Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Little Girls with Big Voices


I have been watching a fascinating trial on Court TV involving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), located in Utah (of course). The leader of the polygamous sect, Warren Jeffs, has been on trial for accomplice to rape and was found guilty this week. As of this writing he has yet to be sentenced.

The story is that a 14 year old girl named Elissa Walls was forced by her parents and community into marriage with her 19 year old cousin. This is common practice at the FLDS, as 14 is the age of consent in Utah and because the sect is polygamous and believes in multiplying as much as possible. They've got to get them out there and breeding as soon as they hit puberty. Elissa railed against the marriage but submitted, then eventually escaped and went to the Utah DA some years later, who then brought her case against Warren Jeffs. Warren Jeffs dictates the rules in his community and is considered to be God's voice by his large group of extremely devoted followers.

The children of the FLDS are home-schooled, usually up until about an 8th grade education. But the home schooling consists primarily of fundamentalist religious teachings. There is no sex education or information on how to get along outside their insulated community. There is no television or outside media allowed in, so the children are very naïve with hardly any knowledge of how the rest of the world works. The girls are married off very young, usually to men much older than themselves, and told that their holy mission in life is to procreate. Anyone attempting to veer from the mission is told they will go to hell if they do not listen to their prophet (Warren Jeffs) and behave as told.

Because it is a polygamist society, there is a necessity for a higher number of women than men. In order to facilitate these numbers, many teenage boys are driven from their homes and families out into a world that they know nothing about. They have no real education, and no means of supporting themselves so many end up homeless. In Utah they're called the Lost Boys.


This particular girl did not want to get married and cried and fought it very emotionally. But her family told her it was her duty and she had no choice but to submit. Once married she again cried and struggled against having sex with her new husband and that didn't go over so well either. She went to Warren Jeffs to ask him for help and he told her that it was her duty and that if she acted "sweet" towards her husband she would have an easier time, meaning she could go to the mall once in a while.

Eventually the girl got out with the help of an older sister who lived in Canada. Apparently a lot of them relocate to an area in Canada, it's sort of an outpost for the FLDS rebels. She has since divorced the original husband and remarried. She is 21 now and spoke at a press conference following the conviction. The video is HERE. She was very articulate and the speech was very moving, and I think what she did was impressive. She went up against her entire family and the only way of life she'd ever known to make a change, when she could have just taken care of herself and never looked back.

I come from parents who encouraged me to be whatever and whomever I wanted to be. The fact that my sister and I are female was never a factor in our upbringing and our thoughts and decisions were treated with respect even when, in my case, they weren't always the wisest or most prudent. I appreciate how incredibly lucky I am, as woman remains, in the words of John Lennon, the nigger of the world in many parts of the world. Although in this case it sounds like half of the men of the FLDS aren't getting too great a deal either.

I'm blogging it for a number of reasons. First, it's simply a very interesting case both story-wise and from a legal angle. Second, because I believe that Warren Jeffs' FLDS and other sects like his need to be shut down, and the first step in doing that is to bring public awareness to the situation. And third, because I am moved by Elissa Walls bravery and determination: one little girl with an 8th grade education and no means beyond her supposed value as a cog in a breeding machine managed to get herself heard and to make a dent in a cult leader's hold on his large following.

That's pretty cool, and pretty fucking badass, as far as I'm concerned.



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