Bountiful Abuse – why something stronger was needed to stop a religious child abuse ring

In Creston BC, which is in the western section of Canada, the country where I live, there is an organized paedophile ring masquerading as a religion. The fundamentalist church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) bills itself as an orthodox stream of Mormonism (The mainstream Mormon church doesn’t agree).

Mormons originally allowed/encouraged multiple wives for their most powerful and affluent male members, and that practice died out when polygamy was outlawed in the area of the US (Utah) where most of them lived. Most modern Mormons (LDS without the F) only have one wife, although their religious doctrines still permit or encourage more than one. Christianity and Islam, of course, also allowed their wealthy men multiple wives too in ancient times.  There are lots of men in the Bible with multiple wives, including Joseph, David and Moses. In Islam, their prophet Mohammed had multiple wives. Joseph Smith, the founder/prophet of Mormonism and author of most of their scripture, said that he had received a divine revelation that not only allowed him to have multiple wives, but to ‘re-assign’ wives who were currently married to his followers to himself. This reassignment of wives from one man to another by religious leaders still occurs within the FLDS.

Anyhow, in my country, a small group of affluent men are, in 2011,  holding marriage ceremonies and having sex with multiple young women and children, who have been groomed to accept this practice from birth, in a place called Bountiful, near Creston, BC. Female children and girls are illegally transported over the border from and to FLDS colonies in the US to serve as ‘brides’ for the creepy patriarchs of this sect.

Let me be clear, as a Wiccan, my religious beliefs are entirely in support of people having multiple partners of whatever sex, or recognizing additional spouses with a ceremony, as long as there’s no coercion and everyone is of age.   One of the most widely held principles of my faith is that all acts of love and pleasure are sacred to the Goddess. Since an even more widely held Wiccan principle (possibly our only real area of unanimous agreement)  is ‘as long as it harms none, do as you will’, we also are against child sexual abuse.  Of course, as a childhood sexual assault survivor, I’m absolutely against children or teens having sex with adults for any reason.

As a married lesbian, I also don’t take the right to marry the person of my choice for granted.

So I can say in all honesty, that I’m one of the ones affected. I’m the one losing religious and social freedoms here, and I’m completely fine with it.

Since recently I’ve been exploring being ethically non-monogamous with my wife, I’m in communication with some polyamourous folk. They’re all in an uproar about a new court decision in Canada that puts minor limits on our freedom (Canadians can now legally have multiple common law partners but still not marry them in a religious or civil ceremony). It’s another one of those situations where I feel invisible as a child sexual assault survivor, and  where you really want to say:

“As a person who was repeatedly raped as a young child by a much older man with the complicit support of her mother, and complicit non-interference  of her parent’s friends, and culture, I think I have something to say about the difficulties of stopping systemic child sexual abuse in Bountiful. I know from experience that the existing laws are useless and almost impossible to enforce in this type of situation. It’s the perfect racket for abusers. This situation needs something stronger. If it is heavy handed, so be it. I also have something to say about child sexual assault. It’s evil. It’s close to the worst thing that can happen to a human being, and your petty little ‘I can’t hold a ceremony to celebrate my multiple love’  problem can wait until the children have been rescued from rape and slavery. “

In Canada, polyamory has been illegal for many years, and the attorney general is hoping to use that law to wipe out the child and woman abuse perpetrated at the FLDS colony at Bountiful. However, the FLDS has challenged the law’s constitutionality, which on the face of it seems like an easy thing to do. I mean, shouldn’t people be able to do whatever they want for relationships and marriage, particularly a religious thing? Aren’t there already child abuse and child trafficking laws that take care of the child abuse part of things?

Well yes, and no. Those of you who are also survivors of child sexual abuse, particularly those with complicit families or even abuser collaborators beyond that, know that laws are worthless if they can’t be enforced or aren’t enforced.

If children can’t know that what is happening is illegal, if they have no-one to tell,  if they’ve been brainwashed from birth to accept abuse, if their religious authorities condone or support the abusers, and if their caregivers are all complicit in the abuse, then absolutely no one can and will help them escape.

