Texas official: Polygamists have changed

April 15, 2009 at 4:36 PM
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AUSTIN, Texas, April 15 (UPI) -- The polygamist group operating out of a Texas ranch now realizes forcing teenage girls into marriage is sexual abuse, a top child welfare official says.

Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein testified Tuesday before the Texas House Human Services Committee at a hearing on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, the Houston Chronicle reported. Child welfare officials seized 439 children during a raid on the group's Yearning for Zion Ranch in April 2008.

"The action we took, I believe, has changed the behavior of this organization," Heiligenstein said.

Members of the committee suggested she might be optimistic. They pointed out she has said that the group coached its children to give misleading information to child welfare workers and she cannot be sure its members are being honest with her now.

Willie Jessop, an FLDS member who lives in Utah, was asked if the group "tolerated" marriages involving underage girls on the ranch. He said he did not know because he did not live there.

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