Sunday, December 19, 2010

Polys in Court - week 3 - 4 video testimonies summary

from transcripts of Dec 8, 2010
My comments:
I imagine the video testimony was quite poignant. I've not seen the videos but I have met women with similar stories who endured much of the same treatment also with a religious motivation but in monogamous relationships. They too told of spousal violence, sexual, emotional, mental abuse, indoctrination and child battery/abuse.

These things happen when men, women and children survive and repeat the behaviours that they were raised with and pass on for generations. These things happen to people who were not raised in that environment and yet still succumb to the mindset of low self-worth and the initial charm of someone who needs to control. Breaking the cycle HAS to be a priority in Canadian society. One reoccurring theme in these stories is how fear of the authorities sweeping in and putting the adults in prison and the children in orphanages enforces the indoctrination of secrecy and prevents these victims from seeking help. While this testimony is brought forward by the BC AG to show us how awful polygamy can be as practiced by some people in certain areas, it underscores the further harm that criminalization of polygamy does - right there in the depths of it all is the fear of prison making them endure more than any human being should ever have to do. Shame on us for having a law that exacerbates such horrors!!

Video testimony of Rowena Mackert of Anacortes, Washington filmed in July of 2010.
Rowena was born in Short Creek, Utah in December of 1953. Her mother was the third wife to a man with four wives and 27 natural children and 4 step-children. There had been a raid of the Mormon (but not officially yet FLDS) community resulting in her father who was a local teacher being convicted of unlawful cohabitation and imprisoned in Arizona. Her family moved to Salt Lake City and the children attended schools with non-community children and were the subject of some ridicule as well as having to use her father's middle name as a surname to avoid detection of the polygamy continuing. Having to lie constantly took its toll on them, and the sheer number of children to be maintained allowed for neglect, sexual abuse and a deep sense of not being valued. She said that there was no intimacy for the women or the men. It was always about doing God's will. There was much jealousy amongst the wives and as their children were seen as their contribution to God's work they would promote the well-being and efforts of their own birth children and be very cruel to the children of the other wives. There was jealousy amongst the children as well. She was sexually abused by her father from the age of three and married to her step-brother who was three years her senior at the age 17. This marriage lasted five years and produced three children. Her husband was also a bit of a rebel and denounced polygamy just prior to their fifth anniversary and left the community. She got a job as a cocktail waitress and occasional musician while her divorce was pending. She was moved into a smaller house near her father's home and daycare was provided by her family. She was reassigned to a man twice her age to whom her sister was married and she refused the match. For this and a rather angry conversation with the leader of the community she had her children removed from her care and was banned from the family. She tried for two months to get her children back but at not point thought of going to the police as she just wanted her children back and was afraid the crime of polygamy would send her father to prison and her younger siblings to an orphanage so she could not seek help. She moved to California and made her income as a professional musician where she befriended a lawyer who assisted her in getting legal custody papers for her children. She returned and collected her children. Her life has continued to be difficult as she sought solace for depression, post traumatic stress syndrome by self medicating with alcohol and drugs. She feels that her mental health and addictions issues are the direct result of polygamy as practiced in Utah.

Video testimony of Teresa Wall (also known as Teresa Blackmore) in Idaho in May of 2010. Teressa was born in August of 1980 in Hilldale, Utah. Her father had three wives and over 22 children. The first wife and her 8 children were favoured in the family and abusive to Teressa's mother who was second wife and her 14 children. Most of the household work was left to the second wife and her children to complete. They lived in the basement of the house and were not allowed in the upstairs area of the house where the first wife and her children lived. She recalls her older brother's being kicked out of the house and community at the age of 18 and 16. She was sent to Canada to live with her mother's sisters who were both married to Brendon Blackmore. She returned to Salt Lake City to find that her father had a third wife. At 13 yrs of age Teressa was considered for marriage to Rulon Jeffs who was in his 80's and already married to two of Teressa's older sisters. Teressa refused and was banished to Sundry, Alberta where she was sent to work in the Post mill making posts. The work was made as hard as possible in order to make her comply and agree to marry as arranged. At 17, she was told that she would comply and marry or be kicked out. She was illegally in Canada and had no where to go if sent back to Salt Lake City so she agreed. She was married to a son of the uncle with whom she had stayed and worked for at the age of 12. Her husband was also 17 yrs old and a more appropriate match. He was kind to her. She was taught from early childhood about her role and responsibility as a wife and that her mission as a woman was to replenish the earth. She said girls in Canada were frequently married before completing high school. She said she had no sex education and was raised to think that boys were evil and to stay away and then suddenly she's having to sleep with one who is a stranger and have this relationship. Teressa had three children with her husband. Teressa talked about living in Bountiful and the radical changes brought about by Warren Jeff's faction and that there was a great deal of movement between Utah and Canada most often the young and rebellious girls and boys were sent there. Canada was reform school. She said that one had little to do with one's neighbours "if we spoke to anybody outside of the group we could get taken away or that our father could get arrested and taken away"
Her marriage was happier than most but her husband was really devoted to the leadership and when they told him that he and Teressa were no longer married and their children were no longer theirs he jumped through hoops to make amends and pressed Teressa to comply. She played along until she saved up some money and arranged for a place to run to and then she left Bountiful and her marriage.

