28 Oct 2010

Woman Offers 'HOPE' After Polygamy Life

CBS4 Denver - May 13, 2009
Written for the Web by CBS4 Special Projects Producer Libby Smith

COLORADO CITY, Ariz. (CBS4) ― In the remote lands along the Arizona/Utah border, there are small close-knit communities practicing a 100-year tradition that is forbidden - polygamy.

The area is home to the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints or the FLDS. Removed from mainstream America, residents here live simple lives made complicated by a practice they feel is deeply religious but also illegal.

"My father had 19 wives and 75 children. There were 11 mothers growing up in my house when I was growing up and about 30 kids," said former FLDS member Sara Hammon.

Hammon's father was one of the driving forces behind the FLDS in an area called Short Creek, near the twin cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. Hammons father eventually formed a splinter group, but she says all was not well at home.

"In my situation, there was a lot of sexual abuse…physical, emotional, psychological, just about the whole gamut of abuses going on," Hammon told CBS4.

When Hammon was engaged to be married at age 14, she fled the church. Now she's on the board of an organization called HOPE that helps other women leave.

"I do have an issue making little girls marry older men against their will. I have an issue kicking the boys out so the numbers work out so men can have five wives," said Elaine Tyler, founder of HOPE.

Just a few years ago, Tyler was a pharmaceutical representative living in Littleton, Colorado. When her husband was relocated with his work, Tyler found herself in a whole new world. She had no prior experience with polygamy, but saw a need to help men and women who wanted to leave. Through HOPE, Tyler was able to offer them money, furniture, jobs, mentoring and all the help they needed to start a new life from scratch.

"They come out. They've led very sheltered lives have been told that outsiders are wicked and that nobody is going to help them if they leave. And I'd kind of like to show people that there are nice people out here," Tyler told CBS4.

The Fundamentalist church of Latter Day Saints teaches that a man needs at least three wives to reach the highest level in the after-life. Stephanie Colgrove grew up in a family where her father had three wives and 30 children. She was then placed into an arranged polygamous marriage.

"What was it like being in a marriage with 3 wives," CBS4's Rick Sallinger asked Colgrove.

"The first wife of the man I married, her and I were compatible. We had things we could talk about. I could see life being very pleasant, but every once in a while you get things that stir the pot," she explained.

Colgrove left polygamy by arranging to visit another state. She later came back to the area with a new husband and got financial assistance from HOPE. Now the couple uses their home as a refuge for others.

In an interview, FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop insisted to us that those who want to leave can leave, the Church doesn't kick out boys and doesn't condone underage marriage.

"Are women forced into marriage?" Sallinger asked Jessop.

"No relationship can ever work with force," Jessop responded.

When those inside want to leave, Elaine Tyler is there to help.

"It's so worthwhile, it's something I feel I need to do," Tyler added.


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