Warren Jeffs Trial Highlights Polygamy Troubles

In a Utah courtroom today a defense team will cross examine a 21-year-old woman known only as “Jane Doe the fourth” about how accused polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs allegedly forced her to marry her 19-year-old cousin and have sex with him.

The showdown is one of the most anticipated in Jeffs’ trial on charges of rape by accomplice. Doe initially took the stand to begin her testimony Friday.

At the time of the marriage, Doe merely was 14 years old and said after a month of unconsummated marriage her husband told her to “be a wife and do your duty.”

“He completely overlooked the fact that this was something I did not want to do nor was willing to do,” she said in the courtroom last week. “I said, ‘Please don’t do this,’ and he just ignored me.”

She recalled how her first cousin and husband allegedly raped her.

“He came over and pulled me over to the bed and I said, ‘I can’t do this. Please just don’t,'” Doe recalled. “I was sobbing, and my whole entire body was just shaking because I was so scared and he didn’t say anything. He just laid me on the bed.”

Doe said she pleaded for Jeffs to let her divorce her husband.

“He paused for a moment and then told me that I needed to go and repent, that I was not living up to my vows,” Doe said. “I was not being obedient. I was not being submissive to my priestly head and that was what my problem was.”

Doe said the trauma of the situation led her to attempt suicide by downing two bottles of over-the-counter painkillers in a bathroom.

“The only thing I wanted to do was to die. I just wanted to die,” Doe said.

As a sect elder and later a sect “prophet,” Jeffs coupled the community’s girls and women with the men he said God told him they were meant to marry.

The sect emphasizes that young girls and women should be obedient to their husbands and serve them to achieve salvation in the afterlife.

A Familiar Tale

Jeffs’ trial brings back some vivid and devastating memories for Sara Hammon. At age 14 Hammon became one of the youngest people to escape from the world of polygamy when she left Jeffs’ home base in Colorado City, Ariz., 18 years ago.

At the time Jeffs was not in power, and Hammon’s father struggled with him for control of the sect. Eventually Hammon’s father broke off and began his own sect across the highway.

Hammon said Doe was brave to testify against Jeffs because she was taking on her entire religion and community.

“It’s hard for people to understand when they haven’t grown up in this,” Hammon said on “Good Morning America” Monday.

When Hammon was part of the community she was one of her father’s 75 children.

“There were so many children. He didn’t know who we were,” she said. Often times unless she was in the house, her father didn’t even know Hammon was his daughter.

He was 69 years old when she was born and always had to ask the children’s names because he didn’t remember them.

Hammon said the visions of happiness in polygamy, such as those portrayed on the HBO drama “Big Love,” are untrue.

“‘Big Love’ is a myth. It’s a myth,” she said.

Hammon watched as her mother, one of 19 wives, struggled emotionally to deal with the situation.

“Watching her have these breakdowns, it signaled to me that something was terribly wrong around us,” Hammon said.

Hammon said she prayed that her father, who had five heart attacks, would die so she would be able to escape to a new life.

Helping Others Like Herself

After leaving the sect, Hammon began to help others from similar backgrounds — women and girls who wanted to get out of the polygamous lifestyle.

Through nonprofit group called the Hope Organization , Hammon met 16-year-old Cindy Blackmore and eventually became her legal guardian.. Blackmore, who stumbled across the Hope Web site online — www.thehopeorg.org — had been trapped in a polygamous family.

Despite the fact that she no longer has any contact with her siblings, Blackmore said she has adjusted well to life outside polygamy.

“It was hard at first. But Sara’s helped me a lot,” Blackmore said on “Good Morning America” Monday.

Hammon would love to save many more girls like Blackmore, but she said she has to wait for girls to come to her to be rescued. Many of them are very young, and it is often difficult to prosecute husbands for illegal activity because the legal age of consent is 14 in Utah, meaning a 14-year-old can agree to have sex with anyone of any age.

Hammon said she is pleased to see Jeffs’ trial getting so much attention because she believes that for too long the subject has been ignored.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday September 18, 2007.
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