Despite the recent well-publicized and deeply disturbing child molestation trial of self-proclaimed polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs, TV reality show polygamist Kody Brown and his trendy wives and family seem to be everywhere these days. Their TV show, "Sister Wives," is a big hit. They are constantly sought after for interviews and talk show fodder, and are even up for an Emmy nomination. It seems like every time I turn on the television I am seeing or hearing stories about their "...unconventional -- yet somehow relatable family." Unfortunately, that type of terminology, which is doled out in heaping portions by the media, has a dramatically different meaning for me than for others who seem to have been smitten by the show.
For more than seven years, as a private investigator I have been investigating and researching similar polygamous societies, but mainly the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and its outlaw prophet, Warren Jeffs, who is now serving a sentence of life plus twenty years in a Texas prison. With respect to the polygamous cultures that I have been dealing with over the years, that type of unschooled and reckless terminology makes me recoil. I can only hope and pray that the depravity of child abuse and the degradation of women and children to the status of chattel will never be thought of in such a callous manner as simply- unconventional yet relatable.
In my world, unconventional doesn't mean four mommies showing up for back-to-school night; the FLDS do not send their kids to public schools. If they're lucky, the children may receive the equivalent of an eighth grade education before being sent out to work on a construction job, or to become mothers themselves. Admittance into the bride pool can begin within a few weeks after a child's twelfth birthday. "Mother" is the person who raises and nurtures you as a "daughter in Zion" over the course of those short formative years. She then takes you by the hand and places it in the hand of a man decades older, in an arranged "spiritual sexual union," alongside that man's several or many other "sister wives." That's what I call unconventional!
And it's not just the girls and women who are victims of these polygamous practices. Think about the math. The normal male to female ratio in any given population is approximately 50/50, including polygamous societies. So if a family's religious ambition is to gain as many wives as possible, what is to become of the leftover male population? Kody Brown has four wives, but many men have eight, ten, twenty, even more than eighty wives. The more wives a man is able to acquire, the higher his religious standing in the polygamous caste system. So what happens to those boys?
One way or another, they're discarded and cast out. Abandoned by their families, cut off without contact and forcibly ejected. One of the earliest FLDS cases I worked on involved many of these "lost boys." It's heartbreaking. Just a few weeks ago, at Cottonwood Park in Hildale, Utah, a fifteen-year-old boy crashed the party of a group celebrating the Fourth of July. The partiers were a handful of former FLDS members who had had the good fortune to break the strangle hold of the unconventional culture they had been brought up and indoctrinated in. In an act of desperation, the boy approached the group of strangers and pleaded for help. The picnickers reported the sad events surrounding the boy's story: "His dad told him that he was 'no longer welcome at the family home' and told him to 'come and get his stuff,' which his family threw all over the lawn while screaming at him that he was going to go to 'burn in hell.' Someone helped him pick up his things and hauled him down to St. George for the night, where he had found a temporary place to stay." This is just one example of hundreds of similar stories I've heard or participated in over the course of my investigations. Unconventional - yet somehow relatable?
When I arrived home one evening a few weeks ago, I hurriedly turned on the television, hoping to catch a news story concerning a case I was working on. It involved a client that had recently been banished from his home, family, community and lost his livelihood, all at the behest of FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs - my client's brother. No reason was given -- but the worth of young girls is greater than a truck load of gold and are the most sought after prize. My banished client was scared to death that his brother Warren, who is awaiting child rape charges in Texas, and who has in excess of eighty wives himself, would dole out my client's daughters as underage brides to other polygamous church leaders, and quite possibly assimilate some of my client's family into Jeffs's own. So, he made the unconventional decision to sue to try and recover his children and wife before it was too late.