Posted by: bridget | 23 September 2007

Musings on the Jeffs Trial

The Warren Jeffs trial has focused on whether or not he forced a 14-year-old girl into a marriage that she did not want; and whether he encouraged her to have sexual relations with her 19-year-old husband against her will.  If so, he is an accomplice to rape.  Many news outlets do not mention the young age of the girl as an aggravating factor.  Ellen Goodman claims that said charge does not fit the case: 

Doe’s forced marriage falls easily into the moral category of child abuse…. But I’m troubled by the charge that Jeffs is an accessory to felony rape…. The argument is that Jeffs told Doe to submit or be damned. It will be hard enough to prove that he was complicit in encouraging rape by her husband. But how can you convict a man as an accessory when the alleged rapist himself – the husband [Allen Steed] – hasn’t been charged? On the stand, he denied forcing her.

Whether or not her husband forced Miss Doe is beside the point.  He was 19; she was 14.  In Utah, “rape of a child” is limited to those who are under the age of 14.  (Here.) Nevertheless, it is a felony to have consensual sex with a child who is between the ages of 14 and 15; if the perpetrator is less than four years her senior, it is only a misdemeanor. (Here.)  As Mr. Steed was 19, this case falls into the former category.  Whether or not the ex-husband “forced” her is beside the point: the Utah criminal code (and any sane moral code) prohibited his action, whether welcome, neutral, or unwanted.

Furthermore, a person is deemed to have engaged in sexual offences against a victim without consent when, inter alia, the victim is under 18 and the perpetrator occupies a “position of special trust.”  (76-5-406.10)  That is defined as:

76-5-404.1(h) : “position of special trust” means that position occupied by a person in a position of authority, who, by reason of that position is able to exercise undue influence over the victim, and includes, but is not limited to… a counselor, [or] religious leader….

Warren Jeffs certainly falls within that category; however, there is nothing in the Utah Criminal Code which allows for rape-by-proxy, so her husband does not.  (In fact, spouses are specifically included from a laundry list of “persons in authority.”  Large parts of the trial have focused on issues of consent (here, here, and here).  Consent does not make this action non-criminal; it only reduces the severity of the crime from rape to sexual assault of a child.  Both are felonies: there is no manner in which sex between a 14 year old and a 19 year old is not a felony in Utah.  (Should a different penalty attach to rape by accomplice or sexual abuse of a minor by accomplice, her consent would be important, as would Jeff’s beliefs regarding her consent.)

Query whether Utah ought to have an exception for voluntary intercourse for girls who are either 14 or 15.  Thirty-one percent of women report that their first sexual experience was either voluntary and unwanted or involuntary and unwanted.  That percentage varies by age of first intercourse: 71% of those who were 13 or younger report that it was involuntary or unwanted, while only 21% of those who were 17 or 18 had the same experience.  (Here.) 

Interestingly, the Guardian UK states unequivocally that this is statutory rape.



  1. I’m glad to see that this young lady possesses the fortitude to go through with these charges. Jeffs is a disgusting perverted pig.

  2. Ditto that, Tammi.

    It must be horrible for people to pretend that she could give meaningful consent. I mean, it’s her 19-year-old cousin and people are telling her that she’s damned for eternity if she doesn’t let him rape her. Is that really “consent?” It certainly is not the decision she would have made, all other things being equal.

    Again, “consent” only lessens this from rape to sexual abuse of a child. Both are felonies.

  3. I think that because we are talking about a husband and wife here, we have to throw out the age argument. As husband and wife, they should both be treated as adults. We can argue all day about why a state allows 14 year olds to get married, but that’s another topic.

    Can a husband rape a wife? You bet! Can you force someone to get married? Considering the age, yes you can. She needs a very good lawyer to get the marriage anulled and have both men put in jail for a very long time!

  4. Mark,

    I’m not sure I understand you. Because they are husband and wife, there are no issues with age?

    Besides, this was NOT a state-sanctioned marriage:

    Utah law states that marriage at the age of 18 years and above does not require parental consent. For those aged 16-17, parental consent is necessary. For those 15 years old, the following requirements must be met:

    Parental consent must be obtained
    Approval from Juvenile Court is necessary. The court must conclude that the marriage is voluntary and in the best interests of the minor.
    The court may require premarital counseling where and when appropriate.

    Fact is, those age requirements are part and parcel of the consent issue. You could, perhaps, give meaningful consent to marriage (esp. with your parent’s oversight), but cannot give meaningful consent to sex.

    You seem to be advocating for a special rule for married couples, which would weaken protection for women. As a judicial matter, the court CANNOT accept that argument; only the Utah State Legislature could. It would do so by writing into their child abuse laws that it’s not sexual assault of a minor when you happen to be married to her. Frankly, I find that to be really creepy…. just me.

  5. I just read something that made me sick to my stomach!

    Plan Uses Taxes to Fight Climate Change
    (1) .50 cent/gallon tax increase on gasoline
    (2) Carbon taxes on emissions
    (3) Cut back on home mortgage interest deduction

    Disgusting and contemptible. Is there no cause Democrats won’t use as an excuse to increase taxes?

    Gotta love the way science has been hijacked by money hungry and power mad politicians in search of yet another justification to steal from the public.

  6. Pardon my ignorance, but how can sex be voluntary but unwanted? Does that mean that the people surveyed regretted it the next day? Or that they gave in under pressure?

    Mark said she should have the marriage annulled. Well, that part is taken care of. She’s now remarried according to news reports.

    My biggest issue with this is that Jeffs is charged with being an accomplice to a crime which (legally) didn’t take place. No one has been charged with rape. If rape did occur (again, legally), the alleged rapist is well known, why wasn’t he charged?

    Personally, I believe they all should be thrown in jail (not the victim, all those who participated in the wedding). But legally, I feel the accomplice should be tried using the same criteria as the one who committed the crime.

  7. Randy,

    I think the distinction between wanted and voluntary is with “voluntary,” that they consented, but, all other things being equal, would not have done so. “Involuntary” would be rape – whether she be sleeping or overpowered.

    It’s about how much you try to stop it.

    I completely agree that the husband should also have been charged, but the prosecution may still do that. Perhaps they don’t want to get into the sticky situation where he will say that it’s a religious issue and to butt out. Sigh….

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