As media outlets around the world buzz about the 400 children removed from a Texas ranch where a polygamist sect forced marriage and sexual abuse on young girls, I can't get one image out of my mind. It's from an AP photo, and it disturbs me because it's so matter-of-fact.
The Girl That Haunts Me
It's a little girl in a white dress with her hair pinned tight against her head. Her right arm is crooked over her chest, hand curled as if to protect her heart - or brush away a stain there that has her so concerned her head is bowed because of it.
Next to her an even younger child - a tiny slip of a toddler in a long pink jumper - stands alone, staring at the ground if as lost.
To the left of them them a woman in modern attire - wearing a pale aqua jacket and black pants, with her blonde hair long and loose - bends over other children as if comforting them.
At the right edge of the photo, an older woman in a forest green floor-length dress observes them dispassionately, her left hand cradling her chin, her left index finger raised and positioned against her cheek, almost touching her pinned-up light hair.
And in the midst of this gathering, a grey-haired woman in a dark blue dress covers her face with her hand. Her outstretched fingers reveal the tension of pain, or grief, or shame.
"My Favorite Things"
The women bother me. The tiny child tugs at my heart. But it's the little girl in the white dress who devastates me, leaves me feeling hollow and angry, tearful and unsettled and crazy over this situation.
"Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes." Who doesn't recognize the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from The Sound of Music? "These are a few of my favorite things."
For Warren Jeffs, the spiritual leader of this polygamist sect, girls were a few of his favorite things. Underage girls. Forced to marry, forced to have sex with him and other men up to three times older than the girls themselves. Jeffs was jailed for his actions, but the religious groups living in their isolated compounds continued to practice polygamy in the name of their faith...and abuse young girls and women.
Until a 16-year-old girl from the Yearning for Zion ranch called authorities to report the continuing abuse.
Carolyn Jessop authored a polygamy memoir Escape, detailing what happens inside these polygamist sects. As she says, the girls were born into this:
Once you go into the compound, you don't ever leave it....They have no concept of mainstream society, and their mothers were born into and have no concept of mainstream culture. Their grandmothers were born into it.
And so the photo haunts me.
Not because of the mothers or grandmothers who have lived so long under the rule of these men that they have no sense of independence or self-determination.
Not because of the littlest girl in pink who is too young to know what is going on.
But because of the girl in the white dress - and others like her - growing into girlhood, into young womanhood, still years away from her blossoming adolescence and still shining in her innocence and faith that the adults who care for her will do right by her.
She may be polygamy's child. But thanks to the events of the past few days, chances are good that she will not grow up to be polygamy's wife...or mother.