What We Don't Know About Polygamy

With the publication of her bestselling memoir Escape, ex-FLDS member Carolyn Jessop became a visible face of the horrors of polygamy. Now, she's become much more.

For many, Carolyn Jessop, along with Big Love and Sister Wives, represents all the larger world knows about the polygamous FLDS lifestyle. And hers has been the most damning condemnation: her memoir tells of a life of powerlessness and coercion, of exiled "lost boys" and child-brides. Far from the peaceable portrait painted by TV's Brown family, Jessop's married life was rife with tensions and rivalries — and her children were caught very much in the middle. While her critics dismiss these lurid tales, few who read the book could come away unimpressed.

And now, a second book and a a pending adaptation later (Jessop will be portrayed by Katherine Heigl) Jessop is using this leverage.


Today, Jeffs sits in jail awaiting trial in Texas, and Canada's high court considers the constitutionality of its polygamy law and the case of two men who brought their 12-year-old daughters to the United States to marry Jeffs, then about 50. Jessop wants the government to do more. She wants states with polygamist communities to quit turning a blind eye to the abuse that comes with polygamy. And she wants laws that will protect women who have no legal rights as a wife because their marriages were never legalized. "Those women have no power," she says. "They are given like a slave."

If Jessop resents being the unilateral face of her cause, she's given no indication in interviews. But it's slightly worrisome that in the public imagination, we have so few reference points. For instance, one guy's reaction after seeing Jessop speak recently.

"(Polygamy) is not at all like I thought it would be," he said, admitting that his insights had only been from the television show "Sister Wives," a reality show focusing on one polygamist family. "It sounded horrible."

Jessop clearly has a lot of work to do. But so too do others.


Speaker Opens Eyes To Suffering Of Women In Polygamist Cults [Times-Leader]