Monday, April 7, 2008

Kids, and Plygs, and Tilda Swinton

Of course you’ve all heard about it by now:
From CBS News via AP:
“More than 400 children, mostly girls in pioneer dresses, were swept into state custody from a polygamist sect in what authorities described Monday as the largest child-welfare operation in Texas history.

The days-long raid on the sprawling compound built by now-jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was sparked by a 16-year-old girl's call to authorities that she was being abused and that girls as young as 14 and 15 were being forced into marriages with much older men… Still uncertain is the location of the girl whose call initiated the raid. She allegedly had a child at 15, and authorities were looking for documents, family photos or even a family Bible with lists of marriages and children to demonstrate the girl was married to Dale Barlow, 50.”

Let me say at the onset that I have a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to child abuse—particularly sexual abuse of a child. If these children were being married off at such young ages (and no, I don’t believe any of it can be considered “consensual”) then that absolutely constitutes child abuse in my mind. I don’t believe the law should allow any kid to be married before age 18—regardless of parental consent. I mean, what good could come of it? If, indeed, that’s what was happening, then by all means, get those kids out of there. (And, while you're at it, can we charge these folks with erecting an eyesore? I didn't think west Texas could look any worse...but I'll be damned!)

But there’s another issue at hand here—are these folks being unfairly targeted because they’re polygamists? No, I don’t subscribe to the same doctrine at the core of FLDS beliefs. (In fact, every time I hear them referred to as “fundamentalist Mormons,” I cringe a little…only moments after waking from my stress-induced coma.) But there are multitudes of lifestyle choices to which I do not subscribe, yet I do not believe differences between us gives the government a free pass to raid at will.

For example, anyone recognize the name Tilda Swinton? Well, let me introduce you. Tilda Swinton is an Academy Award-winning actress (2008, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, “Michael Clayton”.) She lives in Scotland, with Scottish painter John Byrne, the father of her twins, Xavier and Honor. However, she maintains a relationship with Sandro Kopp, a New Zealand painter, while continuing her live-in relationship with Byrne. She has been with Kopp since 2004 and the relationship has Byrne's blessing.

I do not agree with Tilda Swinton’s lifestyle. I think she’s a weirdo of monumental proportion and I think her living arrangements demonstrate a gross degree of selfishness. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that what she’s doing is by far worse than what the polygamists are doing. (After all, when plygs sleep around, at least they publicly vow binding, life-long commitments to those with whom they make babies, right?) But I would not support a raid on Tilda Swinton’s home based on an unsubstantiated allegation, nor do I think anything of the sort would ever take place, simply because, in our culture, infidelity is a more acceptable lifestyle choice than is polygamy.

Now, my guess is there’s something we don’t know—maybe the raid was based on more than the phone call, maybe the phone call was the last straw—who knows? In addition to that, we have to consider location—after the Branch Davidian episode, you can’t expect Texans to suffer residents of “compounds” of any sort.

But, there was a report yesterday of a “standoff” at the FLDS temple wherein members would not grant access to law enforcement officials who were, ostensibly, in search of the girl who’d made the initial phone call. This was as disturbing to me as the entire rest of the story. How would I feel, how would I respond, given the same situation? Would I grant government access to a building I believed to be holy simply because the government had demanded it? It’s a hard call.

I’m wanting some feedback here, people!


Aryn said...

Oh my. Do I dare leave my thoughts in a comment? I don't express myself well, and I tend to ramble. Cheryl, since you have to approve these first, feel free to NOT publish my comment and just read it for your own amusement :). I'll scare all your readers away with my incoherent thought!

I watched Larry King last night, though I almost can't even watch the news because to me it is like a news report on a major fire: you see someone standing there in front of the fire (or, in this case, compound), spewing out random facts that are meant to explain the fire, and yet you never get a complete picture and you never quite figure out what is actually going on (is anyone with me on the fire thing? Or is it just me? Stories on fires leave me frustrated).

This story raises so many more questions than answers. I don't know that I buy that it all began with one phone call earlier this week. I wonder if the State of Texas has been planning this "raid" for awhile. I mean, you HAVE to know that you are not just going to go in and pluck out one girl. And yet. I imagine the police ALWAYS go out for a visit if they get a call that someone is being abused. Why should the fact that this person is locked away from society and/or there may be a mass suicide cause the police to change up protocol? (I almost think it is TOO easy to bend all the rules in the name of religious tolerance). Then the news tonight made it sound like they went in there and saw several pregnant kids. If that is the case (that they just discovered this abuse), why did they remove 400 people? What evidence did they have that the very small children were being abused? (By all accounts, these people will NOT speak out against their men). And even if this DID involve an attack on religion, removing 400 people from such a secluded world is a HUGE undertaking. Would they really do it suddenly (without planning), and/or without concrete evidence? Maybe.

I thought - until I watched Larry King - that they removed many "women", but someone just said they didn't pull out anyone over the age of 18 (?!).

I also can't quite wrap my brain around the claims of abuse. Even if girls as young as 16 (or 18, or whatever the case may be) are allowed by law to marry, they are (obviously) still being abused in that they are forced into the marriages (and sex) against their will. I suppose that's where (general) rape charges come in. And of course if kids can marry at 16, anyone marrying and/or having sex with girls under the age of 16 should face statutory rape charges.

