Leaving for San Angelo, TX, in the Morning

The Huffington Post

Posted April 21, 2008 | 07:27 PM (EST)

I’m leaving for San Angelo, TX, in the morning. I’ve got to see for myself the mothers in floor length pioneer dresses buttoned up the neck and down the wrist, all wearing the same pattern, their long-handled underwear peeking out, their uncut hair pulled up in a pompadour. I want to ask these young women what could possibly compel them to stand by and watch while their underage daughters are handed over to men old enough to be their grandfathers—men who already have any number of wives and a passel of children. Men who are often close relatives.

What has been pulled over these women’s eyes that they don’t see this as abuse? And what of the family practice that routinely subjects their male children to the “lost boys” fate? How do they feel when their young teenage sons are abducted in the middle of the night, taken out of the compound and dumped on a faraway roadside to fend for themselves? Do they not see this as barbaric? Does it not turn their stomachs the way it turns mine?

No doubt, these women have been subject to systematic victimization. Beaten down and into submission, they fear the patriarch and give up their own mind. They have a detached, eerie quality and all speak in little girl voices with a false sweetness. The fear of God and the patriarch have permanently shut them up. To a woman, these wives and mothers cannot look squarely at the camera. The truth is not to be told—that is the law of the land. When questioned by Larry King if underage girls are forced to marry older men, all the women gave the same stock response: “not that I’m aware of.”

But these women are also perpetrators; complicity is its own form of abuse. Carolyn Jessup is a former cult member and 6th generation polygamist. Refusing to take the complicit route, she took action instead. When she realized that her eldest daughter would be next in line for statutory rape under the guise of marriage she chose to escape. She gathered up her eight children and fled. Interviewed on TV during the custody hearings, she laid it on the line, saying: “Every mother is born with a protective instinct—these mothers know that it’s an unsafe environment.” Thank you, Carolyn for showing us the courage it takes to speak the truth and keep your children safe.

My father sexually abused me from age two until age twelve. Where was my mother? What caused her protective instinct to go belly up? Did she take any action to protect me? She did not, perhaps for the very same reasons the women in Texas don’t protect their own: expedience. Such inaction is, pure and simple, self-serving. A woman gives up her voice and her instinct to save herself, her position in the family and in the community.

The judge made the correct decision when she ruled that the state had enough evidence to justify taking custody of the children pending further investigation. If a mother’s instinct is not intact, a society must act. The safety of children is sacrosanct and must come first.


Between The Sheets in Texas, and Everywhere

The Huffington Post

Posted April 12, 2008 | 08:59 PM (EST)

There’s a “marriage” bed in a temple with rumpled sheets and a strand of female hair, which may well have belonged to a young girl forced to marry a much older man who probably already has any number of wives. And we’re horrified.

Should we be? Yes.

Should we be surprised? No. Not at all.

Polygamy, sexual relations with young children, and incestuous relations all have long historical roots in patriarchy. Brother/sister, father/daughter, and mother/son relationships were practiced among royalty during the Pharaonic and Ptolemaic periods in ancient Egypt. One well-known sibling spouse was Cleopatra. Ancient Greece elevated the practice of relations with young boys to an art. Going to our Judeo-Christian roots, the Old Testament reveals polygamy was not at all unusual. Abraham, Jacob, Esau, and David all had multiple wives. There was randy King Solomon, with his 700 wives (one of whom was his sister) and 300 concubines. Then there were Lot’s daughters, who each had sex with their father to ensure their lineage.

Later Christianity condoned polygamy at certain times. In 1650, the parliament at Nurnberg said that because so many men were killed in the Thirty Years’ War, every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. In Islam today, polygamy is allowed within the limit that men can only have up to four wives at any one time, as long as they can be equally well supported.

It’s no wonder that polygamy, as well as sex with relatives and young children, is a part of our cellular memory, passed down through the generations, in all cultures and at all levels of the socio-economic spectrum.

The raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints compound in Eldorado, Texas, while bringing polygamy into media focus, also has the potential, according to ABC News, to “unravel what could be the country’s largest child abuse case in the nation’s history.”

But child abuse is hardly news, or new. It is certainly not only a splinter LDS group that forces young girls to have sexual relations. No one is immune. No child is safe.

The most frequently quoted incidence of childhood sexual abuse in the U.S. is one out of every three girls and one out of every five to seven boys, although it is acknowledged that many many cases are not reported because of secrecy and privacy, and the incidence may actually be at least 60 percent for girls and 45 percent for boys.

I know this all too well. Up until the time I was twelve years old, I was abused by my father, and by a priest at the Catholic school I attended.

I know what it can do to your life. In my case, it led to sexual promiscuity as a teen and young woman, addictions to alcohol and Valium, an eating disorder, and a variety of illnesses and allergies—all common when we’re trying to keep such potent information secret. It was only when I got cancer in my mid-twenties that I stopped running away and started bringing my awareness to the root cause of my difficulties—a long strenuous process that was well worth the effort.

The burden of shame that comes from incest (estimates from 1992 showed 20 million Americans had been the victims of parental incest as children) and childhood sexual abuse in general ruins the lives of both victims and perpetrators.

Those who experience sexual abuse, whether girls or boys, are prone to low self-esteem, trouble with relationships, sexual dysfunction, are three time more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. There is also a far greater risk of suicide.

Not a pretty picture.

The children from the Texas compound were psychologically imprisoned. Their abuse was not confined to sex; they were also beaten, brainwashed to be terrified of the outside world, given little education, and basically treated as possessions. The motto seems to have been that old throwback: Keep ‘em barefoot and pregnant from as early an age as possible. Their entry into the “outside” world will not be easy.

What can we do to bring this scourge out from under the sheets and into awareness? We can stop keeping it so secret. When we begin to expose the truth of what so many of us have experienced, when we develop compassion for both the victims and the perpetrators (who in almost all cases were abused themselves), we can start to heal.

As I crisscross the country, working with thousands of people at events where they share their secrets with me, I know that many of our addictions, our illnesses, and our crimes can be traced to the abuse we suffered as children. How different would our society be if we could remove the trance of shame that keeps childhood sexual abuse under cover? Would women, like those at the compound, stop accepting their place as second class citizens?

Would your daughter or son be safer, grow up happier and healthier?

I’d like to think so.