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Commentary Last Updated: Apr 9th, 2008 - 00:26:18

Girls taken from polygamist ranch: Kidnap or rescue?
By Mary Shaw
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Apr 9, 2008, 00:09

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In recent days, law enforcement agents have raided a compound belonging to the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) -- Warren Jeffs' operation -- and removed 416 children and 139 women from the premises.

I was discussing it with a neighbor, who told me that this amounted to kidnapping. "These girls were forcibly removed from their homes," he explained. "The girls had done nothing wrong, yet they must feel like they're being punished -- being ripped from their homes, from their families."

Well, that's one way of looking at it, but a very simplistic one. The situation inside the compound was anything but simplistic, as chronicled in the memoirs of a few rare escapees.

In normal society, when it is discovered that a child is being abused at the hands of her parents, the authorities intervene, if the child is lucky, and the child is removed from the abusive environment.

The recent activity at the FLDS compound is no different. The authorities simply removed those girls and women from an abusive environment.

Some are probably too young to realize that they are being rescued, and all must be very frightened by the abrupt change of course that their lives have taken. But such is probably the case for just about anyone who is rescued from a dangerous home life.

While I don't personally have a problem with polygamy, if it's between consenting adults, girls who are raised in the FLDS are not willing participants. They are forced, when very young, to marry whomever the church leaders deem appropriate.

Imagine being a young girl forced to marry a man old enough to be your father -- or perhaps even old enough to be your grandfather. You are treated like breeding stock. Your purpose in life is to have lots of children and to obey your husband. Those are your keys to heaven. That is how you are measured.

You have no control over your own life, your own body, or your own children. All the decisions are made by your husband and by the church leaders on behalf of "God".

You are powerless. You have to ask permission to make even the smallest of decisions.

The only decision you can make, the only power you can gain, is to win your husband's favor through sex and thereby perhaps have some minimal influence on things. And, of course, this leads to backstabbing and rivalry amongst wives.

And then there is the abuse by husbands, other wives, and the community.

No one will help you. No one will listen.

Imagine the effects that kind of life must have on a girl's self-esteem.

These girls are prisoners. They are trapped in this cult with no way out. They are, essentially, slaves.

They are brainwashed and told that the outside world is "evil," so that they won't dare try to escape. Besides, to reject or even question these practices, they are told, is to defy the very word of God. Do so and you're hellbound.

It is hard to believe that this is happening in the 21st century, but then I live near Pennsylvania's Amish country. But at least Amish children are given a choice.

The girls and women of the FLDS have no choice. All they have is their cruel duty.

If I am ever treated that way at home, would someone please "kidnap" me?

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail:

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