A group of Mormon cult leaders is being charged with organizing sexual religious rituals with underage girls and threatening them with damnation if they did not participate, according to court documents filed in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Wednesday.
Defendants Warren Jeffs, Lyle Jeffs, Seth Jeffs and Wendell Leroy Nielsen are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), an offshoot of the Mormon Church that still practices polygamy over a hundred years after the mainstream Mormon Church abandoned it. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described the group as a white supremacist, antigovernment, totalitarian cult.
According to the court documents filed Wednesday, girls between the ages of eight and 14 were forced to participate in sex acts that were filmed by members of the church. The practice came to the attention of the authorities after one of the girls came forward.
Keep Up With This Story And More By Subscribing Now
The young girls allegedly had bags placed over their heads and were driven to an undisclosed location where the rituals took place. Once there, they were forced to respond only to a number they were given, and were forced to engage in explicit sexual acts with members of the church. The rituals took place between five and six times a week and were filmed for consumption by other church members.
The victims were allegedly told that God would destroy them and their families if they told anyone about the sex rituals. Warren Jeffs, the leader of the group, told the plaintiff in the case that God would punish her if she cried during the rituals and that any pain she felt meant that God was unhappy with her.
The plaintiff, whose abuse began when she was eight years old, said that once she turned 14, she was enlisted to act as a witness and a scribe for the rituals, documenting the abuse of other girls. At the age of 16, she was forced to attend “ladies classes” meant to prepare her to be a good wife. These sessions also included acts of sexual abuse.
The court document alleges that sexual abuse with underage women has been a fundamental part of the FLDS church for decades, even before FLDS emerged from a religious organization known as Priesthood Work.
“The Priesthood Work originated for the purpose of preserving and perpetuating the practice of sex with underage and multiple women,” the court document reads.
The defendants are being charged with conspiracy to committee battery and sexual abuse of a child, and infliction of emotional distress, among other charges.
Warren Jeffs is already in prison on separate charges of being an accomplice to rape. Since his conviction in 2007, many of the cult’s members moved to enclosed compounds in Colorado and Texas.
Previously, FLDS members lived in small enclaves along the border with Utah and Arizona. In 2008, the state of Texas took 400 children from an FLDS compound into custody after a 16-year-old girl reported that children were being abused and girls as young as 14 were being forced to marry men much older.