Summit to discuss issues of polygamy
The Salt Lake Tribune
Rowenna Erickson believes abuse in polygamous
communities is greater than outsiders can imagine.
So the former plural wife is
applauding a summit scheduled for Friday that will bring together
government officials from Utah and Arizona to discuss issues related
to polygamous communities. Erickson calls the meeting, which will be held
in St. George, a good first step.
"It looks to me like they're
covering a lot of bases," said Erickson, a Salt Lake City resident who co-founded
Tapestry of Polygamy, an anti-polygamy group. "Hopefully, they'll
see how big the problems are."
At the summit, representatives
from law enforcement and social services will discuss how to prevent
child abuse, how to fight fraud and how to set up a safety net among
various social and government agencies to assist people in polygamous
communities in southern Utah and northern Arizona.
The summit was called by Utah
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, whose office
won a conviction last week against a polygamist.
The first hour will be open to
the public, followed by a private three-hour meeting. There also will be
an open session after the closed-door meeting, said Paul Murphy, a
spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office.
just a start," Murphy said. "This is where we begin, and we're
going to be doing more."
The work by the participants is
geared toward the twin communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where most residents
belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The fundamentalists split with the mainstream Mormon faith, which
abandoned polygamy in 1890, and still believe in taking plural wives.
Canadian officials were invited
to Friday's summit because of the ties between Colorado City and Hildale with the
polygamous community of Bountiful, British Columbia. They were unable to
attend, but may come to future gatherings, Murphy said.
But Salt Lake City attorney Rod Parker is
questioning the value of the summit, saying it could even be
Parker, who has represented FLDS
members for 12 years, said no representative of the polygamous community
was invited to the meeting.
Parker said excluding FLDS
members marginalizes them and makes them less likely to seek out social
"The solution is not driving
them further to the margins of society," Parker said. "Let them
be part of the solution."
Murphy said the summit was set up
for officials to discuss issues in private and that all members of the
public -- including polygamists -- can attend the public sessions.
Hildale Mayor David Zitting, a member of the FLDS Church, said the meeting could be
useful, depending on what's discussed.
However, he said, "If it's
specifically for coming after the people of this community, I take that
as an affront."
He added that Hildale residents
already know about social services that are available and use them when
Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow
was out of town this week and could not be reached for comment.
The summit comes about a week
after Rodney Holm, on leave from his job as a Hildale police officer, was
convicted on two sex charges and one count of bigamy. The charges stemmed
from his "spiritual" marriage to 16-year-old Ruth Stubbs when
he already was married to another woman.
Erickson claims that abuse of women
and children stems from polygamous unions and is one of the biggest
problems with polygamy.
Women suffer in both body and
spirit from being under the complete control of their husbands, she said.
"It is the cruelest, most
horrible form of life that could ever be perpetrated on women," she
said of polygamy.
A lawyer north of the border says
the women of Bountiful face the same problems.
Vaughn Marshall, a Calgary attorney who represents
former plural wives planning to sue to get their share of assets from
their marriages, said that the church gets most of its members' income
and that the women must rely on their husbands for support.
If the women leave the marriage
after dedicating themselves for years to the union, they get nothing.
"Once a person reaches
puberty, they belong 100 percent to the priesthood [the church]," Marshall said. "When you have
that amount of control, there's bound to be abuse."