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Girls in White Dresses - Polygamy's Child

By April 8, 2008

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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.

Unbearable Birthright

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.


April 8, 2008 at 5:33 pm
(1) SW says:

While “haunting” could be a legitimate reaction to this entire situation, in the picture you reference, the children were blowing bubbles. In that context, I’m not seeing quite what you do.

It does sadden me greatly to realize there are people in this world quite willing to harm a child.

April 8, 2008 at 6:53 pm
(2) womensissues says:

SW, at the time the photo was released, there was no caption ID’ing what the children were doing.

Nonetheless, any viewer can see through to the anguish and grief of these women. And any temporary distraction the activity may provide those girls (and boys) is as brief and as fragile as a bubble. The bubble blowing is a fleeting moment captured in an image, but the damage done over the course of their lifetimes is permanent and not so easily revealed by the camera lens.

April 8, 2008 at 10:16 pm
(3) Whiteknyght says:

Or the grief and anguish of being torn away from the only world and world view they have known and thrust into being wards of a bureaucratic mechanism and state mentality that will no doubt add to the damage that may have already been perpetrated upon them under this reality they have lived…

And given the dichotomy of today’s posts – the earlier mean girls view – are we really doing more than thrusting them into the lesser of two evils?

I am just afraid the outcome will be more souls churned up and lost in the mechanism of a state that by nature and structure cannot make up for what these people truly need.

April 9, 2008 at 12:43 am
(4) womensissues says:

Whiteknyght, as always you bring up thoughtful points.

I completely agree that “being torn away from the only world and world view they have known” is causing them the greater distress at this time.

But I can’t help but think – even if you see this as ‘normal behavior,’ i.e. marrying first cousins and pairing young teenage girls with men in their forties and fifties – would a woman not feel a twinge of conscience to see her 14-year-old daughter bedded by a man older than the mother herself? I realize this has happened in communities and cultures for generations, but did this not ever give women pause?

April 9, 2008 at 1:57 am
(5) Whiteknyght says:

Maybe… maybe not… We are looking at the situation through the filter of our culture believing we hold the truth, when we may just be looking at the shadows of our own platonian caves… Western women have in recent times scoffed and looked askance at “the plight” of muslim women – yet I have also seen interviews with muslim women who embrace those very aspects.

All I do know is that over 400 children have becomes wards of a system they have lived somewhat isolated from. Each being assigned guardians – legal and otherwise – from a limited pool of “professionals” in a relatively small area (which by bulk will overload the system, which runs oh so efficiently now.) And if they have been deemed at danger to be separated from their fathers – who are still holed up in an ominously looking, surrounded compound – who is to say they will be allowed to stay with their mothers…

Again, I see a lot of scared, confused culturally shocked little people, probably thinking, beyond any pause, that they just want to go home…

April 9, 2008 at 3:52 am
(6) Whiteknyght says:

Just re-read the Yahoo/AP story linked with this posting… it is an interesting use of hyperbolic, almost jingo-istic language by the writers… citing in very provactive details the state’s view on this situation… not until you scroll well down “below the fold” do you see the history that is repeating itself and the long-term impact the anscestors of these very people had.

Even the headline… “married at puberty” seems crafted to almost titilate the reader. Just about 100 years ago, that was when marriage happened… Not making it correct, just again showing the filter in effect.

April 24, 2008 at 11:49 am
(7) FLDS needs to be stopped says:

I find this article refreshing. In every other situation, when child abuse is suspected, it is treated in a much more severe manner than what the FLDS has endured. One MUST ask, why are they so secretive? Why are children allowed to live in an area with Dave Barlow, a registered sex offender? It is clear that Texas has done the right thing. We cannot count on the mothers to do the right thing – they have lived the FLDS life being told what to do since birth. They have, in essence, been brain washed. Tell me how the mothers will protect their children when they don’t know how to think for themselves? How can we trust mothers who allow their young, underage daughters to be sexually molested by men old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers? How can we trust mothers who allow their underage children to be married to cousins, knowing the effect of that on the potential offspring of that union? Here is the answer America- WAKE UP! WE CAN’T TRUST ANY OF THE FLDS MOTHERS OR FATHERS. This is a clear case of CHILD ABUSE – what loving parent would fight for their rights while ignoring the rights of their underage child? That is ABUSE – not injustice and the FLDS machine likes to plead. We need to protect these kids from these predators, and give them a chance to grow up to understand their RIGHTS as an American and their rights to the freedom to learn,play and act as a child while still a child. How many of you defending the actions of the FLDS would allow your underage daughter to marry your eldest uncle and become impregnated by him? This is a SAD case and we as a Nation need to stand behind Texas in helping these kids escape imprisionment by Warren Jeffs.

