Utah Supreme Court Affirms Forced Marriage and Rape of 14-Year-Old Girl

By Merrill Miller, Communications Intern

On July 27, the Utah Supreme Court overturned Warren Jeffs’ conviction of accomplice to rape. Jeffs, the so-called “prophet” and leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), had been convicted of accomplice to rape when he orchestrated the marriage of 14-year-old Elissa Wall to her first cousin, 19-year-old Allen Steed. Wall was terrified of the marriage and begged Jeffs to cancel it. He refused. He also refused to help her after she was married, when she pleaded with him to release her from her husband, who had been raping and abusing her repeatedly during their marriage. While Jeffs’ guilt in this case appears undeniable, the Utah Supreme Court claimed that because the prosecution could not prove that Jeffs intended for Steed to rape Wall, his conviction should be overturned.

This ruling by the Utah Supreme Court gives no justice to Wall, who endured years of brainwashing under Jeffs and then years of abuse under her husband. But the Utah Supreme Court’s decision also denies justice to women all over Utah and ultimately all over the country. If the state can say that a man who forced a girl into marriage against her will is not an accomplice to rape, then the state essentially finds it acceptable for men to tell women what to do with their bodies, choices and lives, stripping them of all autonomy. The state of Utah already heavily restricts women’s rights in a variety of ways. It puts the “rights” of unborn fetuses ahead of women’s rights to privacy and control of their bodies, and it also bans and restricts so many types of abortion care that abortion services are difficult, if not impossible, to obtain there. Utah also limits women’s right to choose how to live their own lives, particularly concerning whom to marry. While Jeffs can coerce a girl into marriage against her will, same-sex adults who have spent years in loving, committed relationships cannot marry in Utah or most other states. In fact, the Utah Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Jeffs’ conviction reflects the state’s, and the country at large’s, failure to recognize a woman’s body and life as her own.

On a more positive note, though Jeffs’ conviction has been overturned, he most likely will have a new trial in Utah. Even if he doesn’t, he’s facing charges of bigamy, sexual assault of a child and aggravated assault in Texas. The FBI is also investigating him for sexual assault of a minor and conspiring to sexually assault a minor, and he has a federal indictment against him for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. If Utah doesn’t eventually bring this man to justice, hopefully Texas or the federal government will.

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