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.