April 28, 2008 at 8:10 pm
(8) Mark says:

I find it interesting that almost every comment that defends the flds is by a man. Of course it is. Admit it guys, we would all like to have many multiple sex partners at a time to our beck and call and have all fantasized about having sex with teen girls. Admit it guys.

June 5, 2008 at 7:58 pm
(9) Hey says:

First Issue: The phone call that started this wasn’t from som young girl at the camp.
Lets put that one to rest.

Secondly, Someone complained why these people live with a so-called offender.

Offenders convicted or not live with and around us everyday. Have been for thousands of years and will continue until christ’s return. We simply cannot prevent the inevible. I believe that Prevention and Prayer are key, not exactly in that order. Of course for those who don’t believe in the power of prayer. It doesn’t matter cause you have no real sense of Right or Wrong and what little you do know probably was learned from Christian teachings which you refuse to acknowledge. SO that leaves us to the reason we are so rediculously over burdened with pity and oh….sex abuse……the truth is All the crying in the world don’t protect one future victim. Warriors lets educate, prevent and move forward. This too shall pass.

March 27, 2009 at 4:45 pm
(10) Margaret says:

I grew up in a similar organization called “The Ranch”. There are a surprisingly number of people who convert to this lifestyle as adults. My parents were among them. I was fortnuate enough to get out as a teenager and create a new life for myself. I am now helping other women create what they want in thier own lives. It isn’t about the circumstances that life has presented us, but about how we choose to react to the circumstances. The women who have returned to the compound in Texas have made their choice.

July 23, 2009 at 8:51 pm
(11) Sherman says:

I saw polygamist compounds while living in Salt Lake City. Why weren’t authorities stopping it ?!?!?!
Wake up and smell the gas. This is no Baptist summer camp. According to Carolyn Jessop’s book, “ESCAPE” for those within, this is a powerful, Religious, Despotic/
Tyranic, cruel world. This is a religiously fanatic, power-hungry, male-dominated CULT as described by Carolyn Jessop who lived it as 3rd generation. Wives are property. Wives and daughters are baby machines. The number of wives and children a man accumulates will increase his community status, his power, and most critically, his assurance of God-like status in the afterlife. It will also nail him his own planet. Women don’t enter heaven except through a man. Women and children are forced into loveless sexual marriages in the name of divine authority. Wives are to be submissive, to keep sweet, and do what they’re told without question. Many are driven into severe states of depression. Children are helpless vulnerable pawns. They’re pawns in the stuggle for power and status between unhappy wives. They’re pawns in the struggle for status of men. Children and wives are abused by husbands. Wives abuse each other. Children abuse each other. All need to be concerned about maintaining a righteous profile in their community. Noone was safe or loved. Read the book. In it child and wife abuse is a completely accepted way of life. According to the book the entire Colorado City, Arizona community is FLDS and allows such abuse to be perpetuated by ignoring it. According to the book even police, ambulance drivers and health facilities are manned by FLDS who accept child and wife abuse. The governing style of this cult creates a living dynamic that perpetuates fear, competition, abuse, and secrecy all in the name of male-dominated religious authority. Behavior within this cult would not legally be tolerated on the outside. Wake-up readers. This IS polygamy -be it in UT, CO, TX or anywhere else it spawns itself. When will authorities act to stop the abuse, and SAVE THE CHILDREN. NO ONE so far is willing to SAVE THE CHILDREN.

Humans acclamate to anything. Get them out.

IT IS TIME to shed a big fat light on this kind of abuse and STOP IT !

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