2 Apr 2011

Research from over 170 countries shows polygamy causes extreme violations of women and children's rights

The Wall Street Journal - April 1, 2011

Polygamy: More Common Than You Think

Data show that plural marriage is a disaster for women's rights.


Polygamy is a popular punchline these days, from HBO's drama "Big Love" to TLC's documentary "Sister Wives" and the Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," written by the creators of "South Park." Yet plural marriage is as serious an issue as it's ever been—and is even on the rise in the West.

Warren Jeffs, the infamous leader of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints sect, is in an Arizona jail awaiting trial on charges of bigamy and sexual assault. North of the border, Canadian authorities have been trying to nab his co-religionists. In 2009, prosecutors charged Winston Blackmore and James Oler, two leaders of the fundamentalist community in Bountiful, British Columbia, with polygamy.

The case was thrown out on a technicality, but now Canada's anti-polygamy statute, which dates to 1890, is being put to the test in a so-called "reference case." In effect, the government is seeking an opinion from the court on whether the statute is valid. Opponents say that it violates the country's commitment to religious freedom. "Consenting adults have the right—the Charter protected right—to form the families that they want to form," Monique Pongracic-Speier of the Civil Liberties Association has said.

Supporters of the statute say that it's not about persecuting religious outliers or maintaining a traditional definition of family for its own sake. Rather, it is about protecting human rights. The case has begun to inflame passions far from the rural communities of small Mormon breakaway groups.

Polygamy—or more specifically polygyny, the marriage of one man to more than one woman—has been widespread in human history. And it is becoming increasingly common, particularly in Muslim enclaves—including in Paris, London and New York.

A 2006 report by the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights reported that approximately 180,000 people were living in polygamous households in France. For decades, France allowed entrance to polygamous immigrants from about 50 countries where the practice was legal. When the French government banned polygamy in 1993, it tried to support the decohabitation of such couples if a wife wanted to move into her own apartment with her children.

In Britain, where immigration laws have banned the practice for longer, there appear to be about a thousand valid polygamous marriages, mostly among immigrants who married elsewhere, such as in Pakistan. Such families are allowed to collect social security benefits for each wife, although the government has apparently not counted how many are doing so.

In the United States, where numbers are more difficult to come by, anecdotal reports indicate underground communities of polygamists in New York City, particularly among immigrant communities from West Africa.

Where the practice remains common in Africa it cuts across religious lines. But in the West, it has been concentrated among Muslims and breakaway Mormon sects. Under Islamic Shariah law, a man is allowed to marry up to four women as long as he can provide for them equally. This should constitute a limiting factor, especially under conditions of poverty. But one way polygamists circumvent this problem is by getting their governments to support unofficial wives whose ambiguous legal status allows them to make claims for aid.

There are more serious problems that come with the practice of polygamy. My research over the past decade, encompassing more than 170 countries, has shown the detrimental effects of polygynous practices on human rights, for both men and women.

According to the information I have helped to collect in the Womanstats database, women in polygynous communities get married younger, have more children, have higher rates of HIV infection than men, sustain more domestic violence, succumb to more female genital mutilation and sex trafficking, and are more likely to die in childbirth. Their life expectancy is also shorter than that of their monogamous sisters. In addition, their children, both boys and girls, are less likely to receive both primary and secondary education.

This is at least partly because polygynist cultures need to create and sustain an underclass of unmarried and undereducated men, since in order to sustain a system where a few men possess all the women, roughly half of boys must leave the community before adulthood. Such societies also spend more money on weapons and display fewer social and political freedoms than do monogamous ones.

When small numbers of men control large numbers of women, the remaining men are likely to be willing to take greater risks and engage in more violence, possibly including terrorism, in order to increase their own wealth and status in hopes of gaining access to women. Whatever their concerns about protecting religious freedom, or demonstrating cultural sensitivity, Western nations should think twice before allowing the kinds of family structures that lead to such abuses.

Ms. McDermott is a professor of political science at Brown University.

This article was found at:


Author who escaped abuse in US polygamy cult explains why Canadian constitutional case is so important in both countries

Stop Polygamy in Canada website has notes taken by observers in the courtroom as well as links to most of the affidavits and research the court is considering in this case.

