Former 14-Year-Old Bride Wins $16 Million Lawsuit Against Polygamous Church

On Tuesday, a Utah judge ordered a polygamous religious sect to pay $16 million to a woman who was forced to marry her 19-year-old cousin at the age of 14, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

Elissa Wall's lawyer says the victory allows attorneys to investigate bank accounts and properties across the country belonging to the sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).

Wall will receive $4 million in damages and $12 million in punitive damages, 3rd District Judge Keith Kelly ordered in the lawsuit Wall first filed in 2005.

Wall issued a statement through her attorney, Alan Mortensen. "The judgment handed down by the Court is a big step forward in the fight for a strong and unmovable statement to the world that no one, especially children, can be sexual[ly] exploited and abused in the name of religion," Wall's news release read. "Today is a victory for many thousands of victims of abuse. Many of us have stood up in our own way to fight for justice and further the protection of children."

In his ruling, Kelly said that he found the behavior of FLDS president Warren Jeffs (who presided over Wall's teenage marriage) and the FLDS "was so extreme that it went beyond all possible bound of decency and is regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society."

Amid Wall's protests, Jeffs arranged the marriage between Wall and her first cousin, Alan Steed. He also pressured her to have children with Steed. Wall told The Guardian that by the time she was 17, she had suffered four miscarriages and a stillborn child. She also admitted to attempting suicide by taking ibuprofen pills.

Jeffs has been in prison since 2006, serving a life sentence plus 20 years for convictions related to sexually abusing two girls he married as plural wives.

Wall will receive $4 million in damages and $12 million in punitive damages, which she plans on using to help people leaving the group, which is based along the Utah-Arizona border and has a compound in South Dakota.

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"I can now close these chapters in my life and focus on building a better future for myself and my children," Wall said in a statement.

Neither Jeffs nor the FLDS got a lawyer or defended themselves in court.

Photo Credit: Twitter / @BenWinslow