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Deborah King

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Between the Sheets in Texas, and Everywhere

Posted: 04/12/08 09:59 PM ET

There's a "marriage" bed in a temple with rumpled sheets and a strand of female hair, which may well have belonged to a young girl forced to marry a much older man who probably already has any number of wives. And we're horrified.

Should we be? Yes.

Should we be surprised? No. Not at all.

Polygamy, sexual relations with young children, and incestuous relations all have long historical roots in patriarchy. Brother/sister, father/daughter, and mother/son relationships were practiced among royalty during the Pharaonic and Ptolemic periods in ancient Egypt. One well-known sibling spouse was Cleopatra. Ancient Greece elevated the practice of relations with young boys to an art. Going to our Judeo-Christian roots, the Old Testament reveals polygamy was not at all unusual. Abraham, Jacob, Esau, and David all had multiple wives. There was randy King Solomon, with his 700 wives (one of whom was his sister) and 300 concubines. Then there were Lot's daughters, who each had sex with their father to ensure their lineage.

Later Christianity condoned polygamy at certain times. In 1650, the parliament at Nurnberg said that because so many men were killed in the Thirty Years' War, every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. In Islam today, polygamy is allowed within the limit that men can only have up to four wives at any one time, as long as they can be equally well supported.

It's no wonder that polygamy, as well as sex with relatives and young children, is a part of our cellular memory, passed down through the generations, in all cultures and at all levels of the socio-economic spectrum.

The raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints compound in Eldorado, Texas, while bringing polygamy into media focus, also has the potential, according to ABC News, to "unravel what could be the country's largest child abuse case in the nation's history."

But child abuse is hardly news, or new. It is certainly not only a splinter LDS group that forces young girls to have sexual relations. No one is immune. No child is safe.

The most frequently quoted incidence of childhood sexual abuse in the U.S. is one out of every three girls and one out of every five to seven boys, although it is acknowledged that many many cases are not reported because of secrecy and privacy, and the incidence may actually be at least 60 percent for girls and 45 percent for boys.

I know this all too well. Up until the time I was twelve years old, I was abused by my father, and by a priest at the Catholic school I attended.

I know what it can do to your life. In my case, it led to sexual promiscuity as a teen and young woman, addictions to alcohol and Valium, an eating disorder, and a variety of illnesses and allergies -- all common when we're trying to keep such potent information secret. It was only when I got cancer in my mid-twenties that I stopped running away and started bringing my awareness to the root cause of my difficulties -- a long strenuous process that was well worth the effort.

The burden of shame that comes from incest (estimates from 1992 showed 20 million Americans had been the victims of parental incest as children) and childhood sexual abuse in general ruins the lives of both victims and perpetrators.

Those who experience sexual abuse, whether girls or boys, are prone to low self-esteem, trouble with relationships, sexual dysfunction, are three time more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. There is also a far greater risk of suicide.

Not a pretty picture.

The children from the Texas compound were psychologically imprisoned. Their abuse was not confined to sex; they were also beaten, brainwashed to be terrified of the outside world, given little education, and basically treated as possessions. The motto seems to have been that old throwback: Keep 'em barefoot and pregnant from as early an age as possible. Their entry into the "outside" world will not be easy.

What can we do to bring this scourge out from under the sheets and into awareness? We can stop keeping it so secret. When we begin to expose the truth of what so many of us have experienced, when we develop compassion for both the victims and the perpetrators (who in almost all cases were abused themselves), we can start to heal.

As I crisscross the country, working with thousands of people at events where they share their secrets with me, I know that many of our addictions, our illnesses, and our crimes can be traced to the abuse we suffered as children. How different would our society be if we could remove the trance of shame that keeps childhood sexual abuse under cover? Would women, like those at the compound, stop accepting their place as second class citizens?

Would your daughter or son be safer, grow up happier and healthier?

I'd like to think so.

 

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