Always a bride

A polygamy-centered religious sect in Utah and Arizona forces women to marry against their will. Why isn't anyone doing anything about it?

Published October 25, 2005 8:24PM (EDT)

The New York Times today published a story by Timothy Egan about the country's largest polygamous community, the neighboring towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. The community is run by a radical sect of the Mormon Church called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The sect's leader, 45-year-old Warren Jeffs, is currently a fugitive, wanted on charges of sexual assault because he allegedly forced a 16-year-old-woman to marry a 28-year-old married man. Despite his physical absence, he still manages to exert control over the community, teaching his followers that a man cannot go to heaven unless he has three wives. Jeffs himself has as many as 70, sources told the Times.

It's common practice in these two towns for women to be taken from their parents, husbands and children and reassigned to other husbands, often against their will. Women under the age of 18 are forced to marry older men. While local law enforcement has been assigned to the community for the past year to stop this practice from taking place, it has not abated.

The Times quotes high school teacher DeLoy Bateman, whose daughter's marriage was recently broken up when the church forced her to leave her husband and marry her father-in-law. "They tore up this marriage and ordered her to have sex with this older man," Bateman told the paper.

So to recap: In the United States there is a town in which young women are traded like playing cards, removed from their families, forced to have sex against their will, and denied the rights and freedoms afforded them by the federal government. Law enforcement has so far not done anything to actually help them.

Why hasn't the federal government stepped up to do anything about this? Not that anyone is gunning for a Waco reenactment, but given the administration's professed interest in the rights of women in the Middle East -- women whose freedoms have been curtailed by religious oppression -- is it possible that they it spare five minutes to consider communities within our own borders?

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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