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Horror Stories From Former Polygamists

Illustration for article titled Horror Stories From Former Polygamists

Yesterday, a group of women born into polygamy told a Canadian court, in a series of emotional statements, how the practice had ruined their lives.

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The testimony came as part of a B.C. Supreme Court trial examining the constitutionality of Canada's polygamy law. And the stories were harrowing. One, 56-year-old Rena Mackert, who came from a family of 31 children, talked about a life of systemic abuse. Reports the Province,

The sexual abuse for Mackert began at age three, when her polygamous father forced her to perform oral sex on him. "I cried and begged and pleaded. He slapped me and pulled my hair," the former Utah woman recalled during a video affidavit played in court. "He spanked me and told me what a bad girl I was, to be quiet. So from the onset of the sexual abuse with my father, it was very clear to me that I was a bad, evil person."

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At 17, Mackert was married off — to her stepbrother. She had three children in five years, before divorcing her husband. When elders attempted to marry her to her brother-in-law and she refused, Mackert was kicked out of the community, her children taken from her and told she'd abandoned them. The transition to life outside — without support and education — was a brutal one, and Mackert became involved with drugs and alcohol.

Mackert's sister, who's also left the community, had similar tales of abuse and coercion. A third woman explained that, as a young woman, you have literally no leverage without the community: "I was not legally in Canada. I had no papers and I had no money. I thought I had no other choice than to get married."

British Columbia is home to a large sect of the FLDS community, with some leaders and families moving between the Canadian and American bases. A change in Canadian laws could make this more difficult. Prosecuting issues like sexual abuse is notoriously difficult in closed communities such as the FLDS, where outside authorities have little access and residents may be unwilling to challenge the power structures. But testimony like this draws much-needed attention to the abuse fostered by such isolation — and the necessity of stopping it.

Polygamy Women Tell Tales Of Woe [The Province]

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DISCUSSION

The word "polygamy" gives me the skeevies because of its association to abusive cults, but I don't think that the most literal meaning of the practice is the issue here. The issue is that hyper-patriarchal religious groups are sequestering and abusing women and girls. Their practice of polygamy is a part of their culture that stands out as strange to much of the rest of us, and sometimes facilitates the abuse, but I think that the focus on polygamy is highly misplaced. The man mentioned in the quoted article did not sexually abuse his daughter because he had multiple wives, but because he is an abusive monster (and his abominable religion enables it further). I wish lawmakers would stop wringing their ineffectual hands over polygamy and fight the real problem.