Religious practice not above the law, polygamy consumes its young says Attorney General of BC in closing argument

Summary of positions in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy as court begins hearing final oral arguments

Lawyer says extraordinary evidence in Canadian case shows polygamous society consumes children, harms women

A review of the Canadian constitutional case on polygamy after completion of testimonies

Canadian Muslim polygamists closely watching landmark constitutional case on Canadian polygamy law

Economics professor considers financial aspects of polygamy that create inequality

Legal expert tells Canadian court polygamy prohibitions and monogamy tradition pre-date Christianity

B.C. government expert in polygamy case sets out long list of social harms, societies that abandon polygamy do better

Polygamy expert tells court in constitutional case that it reduces women's freedom and equality and leads to forced marriage

Polygyny and Canada’s Obligations under International Human Rights Law (pdf)

Research paper submitted to B.C. court in constitutional case documents harms associated with polygamy

Bountiful evidence that polygamy harms women and children - constitutional case likely to reach Canadian Supreme Court

Some religious practices, such as polygamy, are inherently harmful and should not be tolerated in modern society


  1. Polygamy just doesn't make sense


    There isn’t a shred of evidence that polygamy benefits women. Even the UN, often a laughingstock of blind ideologues, has declared that polygamy violates women’s equality rights.

    Still, that hasn’t stopped academics (who should know better) from suggesting that polygamy be decriminalized.

    The latest educator to jump on the decriminalization bandwagon is U of A poli-sci professor Lois Harder. In a recent study written for the Vanier Institute of the Family, Harder wonders if women in polygamous families might be better off if polygamy wasn’t a crime.

    “Decriminalizing polygamy would not entail expanding the definition of marriage to include polygamous marriages,” she wrote. “Rather, it would provide a firmer foundation from which to protect women and children in polygamous relationships from exploitation.”

    Yeah, right. Remove polygamy from the Criminal Code and all those young girls and women who’ve been brainwashed by the men in Bountiful, B.C., and other polygamous communities will shake off the shackles of exploitation and go to university to become doctors, lawyers and, oh, poli-sci profs.

    “In contexts in which exploitation is not presumed to be at issue, the question arises as to why polygamy … should not be accorded some legal status,” Harder argues in the paper, After the Nuclear Age, in which she explores recent developments in Canadian family law.

    It’s incredibly naive to believe that polygamy can exist without the exploitation of women. The females in these dysfunctional relationships may not think they’re being taken advantage of. They may, in fact, insist they freely chose such a lifestyle.

    After all, what woman wouldn’t want to get married in her mid-teens to someone old enough to be her father or grandfather, drop out of school, have a baby every year and share her husband with a bunch of sister-wives?

    Isn’t that every woman’s dream?

    Proponents of polygamy, or polyamory, describe it as “responsible non-monogamy,” Harder notes. “This phrasing challenges the presumption of promiscuity, immorality and the twinned responses of moral repugnance and titillation that often accompany popular representations of non-monogamous relationships.”

    This presumes that women in polygamous relationships, like those in the demented fundamentalist Mormon communes in Canada and the U.S., had any real choice in the matter.

    On the contrary, any stirrings of free will are stamped out from the time these females are toddlers.

    They are bred solely to satisfy the sexual and narcissistic needs of a bunch of male control-freaks who try to disguise their misogyny as religion.

    (The young men in these communes are also victimized, pushed out of the communities so they won’t compete with older men for the brainwashed young women.)

    Polygamy is simply incompatible with equality and basic human dignity. It’s soul-destroying and merely feeds the deranged dictates of pathological egotists.

    While these fundamentalist Mormon megalomaniacs shun the outside world, they have no problem “bleeding the beast” — or hitting up the government for welfare for all their wives and children.

    Harder suggests that recognizing polygamy would help women in these relationships because legal status would confer obligations and entitlements — presumably things like property rights and financial support.

    “If Canada was to extend various forms of entitlements and obligations to people as a result of the existence of interdependence, it may well be that people participating in polyamorous relationships would benefit,” she writes.

    And pigs will fly.


  2. Polygamy is crime; enforce the law

    Vancouver Sun Editorial November 25, 2011

    For many years, successive B.C. attorneys-general refused to charge polygamists in Bountiful, and the excuse was always the same: The law likely infringes the polygamists’ freedom of religion, the A-Gs maintained, and therefore the law would not withstand a constitutional challenge.

