Activists aim to end ‘dirty little secret’

Los Angeles Times Service
Miami Herald, Aug. 19, 2002

ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah – It has been two years since Utah’s Legislature appointed a full-time investigator to root out crimes associated with polygamy. But, aside from last year’s high-profile prosecution and imprisonment of polygamist Tom Green, no other cases have been brought to court.

Anti-polygamy activists charge the state has not done enough to stamp out ”Utah’s dirty little secret.” They say the inaction is allowing child abuse, welfare fraud and sexual assault to continue unchecked in polygamous communities.

Groups from Utah, Arizona and Canada met here to gather material for a report they intend to forward to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. They also have recruited former ”sister wives” to help build a massive class-action suit against a polygamous religious group that arranges marriages of girls as young as 13.

The activists called polygamous leaders ”the American Taliban,” saying women are subjugated by the practice of plural marriage.

And repeatedly, they said Utah’s polygamy investigator merely has provided political cover for the state, which has little interest in delving into a highly sensitive issue.

”I think it’s a good show, but it’s all a political game,” said Flora Jessop, who fled her polygamous family in Colorado City, Ariz., when she was 16.

Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, are polygamous communities that straddle the states’ borders about 40 miles southwest of here. There are an estimated 40,000 polygamists living in the western United States and Canada, where some splinter groups have fled after internal fractions.

Officials say that investigating closed societies is difficult and that women and girls seldom come forward to report abuse. In some rural areas, the local sheriff and county prosecutor are reluctant to get involved in what they view as a matter of religious choice or lifestyle, state officials say.

Ron Barton, Utah’s polygamy investigator, acknowledges he doesn’t have much to show for two years’ work.

”I would have hoped that more would have been done during that time,” he said. “My eyes have been opened to the problems in the community. The problems are pretty well hidden.

“There are children who are victimized, sexually molested by nonfamily members. Incest. Underage marriages. Spousal abuse. Welfare fraud. Women and children are the primary victims.”

Barton investigated flamboyant polygamist Green, who was sentenced last year to five years in prison for bigamy and failing to repay the state for thousands of dollars in welfare payments his family improperly received. It was the first conviction of its kind in Utah in 50 years.

Green, 54, will be sentenced again on Aug. 27, this time for child rape for marrying Linda Kunz Green in 1986 when she was 13. He was 37. She is the only one of his wives he legally married. The others were sealed to him in a religious ceremony.

Aside from appointing a polygamy czar, the Utah state legislature has done little to indicate there is political will to deal with the issue. A draft bill making it easier to prosecute polygamists appears to be doomed to defeat. In 2001, legislation was killed that would have punished parents who consented to unlawful marriages — such as under-aged or polygamous unions.

Polygamy was a tenet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until 1890, when the practice was outlawed. About 70 percent of Utah is Mormon and more than 90 percent of the state’s elected officials are church members.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday August 20, 2002.
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