Life in real world is a chal­lenge for kids raised in polygamy

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Pete Vere

The raid last month on a po­lyg­a­mist sect’s Texas ranch left more than 400 chil­dren from the Fun­da­men­tal­ist Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints in state cus­tody.

Un­der any cir­cum­stances, chil­dren have trou­ble ad­just­ing to a world in which their par­ents sud­denly are gone. But in this case, th­ese chil­dren likely will be put in an out­side world that they have been raised to see as evil.

To bet­ter un­der­stand their plight, The Wash­ing­ton Times spoke with three for­mer mem­bers of the FLDS as well as Rowenna Erick­son, a found­ing mem­ber of Ta­pes­try Against Polygamy (

The Utah-based or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­ports chil­dren and vul­ner­a­ble adults seek­ing to leave the polyg­a­mous lifestyle.

“Polygamy is one big male ex­cuse” for sex, Mrs. Erick­son told The Times, us­ing graphic lan­guage.

She grew up in the Lat­ter-day Church of Christ, a polyg­a­mous Mor­mon sect also known as the Kingston fam­ily. At age 20, she be­came the sec­ond wife of her older sis­ter’s hus­band; the cou­ple bore eight chil­dren to­gether.

“My chil­dren and I lived in dire poverty in a two-and-a-half bed­room house,” Mrs. Erick­son said.

Her hus­band lived sep­a­rately from the fam­ily, and she was pro­hib­ited from dis­clos­ing their true re­la­tion­ship to oth­ers — in­clud­ing to the cou­ple’s own chil­dren — so as not to raise the sus­pi­cion of the civil au­thor­i­ties.

“My chil­dren didn’t have a fa­ther,” Mrs. Erick­son said. “They had to grow up with my sis­ter’s chil­dren call­ing him ‘dad,’ while my chil­dren could never call him by any­thing other than his name. My chil­dren never had an iden­tity of a fa­ther.”

Nev­er­the­less, Mrs. Erick­son thinks that her chil­dren are more for­tu­nate than FLDS chil­dren who are raised as a group, be­cause many FLDS chil­dren also do not know their mother’s iden­tity.

“Th­ese chil­dren have dif­fi­culty bond­ing or re­lat­ing to oth­ers,” she said.

For­mer FLDS mem­ber Rena Mack­ert agrees. Born and raised in the FLDS, her ear­li­est mem­o­ries are those of be­ing se­verely beaten and “sex­u­ally abused by my fa­ther from the time I was three-and-a-half years old.”

As a teenager, Mrs. Mack­ert was as­signed to marry her step­brother, with whom she had three chil­dren. Shortly be­fore the cou­ple’s fifth wed­ding an­niver­sary, her hus­band, who had not taken a sec­ond wife, an­nounced that he was not a be­liever in polygamy and was fil­ing for di­vorce.

The FLDS sub­se­quently as­signed Mrs. Mack­ert to marry a man who was more than 30 years her se­nior and the hus­band of her sis­ter. Mrs. Mack­ert re­fused.

“They told me I had the spirit of apos­tasy [. . . ] and took away my chil­dren,” she said. “I was told they were con­ceived un­der the covenant of plu­ral mar­riages and that I no longer had a right to them.”

Her chil­dren were placed with her par­ents — a sit­u­a­tion that ter­ri­fied Mrs. Mack­ert, given her fa­ther’s abuse — and told that she had aban­doned them.

The FLDS ban­ished Mrs. Mack­ert from the com­mu­nity and pro­hib­ited her from see­ing her chil­dren. Only a chance en­counter with a lawyer led to her chil­dren be­ing re­turned about a month later. By that time, Mrs. Mack­ert had given up hope, not re­al­iz­ing what le­gal as­sis­tance and re­sources were avail­able to her.

This is one of sev­eral dif­fi­cul­ties that women and chil­dren face in adapt­ing to life in a non­polyg­a­mous so­ci­ety, she said. Ob­tain­ing ad­e­quate coun­sel­ing and ther­apy also can be dif­fi­cult.

“Any time I tried to get psy­chi­atric help, I had to ed­u­cate them,” she said. “It could take months.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, hav­ing been ex­com­mu­ni­cated from the FLDS for apos­tasy, Mrs. Mack­ert had no friends or fam­ily to whom she could turn.

Yet the most haunt­ing as­pect of de­part­ing the FLDS was the per­pet­ual feel­ing that she would be con­demned to hell for hav­ing re­jected polygamy.

“The only way they would al­low me to leave was for me to ac­cept that I was damned,” she said, adding that she was pet­ri­fied of peo­ple in the real world.