    Like many predictions, that went down in flames this week, as B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman upheld the law. He concluded that while the law does infringe freedom of religion, the infringement is justified because polygamy is inherently harmful.

    Indeed, Bauman spent a great deal of time reviewing the testimony of expert witnesses who have studied polygamy in both fundamentalist Mormon and Muslim communities around the world. In every case, they found that polygamy harms women, men and children.

    Women in plural marriages tend to suffer from higher rates of depression and other mental health problems, and are also at greater risk of physical abuse than women in monogamous relationships. Polygamous women also enjoy little economic freedom or security, particularly if and when they end the relationship.

    Yet while women are often unequal to men in polygamous communities, the men, too, suffer. Notably, given the competition for brides, many young men are drummed out and forced to survive in an unfamiliar world with little in the way of education or life skills.

    As one can gather, children might very well suffer the most. Children of plural marriages experience higher rates of abuse and neglect, higher rates of emotional and behaviour problems, and lower rates of educational success.

    It was this testimony of the harms of polygamy, and the fact that they seem to occur whenever and wherever polygamy exists, that led Bauman to conclude the practice is inherently harmful. That provided him with good reason to conclude that the polygamy law is a reasonable infringement of the right to freedom of religion.

    But it provides something else as well: Specifically, it provides law enforcement with a good reason to pursue charges against polygamists in B.C. Since the law has withstood a constitutional challenge, the fear that the law will be struck down is gone. But more importantly, given the myriad harms caused by polygamy, law enforcement risks compounding those dangers if it refuses to do its job.

    Certainly, Bauman’s decision might be appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal and ultimately, to the Supreme Court of Canada. And, certainly, those courts could come to a different conclusion. But given the finding that polygamy is inherently harmful, it will be difficult to strike it down.

    In any case, an appellate court decision is months, or more likely, years away. During that time, many women, men and children could be adversely affected. If law enforcement personnel refuse to proceed, then shame on them. And if we, the people of B.C., fail to demand that law enforcement does its job — if we allow the situation in Bountiful to continue — then shame on us.


  3. Iranian women fight controversial ‘polygamy’ bill

    Amnesty International November 30, 2011

    On a summer night in 2008, the wives of some Iranian members of Parliament started receiving phone calls.

    “Would you mind if I married your husband – just for a week?” asked the female voice on the end of the line.

    The callers argued that taking another wife is a Muslim man’s right. By allowing it, the MPs’ wives would be performing a good Islamic deed. Some of the wives hung up in shock.

    But marrying the MPs was the last thing the callers actually wanted. In reality, they were women’s rights activists opposed to a controversial “Family Protection Bill” which the Iranian government proposed in 2007.

    The activists say they discovered that at least 65 male members of the country’s 290-strong parliament had two or more wives. This is despite the fact that polygamy contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iran has ratified. Article 23 stipulates that states must ensure that men and women have equal rights when marrying or at the dissolution of marriage.

    If passed, “The Family Protection Bill” would reduce Iranian women’s rights even further, allowing men to take up to three additional wives without the consent or knowledge of their first spouse. Iranian law currently allows Muslim men to have up to four wives, but only after obtaining a court order demonstrating the permission of the first spouse and his ability to treat them all equally. For women who depend entirely on their husband’s income, sharing that with a second, third or fourth wife can mean severe financial hardship.

    According to Shi’a Islam, Iranian men can already take any number of “temporary wives” without informing their first wife. The length of a temporary marriage is defined in advance and can last anything from hours to decades. Temporary wives generally face social ostracism, and their children may face difficulties in accessing public services such as education because if the marriage is unregistered, it may be hard for the mother to prove paternity. ...

    Women’s rights activists are urging the Iranian authorities to outlaw polygamy, grant equal divorce and custody rights and create laws tackling domestic violence.

    At the moment married women in Iran can be prevented from working, leaving the country or pursuing further education by their husbands. It is difficult for a woman to divorce her husband without his consent – even if he has been violent towards her. If she remarries after divorce, she loses custody of any children.

    Activists say provisions in the new bill will make it even more difficult for women to obtain a divorce, leaving thousands at risk of continued domestic violence, which is not currently criminalized under Iranian law.

