“Loyalty,” Secrets, Separatism, and Child Sexual Abuse in Polygamy.
We sympathize with and support the woman who recently made sexual abuse allegations against her father, AUB polygamist leader, Lyn A. Thompson. However, we do not support her and her polygamist “husband’s” attempts to make political capital out of that abuse by blaming Utah’s anti-polygamy laws.
Linking sexual abuse accusations to a demand for Utah to stop resisting “the decision to strike down its anti-cohabitation laws “ appears manipulative in this context. It not only provides a convenient excuse for the non-reporting of abuse, it also serves these TV polygamists’ agenda to get laws changed in their favor. As this family is well aware, there are families living almost on their doorstep in AUB who have dared to report sexual abuse without having children “ripped away” by the state. We suggest that there are other compelling reasons for hiding the problem of sexual abuse within polygamy.
AUB and other polygamists do not hide away in separate communities because they are afraid of the law. Everyone knows where these communities are, including the police, and Utah has ignored these locations for decades. The true purpose of living in such places is not to evade the law, but to avoid being “contaminated” by the “evils” of outsiders. Legalizing or decriminalizing polygamy will not change this mindset.
Here are some other reasons why polygamist communities breed sexual abuse.
1. Loyalty to the “priesthood” is vital. Keeping secrets stops outsiders (and cult members) knowing about serious problems. Keeping quiet or even ”lying for the Lord” are acceptable ways of upholding the cult’s name. Dealing with problems in-house has always been popular, but victims in these cults have been unwilling to come forward as their leaders frequently ignore or disbelieve them.
2. Incest thrives in super-patriarchal societies where women are overburdened or depressed, and where girls are forced into the role of “mini mothers.” This happens when mothers cannot cope with their own feelings or an abundance of children and domestic work. Sibling incest may occur for similar reasons where boys and girls are forced into parenting roles. Polygamy provides the perfect conditions for incest as children raise other children. Other sexual abuse becomes likely where women with large families have little to no help from the father of their children, and find it hard to keep track of where their children are, whom they are with, and what they are doing.
3. The high incidence of intermarriage between a few families means that almost everyone is related to everyone else (family wreath syndrome). Normal boundaries are further blurred where men take “wives” who are sometimes the same age as these men’s biological children. Children are encouraged to call non-related adults, “uncle” or “aunt.” In polygamy, many children are exposed to large numbers of related and unrelated adults with free access to them. Research shows that most children know their sexual abusers. Because of this the odds of sexual abuse are higher in polygamy.
The truth is, in some sense the state of Utah IS responsible for the continuing sexual abuse of children in polygamist communities. Abject apathy by the state for decades has allowed polygamy to flourish, and with it the ever present likelihood of sexual abuse.