her back to Las Vegas.

Petersen is now married and living in Phoenix. She has spent years trying to assist her sisters, several of whom were married as young teenagers to much older men. One of her sisters is Ruth Stubbs, who married Colorado City police officer Rodney Holm, who is set to go on trial soon in St. George for cohabiting with Ruth when she was underage.

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