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Friday, May 2, 2008

Should the Children of Polygamist Mothers Be Returned?

I am no fan of polygamy, but the sort of marriage arrangement created by consenting American adults does not impinge on my life or marriage. Child abuse is illegal in this country and if Eldorado, Texas law enforcement has proof of child abuse in specific families associated with the FLDS Yearning For Zion Ranch there, let them bring the charges against those parents and return the balance of the 437 children taken to their families. Statistically children placed in foster care do not fare well.

The Texas authorities needed to find a way that each family could be examined on a case-by-case basis without simply scooping up all of them. Now that it has happened the Texas DSHS needs to negotiate a way to get as many of the children back with their biological mothers as possible and keep the situation transparent enough for authorities to monitor the ranch. The media makes comments on the mothers’ style of dress and hairdos. Child abuse is illegal, unusual style is not.

I do not propose to champion the FLDS way of life and there are testimonials enough of under age girls being forced into “spiritual marriages” with cousins and uncles and incestuous relationships with fathers in that sect. Such cases should be prosecuted vigorously, but the taking of so many children on no more substantial grounds than mysterious phone calls, now alleged to have come from Colorado Springs woman Rozita Swinton, who has a history of fraudulent phone calls, certainly has to be questioned. Authorities in Eldorado claim that regardless of the flimsy warrant, they have rescued children being abuse. The families involved need to be identified and the rest of the children returned to their families in as swift manner as possible.

It cannot help but we wondered the real motivation behind the Texas raid on the YFZ ranch since they were willing to proceed with so little evidence of crime. Polygamy falls into the same category as gay marriage. It’s largely no one’s business as long as it occurs amongst adults. We no longer prosecute cohabitation cases or mixed race couples.

I am interested in what the Neighborhood thinks of polygamy in general and specifically the situation in Eldorado, Texas


markus said...

Lets remember, these mothers were the ones who encurraged there daughters to be with those men. They stood by and did nothing. They should be charged also. Lets not rush to put childern back into the arms of a person who would be willing to place the childern right back in harms way. These woman are just as guilty.

VW said...

Regardless of how one feels, polygamy is against the law and that law has been upheld by the US Supreme Court. So until the Court reverses that, it is the law of the land.

Personally, I don't particularly care, but I am also quite monogamous and happily so.

These fundamentalist LDS sects don't usually attract a lot of outside converts from women. that narrows the available pool of candidates because that 50-50 ratio thing. That means they have to get them early and it also becomes somewhat incestuous. If five or even a hundred adults want to live together, I don't really care, just leave the kids alone! However, while I'm not a fundamentalist Christian, I do believe in the sanctity of marriage and while Adultery isn't (and shouldn't be) a crime, I believe it is wrong to do so.

I don't claim to know all the facts, but this seems like a fairly complex situation.

First of all, there is the problem of Foster Care like you said. It isn't the best environment for the kids. Second, there is the problem of keeping them with the families. Is Foster Care worse than the very good possibility of them being "married" at 13 to a man many years their senior? If they are returned to their mothers and their fathers are in jail, what then? All their mother knows is the culture she's been raised in and when people are faced with hardship, they will return to where the place they know.

I'm thinking that in the case the girls, it might be better to send them to foster care.

Either way, the authorities need to tread very lightly. Each family's case needs to be treated individually and with great care.

I'm also not inclined to judge the mothers quite so harshly. This is an endemic problem. The mothers are born into it and are often kept in line by some form of coercion. Plus, it's all they know. They are steeped in this culture as well. If you've only been taught one way and never allowed to think any other way, it's kind of hard to judge them so harshly.


Kim Thompson said...

There's an article in Marie Claire magazine that interviews one of the women who got out of the LDS sect. She also testified against Warren Jeffs and her testimony locked the case against him. It came at a steep price for her, but she continued to persevere, as is her sister, also part of the same trial and has written a book about her life. Check out the article at

Stephanie Frieze said...

Markus, my question is should the state be able to meddle in families because of what they might have done or might be thinking to do? Without more compelling evidence of specific incidents of abuse, can we support the rounding up enmass of children in order to locate one who wasn't even there in the first place?

As you say, VW, we do not know what the authorities have found in the many days since the children we taken. My concern is that they appear to have scooped up everyone regardless of justification. I doubt that authorities would swoop into a more traditional neighborhood and take all the children based on flimsy evidence.