    Four years after its inception, the bill has still not been passed, largely because of widespread opposition from a broad coalition of women’s groups.

    A ban on polygamy is unlikely to happen soon in Iran even though the UN Human Rights Committee – an expert body charged with overseeing the ICCPR – says the practice should be abolished because it violates the dignity of women. For change to happen, external pressure is needed, says Roya Kashefi.

    “The international community needs to reinforce the voices of Iranian women and raise the alarm about this bill which will leave Iranian women even more vulnerable,” says Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

    “Instead of enhancing equality between men and women, Iranian MPs are seeking to take women’s rights a step backwards and to yet again disregard international law,” she added.

    read the full article at:


  4. More rape and violence among polygamists: Study

    ERICA BULMAN, QMI AGENCY January 23, 2012 Toronto Sun

    VANCOUVER - In cultures that permit men to take multiple wives, the sexual competition between men for the remaining women causes more murder, rape, violence, kidnapping and poverty than in monogamous societies, a new University of British Columbia-led study shows.

    “The scarcity of marriageable women in polygamous cultures increases competition among men for the remaining unmarried women,” said UBC’s Joseph Henrich, a cultural anthropologist who served as an expert witness for the B.C. Supreme Court case involving the polygamous community of Bountiful.

    That increases the likelihood men will resort to crime to gain resources and women, the study said.

    The study suggested institutionalized monogamous marriage is rapidly replacing polygamy because it has lower levels of inherent social problems.

    “Our goal was to understand why monogamous marriage has become standard in most developed nations in recent centuries, when most recorded cultures have practiced polygyny,” Henrich said.

    The study suggested institutionalized monogamous marriage is replacing polygamy because it has lower levels of inherent social problems.

    “Our findings suggest that that institutionalized monogamous marriage provides greater net benefits for society at large by reducing social problems that are inherent in polygynous societies.”

    The study was published in Monday’s edition of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.


  5. The puzzle of monogamous marriage

    by Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson

    The journal of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society


    The anthropological record indicates that approximately 85 per cent of human societies have permitted men to have more than one wife (polygynous marriage), and both empirical and evolutionary considerations suggest that large absolute differences in wealth should favour more polygynous marriages. Yet, monogamous marriage has spread across Europe, and more recently across the globe, even as absolute wealth differences have expanded. Here, we develop and explore the hypothesis that the norms and institutions that compose the modern package of monogamous marriage have been favoured by cultural evolution because of their group-beneficial effects—promoting success in inter-group competition. In suppressing intrasexual competition and reducing the size of the pool of unmarried men, normative monogamy reduces crime rates, including rape, murder, assault, robbery and fraud, as well as decreasing personal abuses. By assuaging the competition for younger brides, normative monogamy decreases (i) the spousal age gap, (ii) fertility, and (iii) gender inequality. By shifting male efforts from seeking wives to paternal investment, normative monogamy increases savings, child investment and economic productivity. By increasing the relatedness within households, normative monogamy reduces intra-household conflict, leading to lower rates of child neglect, abuse, accidental death and homicide. These predictions are tested using converging lines of evidence from across the human sciences.

    Read the full study at:


  6. Utah Defends Anti-Polygamy Law, Saying It Prevents Abuse

    ABC News June 2, 2015

    By LINDSAY WHITEHURST Associated Press

    SALT LAKE CITY —Utah state attorneys defending the state's anti-polygamy law argue it should stay on the books because it protects women and children from abuse.

    The Utah Attorney General is appealing a ruling striking down key provisions of the law in the case of Kody Brown and his four wives, stars of the reality TV show "Sister Wives." The state says in newly filed court documents that monogamous marriage is an important social unit and court rulings dating back to 1878 have upheld laws against polygamy.

    "The United States Constitution does not protect the practice of polygamy as a fundamental right," state attorney Parker Douglas wrote.

    Brown family attorney Jonathan Turley countered Monday that the state's evidence of widespread abuse in polygamous communities is scant and the Browns show such unions can be healthy.

    "As with monogamous families, the state has ample laws to prosecute individuals for abuse or other crimes," Turley said in an email to The Associated Press.

    The state is requesting oral argument in the case and Turley is preparing his response. He has said the family is prepared to take the legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
    Utah is appealing a 2013 ruling that struck down key provisions of the state's anti-polygamy law.

