I recently came across a list of Warren Jeffs wives. According to the list, at the time he was arrested, he had a total of 87. Yes, you read that right. Eighty-Seven.
Of those 87 wives, he married 23 of them while they were under the age of 18.
- Two of them were twelve.
- Three were thirteen.
- Four were fourteen.
- One was fifteen.
- Four were sixteen.
- And nine of them were 17.
- Ten of them weren’t old enough to legally drive.
- None of them are legally adults.
- All 23 of them are too young to vote.
I invite everyone who reads this to take a few moments to let that sink in.
Now consider something. Look around you. Do you have a daughter, a sister, a niece, or a neighbor – anyone that you know – that fits in this age range? Imagine handing her over to a 50 year old man as his plural wife. At twelve years old a girl should be attending the 7th grade. 18 is a common age for graduating high school. These girls aren’t allowed to have an education, and have no idea what rights they have as American citizens.
At the time of their marriages, they weren’t old enough to legally have much say at all in their lives. In fact, they still trusted in their parents to protect them and make important decisions for them. All too often that trust is betrayed, and young girls are handed off in “marriage” to much older men. I won’t put all the blame on the parents. I know they’re in a tough spot, so, giving them a huge benefit of the doubt, I will say that I understand the reasoning behind their actions, as wrong as those actions are.
Ok. “Reasoning” was a poor choice of words. True reasoning doesn’t come into the picture here. Partially because true reasoning would involve information, choices, and a chance to think about something and freely make a choice. The motivations behind handing off a minor child as a “bride,” however – to a man possibly four times her age or more – are powerful ones. Not right or justifiable in my opinion, put powerful all the same. If you are going to try to get people to do something that defies reason, your motivator must necessarily be powerful. Yes, even instilling fear.
These people will all tell you they believe. That they have faith in the prophet, and believe that he speaks with and for God. But I can tell you that the true, real motivator was not faith. The main motivator is fear. Fear of being cast out. Fear of losing your position in the church, your job, your family, your friends, your home – everything that one would usually put on the list of things that make life enjoyable. When one believes that “God and the Prophet always and only do right” and that they should “never put a question mark where God put a period” it really messes with your mind. You are trained to doubt your instincts. You can’t turn to reason, because too often when you try to use reason – when you’re struggling with the battle between conscience and submission – it just leads to more doubts and questions. So, you “put your doubts on the shelf of belief,” pray harder, and try to just trust that God will take care of the details.
The other motivation is more sinister. It comes into play where there are men who are completely focused on “what’s in this for me.” It is the hope that an offering will bring a reciprocation. Now, I understand that we all do things in life because of the hope of some kind of reward, or avoidance of punishment, but this is bigger than that. Even this one, though, I suppose deserves a disclaimer. Often the men who feel this way have been among the privileged class in the church. They, or their fathers, are accustomed to being handsomely rewarded for their loyalty, and have come to expect it. They truly see themselves as “royal sons of Priesthood” and as such, they honestly feel entitled to the best of the best. In a society where the quantity and age of wives are seen as outward symbols of a man’s righteousness and worthiness, the more wives they have and the younger the girls are when they are entrusted to him, the better.
I know of several cases, when a man was asked to hand over his very young daughter, he was given another man’s daughter in exchange – for a wife of his own. I have often wondered if this was more of an insurance policy than anything. After all, a man would be much less likely to report the relationship of a 50-year-old man with his 14-year-old daughter, when he, himself was having a similar relationship. This way they kept each other’s secrets and protected each other from facing the prosecution that is attached to the crimes they were committing.
I never could comprehend why a grown man would be attracted to a girl who was his granddaughter’s age. Why would a grown man want to marry a child? I honestly don’t know, but some men sure do.
During the last several years I was in the FLDS, I had heard rumors that there were girls – very young girls – being married. I was told that it was because “the end” was so close now, that these young girls needed to be placed in marriage for their own protection. They were still pure and clean, and God didn’t want to risk them becoming defiled. (Like, by them “liking” a boy closer to their own age, or wanting to make a choice for themselves, or possibly wanting to taste freedom?) I remember reassuring myself that – surely – these marriages weren’t being consummated. I mean, seriously. After all, these girls were babies themselves.
I was disgusted and shocked when I found out the truth after I had left the FLDS.
All my life I was taught that we were supposed to raise our children as “Calves in the Stall.” Just remembering that phrase now makes me shudder, because after we left the FLDS and I started to discover the truth of what was happening that phrase took on a whole new meaning. If you raise children in a vacuum, void of knowledge and understanding of body autonomy, you can tell them anything is “righteous” and they won’t know different.
I learned of the letters old men had written to Warren Jeffs asking if it was okay for them to consummate their marriage with these very young girls. I learned of girls who had babies at 14 or 15. One 15-year-old was left to suffer in labor for days. They couldn’t risk getting her medical help because it would expose her “husband” as a statutory rapist.
But they prayed for her.
Luckily for her it ended well. Though after giving birth to six babies, with relatively short labors, I cannot imagine what she endured.
This girl suffered to protect those who were knowingly committing crimes. Too often those who are responsible for directing the crimes and abuse aren’t the ones who actually suffer any consequences. They are protected and shielded by the faithful followers, who are just following orders to keep “sacred things secret.” Then they preach that it is a privilege and honor – even to die if necessary – to protect the delicate image of the group and keep the leaders from facing hardships and prosecution.
There are laws already in place to prosecute these crimes. There is evidence gathered that proves these crimes are being committed. Earlier this month I attended a legal conference where it was made abundantly clear that these crimes and abuses are well known to be happening. But when will we the people put enough pressure on the government to do something to stop it? The people in these polygamist societies act as though they are above the law – because for decades they have been.
Their crimes are ignored, winked at, and excused. Even though polygamy has been illegal – Forever banned – in Utah, the Utah Attorney General’s office has the standing policy that they will not prosecute those who break this law. This has to change.