As you say, polygamy is against the law, but I'm not sure that it is the sort of crime that ought to necessitate taking so many children from their parents. If they have uncovered incidents of child abuse and underage marriage then let the adults be charged and the rest of the children returned. To act in such a sweeping motion the state needed to have had more specific evidence than anonymous phone calls from a young woman unrelated to the sect and with a history of using the telephone to make crank calls seems to play fast and loose with the boundries of the law as well.

You are correct when you say that the authorities have a thin line to walk between the welfare of children and the rights of the parents regardless of what we think of their living arrangement.

I cannot help but wonder if decriminalizing polygamy amounst consenting adults would make the environment in which these type of groups live more transparent. I understand that they are a very closed society, but perhaps allowing them to live more openly would give them less of a seige mentality.

We had this discussion over dinner and my son says that the men are all pedophiles and thus deserve to lose their families. Obviously this is a very emotionally charged subject and my fear is that sometimes emotions blind one to justice.

Stephanie Frieze said...

Kim, I have no doubt of the veracity of the women who have left/escaped from the FLDS and I am sure that there is much abuse in the group. When the government has proof of abuse then prosecution of those individuals is paramount, but round up a bunch of children to ascertain which ones are being abused seems an abuse of the law itself. Any time a government has acted against a large group of individuals little good has come of it.

Lorraine Hart said...

Whew...just read that article that Kim gave a link to and I am emotional reeling. That woman, fighting so hard for normalcy and freedom for her kids, should never have to worry that the law would stand behind taking her children and giving them back to the father, still entrenched in the cult. That it can even be an issue, after her brave testimony to bring that monster down, gobsmacks me.

Free choice is one thing but abuse of power, the subjugation of women, and the damage done to children "kept under the veil" so to speak is the stuff of nightmares, having nothing to do with free choice.

I have no problem with alternate lifestyles, or people making alternate communities...but the moment it's "secret," walled-off, and anti-societal...with children involved...I want to know what the hell is going on in there and have someone, anyone, everyone insist on being able to walk in and check on those kids.

All enclaves...all churches...all communities should be transparent and all children should have the opportunity to know other ways and given the teaching to make their own choices. Look at how the Amish allow their children to go and have a look at the outside world before making their decision whether to commit to the lifestyle and religious teachings or not.

Stephanie, I can't help but think of that young woman at GHHS who kissed a girlfriend on the cheek...and suddenly a school administrator who is a member of the same church as the family takes it upon himself to produce evidence (illegally) that resulted in that girl being whisked away to a church "camp" and then boarding school...effectively dropping off the radar. These kids are being denied life in a free society. With the ferocious heart of a mother, I want to save them all.

That having been said, the institutional approach is also a bloody nightmare. Knowing what it's like to be a mother, knowing that the children must be terrified to be separated from their mothers, I'd like to see them brought together...under VERY watchful eyes, with mentors and advocates of a free and equal society on hand and working. All can learn very fast, when they're not feeling terrified and persecuted. Coming down on the women and children, with heavy institutional boots, plays right into the script set up by the monster-who-would-be-prophet.

Markus, I have to respectfully ask if you know any women, personally, who are victims of control and abuse. Have you had the chance to observe, up close, the fear that alters perception and rational thinking? I have...and know the years of work and therapy required to reset responses.

VW said...

I don't know that the men are all pedophiles. Again, I blame the culture. Their social culture has changed little since the 1870s. Closed groups are like that.

However, we've evolved as a culture. Back in 1870, when the average life expectancy was 35-40 years, marrying at 15 or 16 (or even younger) was common. A lot has changed in the last 140 years. life expectancy has essentially doubled. We've found that marrying young or having children while still a child doesn't work for us and is in many cases, detrimental to the individuals. It's why we have laws to protect our children from predators.

The question then comes down to, are these men predators, or are they stuck in a cultural time warp because of the closed society and culture they've grown up in?

I don't rule out that there are some that are predators, but I also don't rule out the idea that their closed society is responsible for much of it.

On the other hand, I believe that they know the laws and they know that as a society and a people, we have determined that sexual contact with young people is wrong and we have laws against it. Their leadership is fully aware of the outside world. They are not like the Amish that shuns modern technology.

Given all this, I believe we need to approach this from a different stand point than the usual right/wrong attitude we view most crime. I admit, I usually don't allow for much gray area when it comes to criminals I'm a law and order kind of guy. However, I'm not so rigid when we are dealing with an entire culture. Sometimes, you have to take culture into account and start trying to find away to bring these people into the 21st century.

I'm not a psychologist or a sociologist. I have no idea where one would start in order to bring them out of that 19th century mold. Any way we approach it, it's not going to be without a lot of pain and suffering by a lot of people. However, I do believe it is a task that must be done. Children should be protected.