This was my experience and I am sure the experience of many of those reading this. Even perfectly nice people aren’t doing squat to help children who are being abused unless it’s blatant and they have someone effective on hand and willing to intervene. Effective intervention doesn’t happen all that much in my experience and the experience of dozens of survivors of  incest and child abuse I’ve known.  So forgive me if I don’t want to rely on the existing laws about child sexual assault (and the paltry penalties for people who are convicted of one of the worst things you can do to a human being). 

Fortunately, the FLDS lost their argument. The court upheld the anti-polygamy law, but clarified it to exclude multiple common law relationships, which are now officially legal. I read the decision handed down by my country’s supreme court and I’m okay with it, despite the fact that it limits my personal and religious freedoms as a polyamourous person and a Wiccan. The Canadian law, which is an old law recently clarified by the supreme court, criminalizes having more than one wife or husband. If people have a civil or religious ceremony to get married to more than one person, or are recognized by their community as being married to more than one person, they can go to jail. There is no minimum sentence, so I’m assuming they can sentence based on the harm done, which in the FLDS case is considerable.

The good news for ethical, egalitarian nonmonogamists is that, it does not criminalize multiple relationships, provided you don’t actually marry more than one of your lovers. If you want to live common law with more than one adult, that’s not illegal, so most my acquaintances with multiple partners are not doing anything illegal. Those of them with child custody battles will be and are relieved.

Personally, I’d like to just see heterosexual polygyny (having one man with  more than one wife) made illegal, because that’s the sole practice that has been shown, across the centuries, cultures and religions, to lower the marriage age of girls, increase antisocial behaviour in the young men who are not permitted to marry, reduce paternal investment in children, increase infant mortality rates, increase domestic abuse and reduce the autonomy and personal power of women. There is no evidence that women having multiple husbands or wives causes any problems, or that harms are inherent in situations where both partners are free to love other partners. It’s just the ‘rich guy with lots of wives’ situation, particularly in combination with religious sanction, that seems to be the troublemaker. However, I realize that there’s no chance that this will actually happen, I’m just saying.

The court decision actually explored and addressed the rather well researched harms of polygyny in upholding the law’s constitutionality. Since polygamy is most often practiced by very privileged men, they also dismissed the idea that they would be discriminating against a vulnerable, oppressed minority. They also addressed the community aspect of polygamist abuse, pointing out that FLDS members, most of whom saw nothing wrong with a 15 year old girl marrying a much older man, are incapable of identifying child abuse when they see it.

If these FLDS child abusers are unable to have holy sanction put on their ‘marriages’ to children, then I don’t see how they’re going to maintain the abusive marital ponzi scheme they’ve created. One wife and a bunch of concubines just doesn’t come across as well in a church doctrine, although I don’t doubt they’ll try it. If these girls aren’t married in their own eyes and those of their families, then all the religious rationale goes out the window.

More importantly, it is far easier and more straightforward to prove a marital relationship than child sexual abuse. We can send these abusers to jail and get them away from their  victims, and perhaps give those victims enough time and space to reclaim their autonomy and personal power and crush the whole paedophile ring. May it be so!

Civil libertarians will never understand this. They say ‘oh my gosh, someone is being prevented from doing some relatively minor thing they want to do, their freedom is limited!’. They’ll do court challenges with nice wholesome egalitarian polyamourous families who are, in fact, truly doing nothing wrong, and would probably never be arrested or charged under the law since the police have better things to do. If they do do this, they would once again be choosing the child pornographers, pimps and organized abusers over our most vulnerable souls. And if they do, I will curse them for it, for once again putting someones comparatively inconsequential freedoms ahead of protecting children and women from systemic sexual assault.

What about my freedom to grow up without being raped? What about these FLDS children’s freedom to live without being sexually exploited and coerced into child marriage with the participation of everyone they know? Isn’t that more important? Any sane person would think so, wouldn’t they? If I didn’t know that every day, sexually exploited children are abandoned and ignored, I would think they would have no other sane choice.

I hope they arrest all of these rapists and throw away the key as soon as possible.

May it be so.