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Polygamists, Predators, and Prevaricators: Part One

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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.

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About Dr. Juliann Mitchell, PhD

  • http://www.radiocoach.biz Sam weaver

    Dr. Mitchell, the entire situation is terrible. Whether you agree or disagree with polygamy, one should abide by the laws of the land they live in. The state of Texas has made of mess of everything. I hope the way things were handled will not alter the outcome for the mothers and their children. I love the refugee
    idea. How do you think the mothers are coping?

  • http://www.etherapistsonline.com/etherapists/mitchell.htm,buttonsadogsblog.blogspot.com Juliann Mitchell

    Sam, thank you for your comments and question. To answer your question is speculative on my part but I believe the mothers of the YFZ Ranch are grieving tremendously. Their children have been taken away and there is great uncertainty if they will ever be returned. Also the mothers lives seemed to have been focused on taking care of the children Now that their roles of caregivers have been eliminated I cannot imagine how they structure their days and nights. Depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, loss of self-esteem, blame, shame, sadness, guilt, worthlessness, etc, and the list of negative emotions could go on and on for what they could be experiencing. Their anguish was real from the interviews I saw on the television. Just as the children have been severely traumatized so have the mothers.

  • http://www.nccpr.org Richard Wexler

    Thank you for taking note of the op ed column Johana Scot and I wrote for the Star-Telegram.

    As you may know, 11 mental health professionals, sent in by the state of Texas itself after the raid have spoken out, horrified by what they saw.

    One of them said this about how the children played, after their mothers were taken from them:

    “Children were grabbing toys from others and using the toys as play weapons against each other and their ‘captors.’ In my estimation they were acting out their fear and anger”

    Links to all of the statements can be found on the Blog at http://www.nccpr.org

    –Richard Wexler
    Executive Director
    National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

  • Brandy

    I agree – simply placing them in foster care is not the happy ending to the story. And I wondered as you state you did, above, how the extremity and suddenness of the ‘confiscation’ of the children affected them. From their point of view, they were snatched out of their homes and away from everything and everyone they knew. That had to be traumatic.

    Whether or not the change is beneficial long term, I think only King Solomon could answer.

  • http://www.etherapistsonline.com/etherapists/mitchell.htm,buttonsadogsblog.blogspot.com Juliann Mitchell

    Richard,
    Thank you so much for your comments and for the op-ed piece you and Johana Scot wrote in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
    I am not at all surprised at the chidren’s play behaviors. This is a horrible situation for everyone and the children are the innocent victims of a system that has failed them and continues to do so.

    Juliann

  • http://www.etherapistsonline.com/etherapists/mitchell.htm,buttonsadogsblog.blogspot.com Juliann Mitchell

    Brandy,
    Time will tell how this has affected and impacted the children. This situation has been so traumatic for both the children and their mothers. I suspect it is going to take years to sort out and the children once again are victimized.

  • http://www.purpletigressrose.blogspot.com Purple Tigress

    There is no happy ending for these children. The girls are kept in ignorance. Both boys and girls are taught to lie.

    Any time any segment of the population is oppressed, there can be no true happiness.

  • http://www.etherapistsonline.com/etherapists/mitchell.htm Juliann Mitchell, PhD

    Purple Tigress,

    This really is a travesty for all the children involved.

    Juliann