2 Feb 2011

Mormon polygamist survivor tells court babies smothered to keep quiet, emotional and spiritual abuse worse than sex abuse

The Vancouver Sun - Canada January 17, 2011

Lonely childhood recalled at B.C. polygamy case

By Daphne Bramham | Vancouver Sun Columnist

VANCOUVER -- Cold, lonely, isolated and hopeless was how Brenda Jensen described her childhood growing up in polygamous communities in Canada and the United States.

"We [the children] were empty vessels, disposable vessels for their use," she said of the powerful men who controlled the fundamentalist Mormon communities in Bountiful, B.C. and on the Arizona-Utah border. "We had no emotions, no dreams and no thoughts. We were [taught] to be empty."

Jensen testified Monday in the constitutional reference case being heard in B.C. Supreme Court, which will determine the validity of Canada's polygamy law.

Obedience to the so-called priesthood leaders was of paramount importance. The training began soon after birth with babies' cries smothered by a parental hand.

"A baby was never to interrupt," said Jensen, who left the group in 1968. "There were also lots of spankings and restraints but the smothering down was probably the most damaging."

Last week, Jensen's niece Carolyn Jessop testified. Jessop who escaped with her eight children in 2003 told Chief Justice Robert Bauman that water torture of babies is one way that members -- usually men -- in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints instill fear of authority.

Babies are spanked until they cry and when they do they're held face up under running water until they stop crying. The process is repeated until the baby is too exhausted to cry after being spanked.

In addition to being physically abused, Jensen told the court that she had also been sexually abused as a child in Bountiful.

But, voice thick with tears, Jensen said the emotional abuse was worse.

"The unworthiness, the never being good enough, the not having a parent who was accessible to talk to when things happened to you that you couldn't explain it. Even if you had the courage to bring it up, it was disclaimed as God's will. You must have done something wrong.

"It was the self-loathing. The hopelessness of thinking that you're never going to get out and it's never going to get any better so you might as well give up and let them do whatever they wanted to you."

Jensen's father, Harold Blackmore, was raised as a mainstream Mormon in Rosemary, Alta. But the more he read and studied, the more he became convinced that to live the religion fully, it had to include polygamy. His wife, Gwen, reluctantly agreed on the condition that Harold's second wife was her sister, Florence.

In 1946, Harold bought the 80-acre farmstead near Creston that has become known as Bountiful because it was remote and had easy access to the United States along an old rum-runners' trail that made it easy to avoid using the border crossing to bring in new wives or send young men to work in the twin towns of Hildale, Ut. And Colorado City, Ariz.

Soon after moving there, Harold married Florence. Jensen is the third of Florence's five children.

Harold had 15 children including several who were adopted at the same time as the birth of his older children so that they could grow up like twins.

From the time she was 14, Jensen was terrified about who she might be assigned to marry. Since the group, which later became the FLDS, believed that the priesthood heads got a revelation from God about who was to marry whom.

At 16, Jensen was told that she was going to be assigned as the 13th wife to Marion Hammon, a powerful, cruel and abusive man, who was close to 40 years older than her. One of Jensen's sister was his 11th wife.

"I was terribly terrified of him," said Jensen. "But my father gave me some advice. I didn't have to marry him. Those were the happiest words I've ever heard in my life. He actually would back me and not make me go through with it. He would not sell me into slavery."

Still, she agonized over the decision.

"It was a horrible thing for a young person to do, to go against God . . . God. It meant challenging everything you've been taught, directly disobeying the very thing you are brought into this world to do [get married and have as many babies as possible]. It overwhelms you."

Jensen said no to the marriage and a few months later, her family left the FLDS but moved to a town close enough that if any of her older siblings chose to leave they would have a place to come to.

However, she and her family were apostates and were as if dead to the ones who remained behind. Had it not been so, Carolyn Jessop would have had a safe place to go in 2003. Her father was Jensen's half-brother, but Carolyn never knew Jensen or her grandparents.

Jensen's parents remained together all their lives - "They all loved each other" - and Harold remained convinced that polygamy could work for like-minded adults.

But from what Jensen saw and experienced, she has concluded it can never work and that for women and children, it is nothing more than slavery.

A mother of three adult daughters, Jensen lives in Mesquite, Nev. There she volunteers with Hope Organization, which helps people who have left the nearby FLDS communities of Colorado City and Hildale get housing, training and jobs.

The hearing resumes Wednesday morning with Truman Oler scheduled to testify. Oler is the 32nd of 48 children fathered by Dalmon Oler, another of Bountiful's patriarchs. Truman, whose full brother is Bountiful's bishop Jim Oler, left the FLDS eight years ago.

Jim Oler was one of two men charged with polygamy in 2008. Those charges were later stayed. Although originally expected to testify, Jim Oler has decided not to testify. And unlike in a criminal proceeding, witnesses can not be compelled to testify in this constitutional reference case.

On Wednesday afternoon, the first current member of the FLDS is expected to testify and unlike the others who will follow, Elena Darger has waived the anonymity that the chief justice agreed FLDS members could have in order to avoid future prosecution.

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