    U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups decided that a provision of the state law forbidding cohabitation violated the polygamous Brown family's freedom of religion.

    But Utah contends that some religious practices can be outlawed, and polygamy should be one of them, according to documents filed Friday before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. The state argues the practice can be associated with crimes like sexual assault, statutory rape and exploitation of government benefits. Outlawing it helps investigators gather evidence and strengthens cases against abusers, court documents say.

    The Browns sued Utah in 2011, after they fled to Las Vegas when a county prosecutor threatened to charge them following the premiere of the "Sister Wives."

    Advocacy groups for polygamy and individual liberties called the ruling in their favor a landmark decision that removed the threat of arrest for Utah's polygamous families.

    The decision decriminalized polygamy, but bigamy — holding marriage licenses with multiple partners — is still illegal. If the ruling stands, Utah's law would be like most other states that prohibit people from having multiple marriage licenses. In most polygamous families, the man is legally married to one woman but only "spiritually married" to the others.

    The teaching that polygamy brings exaltation in heaven is a legacy of the early Mormon church, but the mainstream Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibits it today.


  7. “Polygamy stunts a woman’s mind”: “The Sound of Gravel” author Ruth Wariner on her fundamentalist Mormon childhood, becoming a feminist and life after leaving the church

    An exclusive joint interview: Wariner with her cousin Anna, daughter of the rival prophet who assassinated her dad

    by KRISTEN MASCIA, Salon January 3, 2016

    Growing up in Colonia LeBaron, Mexico, a fundamentalist Mormon colony six hours south of the New Mexico border, Ruth Wariner rarely felt safe.

    She was 3 months old in 1972 when her father, Joel LeBaron, the head of the polygamist Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times, was brutally murdered, assassinated in a plot concocted by his brother, Ervil, the leader of a separate sect.

    They called Ervil LeBaron the Mormon Manson. In the 1970s and ’80s, he ordered the deaths of dozens more of his religious rivals.

    For years, Ruth says, she lived in fear, terrified her uncle would send henchmen to kill her and the rest of her family.

    “Ervil was the monster of my childhood, this ghostlike, dark figure,” she says. “I never met him, but he was a constant threat.”

    Sadly, as Ruth details in her gripping new memoir, “The Sound of Gravel” (Jan. 5, Flatiron Books), he wasn’t the only monster in her life. The third of her mother’s 10 children, Ruth suffered hardship after hardship, from neglect to sexual abuse.

    Somehow, says Ruth, 43, now a Spanish teacher based in Portland, Oregon, “I recovered.” But her journey of healing continues.
    Recently Anna LeBaron, one of Ervil’s 50-plus children, found Ruth on Twitter and reached out to her. The pair met in early December and now hope to gather their families for a reunion next summer on the Oregon coast.

    It’s been a symbolic exchange. “Even though there’s no way to repair the damage that was done to her family, in my own way, I feel as if I’m doing my part to help right a wrong,” says Anna, 47, who lives in Dallas and is giving Ruth’s book a boost through her GoodReads community. “Knowing her is a gift.”

    In an exclusive joint interview—their first together, ever—the cousins shared their story with Salon.

    This is an edited distillation of interviews conducted by phone and via email.

    You two started talking in November. Tell me about those early conversations.

    Ruth: I’d never heard Anna’s name before she tweeted at me in November. I was like, Anna LeBaron…she must be related to me. Our first conversation was fascinating and overwhelming. We had so many similar stories.

    Anna, were you nervous to meet Ruth? You had nothing to do with your father’s crimes, of course—you were a child when it all went down. But did you harbor guilt about what he did to Ruth’s dad?

    Anna: At first I was just glad she didn’t block me on Twitter! [laughs] But no, once we started talking via email and on the phone, I was not at all afraid to meet her. I have had to overcome a tremendous amount of shame about my father’s atrocities in my life, but “guilt” isn’t an accurate word.

    What was your first reaction when you met?

    Ruth: I saw her and thought, Oh my god, she looks like family! She felt like family, like I’ve known her all my life.

    Anna: We sound alike and have similar features—both of us look like LeBarons. We’re also close in age, so it was a little like seeing myself in the mirror. I gave her a big hug. We kept saying to each other, “Can you believe this?”

