Polygamy, a Greek word meaning ‘many women,’ has existed for millenniums. Many cultures and societies have embraced polygamous lifestyles. The early Hebrews (King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines), Chinese, African, Polynesian, and Indian cultures also practiced polygamy.
Members of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) practiced plural marriages until 1890. After 1890 it was outlawed, but several sects continued to condone and practice multiple marriages. These renegade groups were excommunicated from the LDS church. It is estimated that about 37,000 men, women, and children reside in polygamous family units in North America, with the largest percentage of that population living in Utah.
Recently, state troopers raided the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) Ranch in Eldorado, Texas. A phone call was made to a domestic violence shelter from a girl claiming she was a 16-year-old abuse victim living on the compound. The girl who made the call has never been identified or located. Was it a hoax? No one seems to know at this point, or if they do they aren’t admitting to it.
To date, 465 children from the YFZ Ranch have been placed in the care of the State of Texas’ Child Protective Services. This, however, is not the first time lawmakers removed children from a group that practiced polygamy.
On July 26, 1953, Arizona State Police and the US National Guard took 236 children from their parents in the town of Short Creek, Arizona. Of those 236 children, 150 were not reunited with their parents for over two years, and some children were never returned to their families.
In 1991, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS church) was established in Colorado City, previously known as Short Creek. Their leader was Warren Jeffs, who was put on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List in 2006 for being an accomplice to rape. He was convicted and is now serving a sentence of ten years to life in the Utah State Prison. The Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas is affiliated with the FLDS Church in Colorado City. Reports circulated in 2005 that Warren Jeff attended the dedication ceremony of the ranch and temple.
Dr. Jennifer Morse, author of Smart Sex, has written on the adverse effects of polygamy on women and children. Women must compete for the husband’s time and attention daily; not only for themselves, but for their children, as well. Women are not educated or trained but are kept subservient to the adult males.
Few women flee the culture they believe they were born and bred for. Men are also affected. Young men who are excommunicated from the sect with no skills are forced to find jobs to survive outside the FLDS community. There are only so many women to marry and the older adult males have multiple wives, which makes the younger men a dispensable liability. An organization called “Lost Boys Of Polygamy” was created to address this oft-forgotten part of polygamous societies.
So many victims, so few constructive solutions. Both children and mothers are traumatized daily by these events. Johana Scot and Richard Wexler, in an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, offer a solution to this debacle. First let me say that foster care is not a panacea to children who have been abused at home. It is well documented that abuses also occur within the foster care system. It is a common misconception that once a child is “rescued” from unimaginable abuses at home, their lives have been saved. This is simply not the case.
The intent is not to demean the foster care system, but in many areas the caseworkers are overloaded, the agencies understaffed, and children fall through the cracks of the system. Some foster homes are loving and caring, and some are not. Others are just as abusive, if not more so, than the families they were taken from.
Additionally, foster care is traumatic because children are frequently moved from family to family. These children are never certain that they will be able to sleep in their own bed and they live in constant fear of being forced to move yet again. Scot and Wexler state, “Foster care is an extremely toxic intervention that should be used sparingly and in small doses.”
Polygamy is not the issue, but child sexual abuse is. Each child at the YFZ Ranch should have been evaluated on a case-by-case basis before removing all babies, preschoolers, and kids en mass from the ranch. Wexler and Scot suggest the children and their mothers be reunited and then treated as refugees until this mess is sorted out.
If a child has not been abused but is taken from a non-offending parent, the psychological effects are so detrimental for the child that they can last a lifetime. Trust and abandonment become huge issues for these children. The long-term effects are far reaching. No one can have a functional, healthy relationship if they are unable to trust. Trust is learned early in life and at home.
Since the mothers were unable to protect their children and prevent their removal, what kind of a message is sent to the child about the safety of the world? It goes deeper, though. Once the child believes no one can be trusted and nothing is permanent, they may begin to act out or cut themselves off from their feelings and the world.
A good indicator of how the children are doing is to examine their play. Yes, the social service workers shared the news that the children were playing. Please do not misunderstand this to mean they have adjusted to their new surroundings. Children make sense of their world through play, which is natural and normal.
To determine how they are doing, it is important to examine what and how they are playing. Traumatic events are frequently re-enacted during play and drawing. Sleeping patterns also need to be monitored for nightmares, bed-wetting (if they have already been potty-trained), or difficulty falling asleep. Eating habits, behaviors, and grades in school should all be noted. Only then will it become clearer how the children of YFZ Ranch are coping and adjusting.