Video testimony of Sarah Hammon - second of two attempts to tape this witness and date/location did not get noted on this version:
Sarah was born in Hilldale,Utah and raised in Colorado City. Her father was in the upper leadership of the community and 69 years old when she was born. He had 19 wives and 74 children. She and her siblings were of different generations such that her oldest sister was old enough to be Sarah's grandmother. She lived in a large house with 11 of the wives and 29 of her siblings. There were 18 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms in a home that was highly organized. All the women and children had their roles in the family and their assigned household chores. She had no relationship with her father and had to remind him of her name and who her mother was when she encountered him. She had a strong bond with her mother because of the competition in the family amongst the women and the wife's value being the children she bore. If a wife had trouble with another wife she often took it out on the children. Several of the wives had a higher status in the family if for instance they worked. Their children would have nicer clothes and nicer things in their rooms. Sarah's mother did not work outside the home so her children were poorer.

Sarah went to a community school funded by the state which had a religious instruction basis. They were taught that a man had to have three wives in order to go to heaven and a woman's role was to learn how to become a good wife by learning how to cook, clean and take care of the children. Sarah graduated from the 8th grade and left home at 14 years of age when she ran away to stay with friends of her sister in St. George, Utah. She had trouble transitioning and became an alcoholic. In her testimony she makes a lot of comments about the patriarchal polygamist culture in which she was raised but says repeatedly that she "couldn't say so for sure" or had "no proof" but she's "heard" that there was this harm or that in the community.

My comments: I was very disappointed in this testimony as there was way to much hearsay and conjecture as well as the interviewer asking very leading questions.

Video testimony of Kathleen Mackert of Anacortes, Washington in June of 2010:
Kathleen is one of 31 children (27 natural children and 4 stepchildren) of a man with 4 wives. She grew up in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah. Kathleen describes experiencing physical and sexual abuse by her father from age 5 to 17. Her mother was the third wife and worked outside of the home. She is full sister to the first witness, Rowena. At 18, Kathleen was married to her father's 4th wife's son who was 10 years older, a convert to FLDS and had a career in the US air force. It was a good match in terms of his being known to her,very kind, and she would be first wife but as she had been taught to think of him as a sibling for some 10 years since her father had married her mother it was emotionally abusive. Her husband had a degree in Mechanical Engineering and had permission from the community elders to live wherever necessary for his job so Kathleen lived in the outside world but maintained an isolation so that she would not be tainted by the outside world as they were taught. Her husband was more "worldly" having not been born into the faith and living in the outside world. He never took a second wife and wanted only two children because he felt that the world was overpopulated. Kathleen and her husband left the FLDS as a family unit and have since divorced. She had some therapy and experienced eating disorders but her final comments were that she felt as if she was an empowered woman who had healed and was interesting in facilitating the healing of others. She talked at length about an organization that she and her sister operate which helps survivors of polygamy and other domestic violence situations find sanctuary and rebuild their lives. She said that getting identification to prove that they exist is the first hurdle as many children of these polygamous communities do not have birth registrations. She also said that there were many similarities in domestic violence cases that were not related to polygamy and that their organization worked with all survivors regardless of relationship structure or religious affiliations.

My comments: Hmmm...domestic abuse the biggest harm associated with patriarchal polygamy is not necessarily related to polygamy and multiple partner relationship structures according to this witness.

The other constant in these testimonies is the lengthy description of the rules of being a practicing FLDS man or woman. Beginning in early childhood they are conditioned to understand that their value to God is entirely based on their ability to obey their leader who speaks for God. Photos of the leaders in the homes to give a sense that he is always watching. Competition to be the more devout follower by following all the rules including polygamy which is seen as the way to get to heaven and thus be favoured of God. Excommunication from the community and the family for disobedience. Polygamy is clearly one of the rules, like tithing, dress code, absolute obedience of this particular religion. Polygamy is not the source of the abuse but one of the very strict rules applied that leave the people open to tyranny and abuse of all sorts. Power corrupts - absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is not the only religion to make controlled sexuality one of the rules to adhere to strictly to prove one's devotion. Chastity for priests and nuns, prohibition on birth control, marriage without divorce options are all found in the Catholic church and the resulting abuse via authority figures there is in every paper all the time. In our western society where women have fought hard for equality and it still rages and not just in pockets like Bountiful. Monogamy and the sanctity of marriage for life in a household where the husband is the authority figure is a common requirement of most Christian faiths along with obedience to one's parents. This didn't die in the 1950's but is alive and well and keeping many women and children in homes where the greatest fear is dad coming home from work. The divorce rates, and reporting of spousal violence & child physical/sexual abuse in Canada would indicate that there is some rot in the fiber of that scenario as well. We don't criminalize monogamy to fix it though. That would be silly. Criminalizing multiple partner relationships has not fixed the rot festering behind religious dogma here either. There are other more effective solutions and Sarah & Rowena's organization is definitely one of those. Well done!

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