    One of your shared experiences is that both of you grew up without your dads. Ruth: Your mom was your dad’s fifth wife. She was 17 when they married; he was 42. You were only 3 months old when he died, right?

    continued below

  8. Ruth: Right. In LeBaron we were taught that my father was the prophet—people literally worshipped him, so I did too. Some of my earliest memories involve my mom telling me how his brother, Ervil, had him killed, so I always had this mystical idea of him. He was this Christ-like figure who sacrificed his life for his church.

    Anna, what are your memories of your dad, Ervil?

    Anna: I was 9 months old when we left Colonia LeBaron, and just 4 years old when my father had Ruth’s dad killed. Throughout my early childhood, he was running from the law. I don’t remember much, except that he was very tall. When he was home, I’d rarely see him; he’d come and go in the night and hole up in the back bedroom, avoiding windows because he didn’t want to be seen. I don’t even recall speaking with him.

    Ruth: Were you scared of him?

    Anna: I wasn’t afraid of him because I didn’t know what was happening. We knew to revere him and to be quiet around him, but I was completely unaware that people were dead in his wake. Even when he went to jail, I didn’t know the reason. We were always told we were being persecuted for our beliefs.

    Did you ever pine for your father, Ruth?

    Ruth: I’ve been envious of other people who have strong relationships with their fathers, absolutely, but honestly, growing up, I didn’t know what I was missing. The only time I really missed having my father was when I was abused. That’s when I remember getting on my knees and asking God, “Why didn’t you give me a father to protect me?”

    Your mom married your stepdad not long after your dad died and quickly expanded her brood. He was neglectful and abusive; you and your siblings lived in a shack in Mexico without electricity and often scant access to nutritious food, which upset your grandparents.

    Ruth: Right. My grandparents were part of the church for years, and my mom’s sisters also ended up in polygamist marriages. My grandfather used to say, “I saw my daughters suffer too much.” The men were hardly ever around and were getting their wives pregnant constantly. My mom was having babies as a teenager with an old man, living on beans and eggs.

    Malnutrition played a role in at least one of your sibling’s disabilities, right?

    Ruth: Right. My younger sister Meri had hydrocephalus, a condition where fluid accumulates in the brain, typically in young children, that can cause brain damage, and my older sister Audrey was never officially diagnosed with autism, but the women who help take care of her now believe she has it. But, yes—my family thinks my brother Luke [who is mentally disabled] may have been born with malnutrition.

    Your grandparents and aunts left the church. Why did your mom stay?

    Ruth: I think my mom found a place where she felt like she belonged. She believed the same things they did and felt supported in those beliefs when her family rejected her. And I think marrying my father, the prophet, when she was so young made her felt special. The LeBaron brothers were powerful, charismatic men.

    You write with such tenderness for her, but you also describe some pretty unconscionable behavior. She’d leave you for days to go on the road with your stepfather when you and your siblings were still small children. That’s tough to rationalize.

    Ruth: Part of it was just the LeBaron culture: women left their children alone all the time. All the men worked in the States, and the women left their children with babysitters or the eldest daughters.

    continued below

  9. But I think, too, that my mom was severely depressed. It hurt her that she didn’t have a say in her own life. She did the best she could, she was a very loving person, but I don’t think she loved having all these children—three of them disabled on top of it. And she was brainwashed. When you get brainwashed, I think you sort of lose yourself, lose your common sense. Unfortunately the religion became more important to her than other things, and we all paid the price.

    Anna, does Ruth’s upbringing sound familiar?

    Anna: Reading Ruth’s book was kind of like reading my own story. The poverty, the lack of supervision. There were times, like
    Ruth experienced, when my mother would be gone for days, if not weeks, and we were left in the care of older siblings. Sometimes we’d have to look in dumpsters for food. Ruth mentions mush in her book, and mush was part of my childhood as well. Any type of grain that could be ground up and cooked, we ate.

    As you detail in the book, Ruth, you were sexually abused by your stepfather for four years, starting when you were 8. Was it hard to write those passages?

    Ruth: It was. There were a lot of tears. I rewrote the scenes several times, and sometimes, as I was writing, I would feel the self-doubt I felt as a little girl creep back in, like Did this really happen? I had to validate myself, tell myself Yeah, this was wrong, this happened and it was not okay. Even now, when I reread those scenes, it’s a little bit hard for me. My heart starts to race a bit. I feel like I left a lot of that pain on the page.