The chil­dren seized by Texas law en­force­ment will re­quire a lot of emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port, Mrs. Mack­ert said.

“Life in the FLDS is so re­stric­tive that when th­ese chil­dren fi­nally get out, be­liev­ing they’re con­demned to hell, un­less there are good peo­ple in place to help them nav­i­gate through all this the kids that have left have ended up with al­co­hol prob­lems, drug prob­lems, strip­ping and pros­ti­tu­tion, crime and prison,” she said. “When you be­lieve you’re damned to hell, you be­gin to live it.”

Young men are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to crime and prison, Mrs. Mack­ert said, be­cause they lack the ed­u­ca­tion and the skills to find em­ploy­ment, have been raised to dis­re­spect the laws of the out­side world and to “tell the truth to the FLDS but lie to ev­ery­one else.”

In what has been called the “lost boys phe­nom­ena” by so­cial work­ers and law en­force­ment, a large num­ber of teenage boys will find them­selves ex­com­mu­ni­cated for mi­nor in­frac­tions once they reach pu­berty.

“The older men don’t want fresh com­pe­ti­tion for the young girls,” Mrs. Mack­ert said.

The teenaged boys are then left on the street to fend for them­selves.

“Most of th­ese young men don’t make it,” Mrs. Mack­ert said, es­pe­cially if they’ve been sex­u­ally mo­lested. “Many end up com­mit­ting sui­cide.”

For­mer FLDS mem­ber Carl J. Holm un­der­stands all too well the plight of lost boys. The 44-year-old Utah res­i­dent left the FLDS when he was 16. His par­ents and most of his 34 sib­lings still be­long to the sect.

“It was nice to have a large fam­ily,” Mr. Holm said, “but we also had a lot of re­stric­tions.”

He was not al­lowed to leave his yard or as­so­ci­ate with other chil­dren in his neigh­bor­hood. He was phys­i­cally abused and heard sto­ries about sex­ual abuse from fe­males within the com­mu­nity.

“You have a girl who’s un­der 16 be­ing mar­ried off and hav­ing chil­dren,” he said. “That’s child abuse.”

Mr. Holm un­der­went his own le­gal dif­fi­cul­ties prior to leav­ing the FLDS.

“There was a lot of anger and bit­ter­ness in my life, and I was try­ing to strike out,” he said, adding that the re­sources avail­able to lost boys to­day were not avail­able when he left.

The polyg­a­mous lifestyle has af­fected Mr. Holm’s re­la­tion­ship with his own wife and chil­dren, he said. For in­stance, he is still timid about the out­side world.

For this rea­son, Mr. Holm has pro­vided shel­ter and sup­port to many lost boys mak­ing their way out of the FLDS and into wider so­ci­ety.

About half of the lost boys choose to leave be­cause they find the abuse and re­stric­tions un­bear­able, he said, while the other half are forced out when they be­gin com­pet­ing with the older men for the young women.

Mr. Holm sup­ports Texas’ re­moval of the chil­dren from the com­pound.

“This is not an is­sue about their faith but about what the FLDS is do­ing to young boys and girls,” he said.

Kath­leen Mack­ert, Rena Mack­ert’s sis­ter, ex­pressed the same feel­ings. As a vic­tim of abuse from a young age, she first tried to com­mit sui­cide when she was 6.

One week past her 18th birth­day, she was forced to marry her step­brother, with whom she had been raised in the same house­hold and who was 10 years her se­nior.

“We were rel­a­tively close in age com­pared to many mar­riages,” she said. “It’s very con­fus­ing emo­tion­ally; one day he’s your brother and the next day he’s your hus­band.”

Al­though Kath­leen Mack­ert was 18 when she mar­ried, sev­eral of her sis­ters mar­ried when they were 17, and she knows of younger mar­riages still.

“My brother mar­ried a 14-yearold,” she said.

Th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences take years of ther­apy to over­come, she said, be­cause even the most mi­nor in­ci­dent can trig­ger trau­matic child­hood mem­o­ries.

“I would have a com­plete ner­vous break­down if a man told me I was beau­ti­ful, be­cause that’s what my fa­ther would say be­fore he mo­lested me,” she said. “I ap­plaud the State of Texas for the way they’re han­dling this. What’s go­ing on down there has noth­ing to do with re­li­gion but with chil­dren be­ing abused.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Chil­dren and fe­male mem­bers of the Fun­da­men­tal­ist Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints are bused from the fa­cil­ity in which they were housed af­ter the raid on the polyg­a­mous sect’s Texas com­pound.

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