If you want to practice polygamy, I guess that's your business. Just make sure that everyone is an adult.


Stephanie Frieze said...

Lorraine, during this time I have often wondered where the Gig Harbor girl may have landed ultimately. I should be very sorry if she was forced into a living arrangement not of her choosing and subject to any sort of abuse. Fortunately, she should very shortly be of an age, and hopefully of a mind, to make her own decision.

I've read a statistic as high as three quarters of children in foster care winding up on the streets or in jail. Children who have been raised in the margins of society to begin with are unlikely to be equal to withstanding the foster care system.

My problem is with the government acting without proof.

Please don't get me wrong. I do not advocate polygamy or desire child abuse to be overlooked, but the evidence ought to be stronger than anecdotes of other women or fraudulent telephone calls. Let the government of Texas act speedily in prosecuting abusive parents and return the children of those who are innocent.

Stephanie Frieze said...

VW, you are very right that by the FLDS being on the fringes of society, either of their own volition because the law forces them there, the opportunity for abuse is greater than in the wider community. It raises the question of does polygamy appeal to certain men or has this particular group fostered a culture in which child abuse can thrive? I imagine that there are instances of polygamist families existing in which the women are volunteers to the situation and the children well cared for.

Lorraine Hart said...

It seems that the disproportionate power of men in polygamous society is a very large part of the problem. I believe this type of polygamy practice is oppressive and traumatic to women and children, necessitating PTSD therapy of a kind that bureaucracy and the foster-care system are incapable.

Seems "the prophet" lived very richly in a palace of sorts, compared to how everyone else lived. What assets did he have...that could be now used to take care of the women and children?

It's a fine line to talk about not taking action until there's nailed-down proof. We've seen this so many times suffer and die waiting...then we weep and wonder why we didn't do something sooner. We have been told that there is a lot of evidence of abuse.

Again, I'm not in agreement with the mothers and kids being separated and the kids put into foster care.

I'd like to see the professionals with the expertise (psychiatrists, psychologists, survivors and counselors of abused women, etc.) step forward nationally, pro bono, and not just leave this up to a system that's already been shown not to work.

We keep putting Band-Aids on gaping wounds and setting up land mines within children and the country's future. Child Protection Services is in a sad and sorry state.

VW said...

So long as there is no subjugation as may be the case here, I don't care who lives with who. I might think it's wrong and even a sin, but people have rights.

And yes, we have to have nailed down proof. You wouldn't want the cops walking into your house and demanding your financial records and to search your house just on perception and rumor and I'm pretty darn sure you wouldn't want CPS walking and taking your kids one perception and rumor either.

It hurts me to see children be molested and abused. I have no use for anyone who does that. No one wants those type of people to be locked away for a long time more than me.

But I want proof. I know a man who was utterly destroyed by accusations of abuse and molestation and in the end, he was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt of his innocence. His ex made it up and concocted an elaborate scheme to keep him from seeing his kids. It almost worked. In the end, it destroyed him financially and emotionally, he lost his business and his ex walked off scott free even though she admitted it was all a scheme to destroy him.

So yeah, before we destroy a a person or a family, I want proof.


Aura Mae said...

I am a little late to this discussion, and some more info has come into evidence since the first writing, so my comments are tinged.
Since we now have indications of physical and sexual abuse of the males children as well, it seems that the mass exodus was perhaps the only way to get to the core issues.
On that note, I think that the best solution to this problem is to put a branch office of the Child Protective department in the compound. Have a very visible presence in the community and re-introduce the children as soon as they can prove that each home is safe. It is hopeful that with supervision, the behaviors will change.
I also have to say that a bed in a temple indicates physical pleasure, not spiritual. Perhaps the power that their religious beliefs give the male adults has corrupted them in the way that power and control often do.
If we believe in an age of consent, then we have to admit that these "marriages" and the subsequent pregnancies are

Stephanie Frieze said...

I believe that we all agree that if there is actual evidence of abuse then those parents should be prosecuted.

My contention is that the original warrrant used to take all of the children was based on erroneous evidence. I do not condone abuse of any sort, but authorities cannot come into any neighborhood and scoop up all of the children from every family based on a rumor from an unrelated person who is a criminal herself.

The salacious coverage of the bed in their temple, while titillating, has nothing to do with the discussion unless it can be proven that it was used in the commission of a crime. Maybe it will be, but everyone in the country is covered under the 4th Amendment and that includes Nazis and the FLDS. The government needs to be held to a high standard when entering private homes.