    The hardest part was what do I tell, and what do I not tell. I actually had a conversation with my therapist about how much detail I should go into. I wanted the book to be palatable, but I also wanted it to be the truth. It was important to me to tell that side of the story, even though it’s hard to read.

    You told your mom about your abuse on two separate occasions, but she refused to leave your stepdad. She died when you were a teen; after that, you went to live with your grandma in California. When you reflect on that time now, what do you make of your mom’s inaction? Do you resent her for that?

    Ruth: I was definitely angry at her for not protecting me. After the second time I told her, when I’d found that my stepsisters were being abused too and still decided to stay—that broke my heart. I still feel that raw anger sometimes, still have dreams where I’m yelling at her. Letting go of that has been a process. I’ve had years of therapy.

    How did what happened to you affect your relationships with men as you got older?

    Ruth: I didn’t trust men, both because of the abuse and because I hadn’t been around them a lot. I could never flirt; I was never the kind of person who could put herself out there. I always had trouble dating, and especially in my early 20s, was always attracted to men who didn’t feel the same way about me. I would date these people that were kind of apathetic; they weren’t mean or abusive, but they weren’t emotionally available. As I grew into my early 30s, I began to recognize that I kept putting myself in the kinds of relationships my mother had been in, where the man kind of cared, but not really. Once I recognized that, I was able to move forward. And as I took better care of myself—got my education, got a job, started making money—the quality of the men in my life improved too. I got married at 36, and that was about when I was ready. I think I had to go through that process to find the right man.

    continued below

  10. With your abuse history, were the physical aspects of being in a romantic relationship difficult?

    Ruth: Yes, when I was younger. Back then I would have sex with men way too quickly. I think I allowed myself to be taken advantage of. I didn’t set boundaries.

    As your healing has evolved, has your relationship with sex changed?

    Ruth: I’m much more comfortable in my body and in my sexuality now than I was when I was making those choices in my 20s. I definitely enjoy my body more than I ever did when I was an insecure kid, recovering from abuse.

    Anna, does this echo for you? Were you uncomfortable around men?

    Anna: “Echo” is a good word for it. We were raised knowing that we were going to become one of multiple wives, so we were taught be subimissive. It’s taken lots of therapy for me to come to know who I am, and to learn self-care. Learning self-care when you’re taught to sacrifice all—

    Ruth: And not feeling ashamed or guilty about it!

    Anna: Yes! Understanding that self-care is important—not selfish—was a huge part of my growth process.

    What do you think a religion like the one you grew up in does to a woman?

    Ruth: I think polygamy stunts a woman’s mind. My mom didn’t think about or do anything outside her religion. She always craved love, but Lane didn’t give her special attention, and I know she felt neglected. She was also tired all the time. Her body never recovered from having one baby before she would end up pregnant with another. She cried a lot, and suffered with migraines.
    Polygamy is emotionally and psychologically hard on women and children.


    Anna: I think it’s hard for a woman to share a man. Women born into polygamy are taught that avoiding jealousy is a sign of godliness, but nothing, in my opinion, could be further from the truth. A woman in that situation has no choice but to compartmentalize those emotions.

    What is your relationship to religion like these days?

    Ruth: In college I took classes to learn about other religions. For me it was freeing to realize that I had a choice to make about God. I was always a prayerful child, and I still believe in God and pray. But I struggle with organized religion, with the idea of a man telling you how to live your life. My dad and a lot of his brothers claimed to be the prophet. There’s a huge ego trip there! When you condition children to believe that boys are more important, that men should always be served first, that everybody needs to be quiet in the presence of the big, mighty man…I’m still pissed about that. I’ve spent a lot of my life teaching myself that I matter, that I have a voice, that when I walk into a room, especially a room of men, I am equal to everyone in it, not less-than. That’s been a big part of my healing.

    Would you call yourself a feminist?

    Ruth: I am definitely a feminist!

    What would you tell young women of LeBaron today?

    Ruth: I would advise them to get a good education, to travel and see other parts of the world, and to experience other ways of living before deciding to enter into a polygamist relationship.

    And I’d tell them to start taking birth control.

    Kristen Mascia is a writer and editor in Brooklyn.