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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Polygamy and DESERT WIVES

The recent events at the Texas polygamy compound have never been far from my mind as I write Desert Lost, (coming September 2009) the follow-up to my Desert Wives: Polygamy Can Be Murder. The Texas court's decision to return all the children to the compound -- regardless of the charges leveled against their parents -- is appalling. But these are the same type of decisions made by Arizona's Child Protective Services, when young girls have fled from forced marriages to blood relatives; the girl, if caught, is almost always forced to return home.

These CPS and Texas court decisions have been made in defiance of the fact that in Texas and Arizona, both polygamy and incest are illegal. The Texas court's argument? That the allegations haven't been proved -- the same as the findings by Arizona's CPS. The upshot of the situation is that seven years after Desert Wives was published, nothing has changed. The polygamy compounds continue to get by with child rape, incest and Welfare fraud.

People who haven't read Desert Wives are generally unaware of the many Welfare fraud practices in the compounds, so I'll explain it here. After all, the compounds are raking in YOUR tax dollars.

Simply put, here's how it works. A sixteen-year-old "child bride" gives birth to a baby. Since she is not legally married (the "marriages" on the compounds are merely "spiritual," which is to say, no marriage license is ever issued), her child is illegitimate. And what do illegitimate children get? Welfare. The girl is driven to the appropriate government office to fill out the Welfare forms; on the line where she is supposed to put the name of the baby's father, she writes UNKNOWN, thus committing a felony. By the way, there is no record of any government office investigating the truth of these forms when they are filled out by polygamist girls -- an odd lapse in protocol.

Once the Welfare application form is completed, the wheels of government bureaucracy begin to turn, and eventually the legally-unwed girl receives her Welfare check (approximately $250), which she endorses and turns over to the child's father, who cashes it, then gives the money to the compound's prophet. Neither the young mother nor her child will benefit from that money.

But this isn't the only check -- and the only illegitimate child -- the girl will receive. If her child is born with disabilities -- a common occurrence in incest-ridden families -- that child will receive additional government money (SSI or SSDI checks) for life. The average polygamy household in the compounds is around 10 wives, although households of 75 wives are not that uncommon. (But for my example, I'm staying with the 10-wife number.) If each of the 10 wives has 10 children, that's 100 children in one household. This would make the average Welfare take from the household $25,000 PER MONTH. And that money comes straight from the American taxpayer, namely you.

The irony of all this is that women on the polygamy compounds -- regarded as little more than cash cows by their prophets -- have fewer civil rights than any other social/ethnic group in America. They cannot own property. They cannot inherit. They cannot protest when they are traded to another man. They cannot protest when the prophet sends them to a compound in another state (leaving their children behind). But perhaps most painful of all, these young mothers cannot even call their children "their" children, because polygamy children are taught to regard ALL females as their mothers; the children are not allowed to form closer ties with their natural mothers than with any other woman. This effectively keeps true family ties weak, so that they can be more easily controlled by the prophet.

One of the questions the Texas authorities had about the families was: why so few boys? Desert Lost, my upcoming Lena Jone mystery, answers this question, but to play fair on this blog, I'll give you a big hint right now.

Around fifty percent of all children born are male, making the sexes fairly evenly matched in number. If a male is allowed to "marry" 10 females, this means 9 males will go without females. It is therefore incumbent upon such polygamist societies to get rid of the surplus males -- especially once they turn 18 and are no longer eligible for Welfare payments. Desert Lost is about the various ways the compounds get rid of their "surplus".

The polygamy compounds are money-making machines. Their prophets can cry "religious freedom" all they want, but the main reason for their continued operation is because of the enormous amount of government money they are able to amass. In short, polygamy is good business.

For the prophet, at least.

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Stay tuned for information about The Anteater of Death (November/December 2008), a new mystery series, which takes place in a Central Coast California zoo, and stars (besides Lucy, a giant anteater) zookeeper Teddy Bentley.


NancyMehl said...

Incredibly interesting and frightening, Betty. I cannot understand why this is allowed to continue, but I suspect that media coverage has something to do with it. Most of the recent stories seemed to present the women and children as victims - which they are - but didn't present the other side. The men who are profiting from the terrible abuse of these women and children weren't mentioned much. And I have to wonder why?

I'm really glad you are continuing to highlight this awful situation. I can only hope that the outcome of this last attempt to help the women in this community won't make it harder to intervene again. This needs to stop.

Thanks for being one of the "watchers on the wall."

Nancy Mehl

Sarah Williams said...

Hello, Ms. Webb! I am so impressed with Desert Wives so far....haven't even finished the book yet, but I had to look you up.

And now I see that you were in San Mateo, Calif, only YESTERDAY...dang! I live in Berkeley and hope I can catch you at a book signing someday.

I'm on a Mormon-history kick, having just read Ann Eliza Young's book, then Jon Krakauer's, and now Desert Wives.

I grew up in Provo, Utah; my dad is a Presbyterian minister and was pastor of two churches there -- an interesting experience for the whole family!

As an anthropology major in college, I read about various ways that polygamous societies dealt with the extra men. I guess it was the Masai that had young men spend about ten years in the non-marriagable "Masai warrior" category, and only after that would they be full adults and marry young women.

So the natural mortality rate, given the extra ten years, would take care of some of the imbalance in numbers.

And the typical custom for teenage girls was to have affairs with the boys their age, while married to the old guys. If I remember right, it was sort of winked at. I guess that wouldn't go over too well in the U.S. polygamous communities.

Well, I've just gotten your Lena Jones back to her phone, where she can call her partner who's been getting rap sheets on the old guys in Purity.

And I realized that the same thing is happening in your Purity that the Masai did, at least a little: men turn 18, leave Purity to try to make it in the world, go to jail a couple of times, realize Purity will tolerate all their illegal and abusive behavior, and return to Purity as older mrn.

Anyway, this book is fantastic, you've done a great job on this topic, you've included insights that I didn't even get from Krakauer and Ann Eliza Young.

And I'm glad you wrote another on this topic! Can't wait to see it....bet my local library has it right next to the other one...