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From polygamy to Miley Cyrus

Children as prey

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Last month, more than 400 children were removed from the Yearning For Zion polygamist ranch in West Texas.

In what is quite possibly the largest child abuse case in the history of our nation, these children were allegedly abused in multiple ways.

A religious sect that claims to follow the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, their practice includes arranged "spiritual marriages" between underage girls and older men. Texas child welfare officials say almost 60 percent of the underage girls taken in the raid either have children or are pregnant. Of the 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 who are in state custody, 31 either have given birth or are expecting. In addition to being forced to marry and conceive children with older men as part of their spiritual requirements, the children were also allegedly beaten. Many of them have reported broken bones or fractures, including the boys, some of whom have alleged sexual abuse. It is amazing to me how all of this has occurred under the watchful eye of adult men and women.

Some would argue that because many of these adults were raised in the sect that they did not know any better. Perhaps that is true, but what about the police or the F.B.I.? In this age of pervasive surveillance, how is it that this major travesty against children was allowed to occur, for as long as it did?

Photos of the ranch show a huge, white, pristine compound. How can that be overlooked, knowing what practices were taking place within those walls? Many would argue that the authorities did not know, while I would argue: "How could they not?" Authorities have to know that these places exist, but do not do anything about it.

How is it that Nelson Mandela can be on a government terrorist watch list, but self-appointed YFZ prophet Warren Jeffs is not? He has literally terrorized hundreds of children -- and adults I would imagine. Last year, Jeffs was convicted in Utah of being an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old to marry and have sex with her 19-year-old cousin. He is currently awaiting trial on similar charges in Arizona. Even with this information, the YFZ ranch was not raided. It took a phone call from an alleged 16-year-old about being sexually abused on the compound to motivate a search.

What is so troubling about this situation is that everyone in positions of authority and with the ability to protect them failed these children. Their parents, police authorities, government agencies and neighbors looked the other way while they were being abused and mistreated in the worst way. Is it because it was a religious sect that this was allowed to occur? The last time I checked, freedom of religion does not include the freedom to molest and abuse children. For folks who are so concerned with what so-called religious radicals are saying, it is ridiculous that these same people are not concerned with what self-proclaimed religious radicals are doing, especially to children.

This horrible incident reflects a willingness of adults to look the other way when bad things are happening to children. If you cannot trust your parents to protect you, then whom can you trust?

The recent drama with Miley Cyrus' Vogue photos reflects this issue. While it is not as horrendous as the systematic abuse of the children in the sect, it is a clear example of a child being misled by those who should know better. Her parents, one of whom is her manager, should have known not to leave a teenager in the company of a photographer who has built a career on controversial photos. Miley was left with her grandmother and tutor, neither of whom intervened when Cyrus was asked to pose for the "questionable" photos, after her parents had left the shoot. Annie Leibovitz should not have conducted this portion of the shoot, and especially without the permission of Cyrus' parents. Although Miley Cyrus has millions of dollars and a lot of power in her personal and professional life, she is a 15-year-old child who is in need of guidance and protection from many people, some would argue her parents. Cyrus was failed by her parents in this instance, Leibovitz and the industry, who appear to be more and more comfortable with the circulation of sketchy photos of its young female stars in return for astronomical magazine sales.

There are numerous examples of what happens when children are not protected by their parents in entertainment and everyday society. How many more news stories do we have to read about children being molested, murdered or maimed until we decide that it is necessary to intervene, particularly in cases like the YFZ compound? Who can really question the legality or morality of what happened there?

Hopefully, the protection of children will become as great a priority as the exploitation in our precarious culture.

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