That part I get. But there's SO many other questions: why the incest? Why the abuse of young children? Would their hubs and fathers have time for all that? Would that many mothers let their children be abused? Is this a rule, or the exception to the rule? Just because a man (or woman) has the ability (and perhaps came from an environment of abuse) to treat others like that, would he? I guess studies say yes...

And finally, trying to sort out the different sects gives me headaches. I heard a woman say that the kids from the compound didn't know what to do with crayons. And someone else said there are no swingsets there. Really? I've been through CO City many times, and there are always (unless it's a Sunday) kids outside laughing and playing, riding bikes, on swingsets, even jumping on trampolines. And there are polygamists (and their kids) in the St. George Walmart all the time - hardly locked away. So perhaps the compound is a different group (I know from talking to a couple of guys in CO City that that group had split up, some people had left "the church". And last night I heard (sorry to keep being so vague with my sources :)) a man say that he thinks the TX compound is in fact a group of "chosen" people from CO City, and quite possibly almost completely the seen of Rulon and/or Warren Jeffs.)

So, my friend, the fascination and the questions abound. I find the 'survivor' stories interesting, and yet still vague (and sometimes skewed) somehow. I don't know that we'll ever get a full picture of what life is like for polygamists!

As for the mess TX has gotten itself into, I only hope they're as equipped as they need to be to handle the situation and not screw these kids up even more... and I highly doubt that. If in fact they determine that the kids need to be permanently removed from these homes, I think TX officials may have bitten off more than they can chew....and there will be consequences we can't even imagine right now.

ok, I really need to quit rambling. I'm only embarrassing myself. Well, and you. But mostly myself.

One Southern Belle said...

Yeah, Aryn--you and I are in the same place on this, I think. First of all, we need more details on this. Frankly, I this the state of Texas would is doing itself a grave disservice by leaving the public guessing on so many issues related to this incident. And by "incident" I mean..... (Sorry folks, just a little inside joke, there!) Wow, I kind of wish I'd seen Larry King last night. (Although I'm certain it would have left me frustrated as well.)

Yeah, I'm not clear on the differences between all the different polygamist sects and, unfortunately, Wikipedia's treatment of the subject wasn't all that extensive. As for all the reports that these kids didn't know how to use crayons, didn't know who their biological mothers were, etc.--WEIRD! Then again, how accurate is that information? (I often comment on the fact that every single time the news reports on any topic about which I have some personal knowledge, it is inevitably grossly erroneous.)

At any rate, in no way do I believe this raid was the result of a single phone call; rather I believe the state had been looking for a reason, probably for quite some time, to go in with guns a blazin' in an effort to bust this whole thing up. And for all I know, Texas is absolutely justified in their actions, BUT if there is justification, by all means, make it publicly known.

Look, NO SANE PERSON will argue that abuse of children needs to be overlooked in the name of religious tolerance. If those men are guilty of child abuse, then put a needle in their arms--the world will not miss a child abuser. And if their mothers are found to have allowed it, then stone them. (Wow--do I sound harsh?) But, at the same time there are other moral and civic issues at hand--primarily privacy issues, parental rights, limits on government, freedom to worship, etc., etc.--that must be considered. My fear is that they haven't been.

Aryn said...

In reading a little more today (including the affidavit), they claim that they went in there based upon a couple of calls from one girl (and from what she says, they were justified). Then they saw a bunch of pregnant kids. ok, pull those girls out. But to decide that this is a "wide spread practice" and that ALL of the kids are in (immediate) danger... I didn't really see any basis for that conclusion in the affidavit (which makes me think that, yes, it probably has been planned for awhile). They must protect the children, but I can't help but be saddened for all these kids - getting ripped from their homes would be terrifying enough, but getting thrown into a world you've been taught is evil is that much more traumatic. And I'm sure they've been warned in the past about persecution/something like this happening.

And (again, in reading more this morning), it looks like thre were about 400 kids (under 18) and then more than a hundred additional women/mothers who left voluntarily (anyone know if this is right?) I will be curious to see how it all goes down in the end. I'm sure these women won't just let their children go. And I'm sure they also fully intend on returning to the compound. And I can't see the men on the compound just letting their families go.

The biological mother thing - you would think at first glance that the kids (understandably) just won't tell, but I think many of the smaller ones may really not know.

I am horrified by how long my first comment was - I am SO not suited for civilized society!!

One Southern Belle said...

Okay, first of all, are you kidding me? I LOVE your comments! The longer the better as far as I'm concerned.

And yes, it's alarming to enter a religious compound and see a bunch of pregnant teenage girls. That's how I felt when I first came to BYU! Seriously, I'd run up to all these really young pregnant girls and demand, "Who DID THIS to you?" Of course, those girls were generally in their very early 20s, NOT living in a cloistered society (depending on what you think about Wymount) and pursuing higher education. Such an observation brings me to the end of this tangent and on to my next point, which is this:

Maybe the Texas officials were well-intentioned. Maybe they were just doing what they thought was best for these kids, but in the end, did they actually take a bad situation and make it worse? I'm with you Aryn, I think these kids will be traumatized. In addition, I think overkill reactions such as this only serve to justify the claims of FLDS leaders and galvanize followers. Furthermore, I think the FLDS people (and other polygamist groups) will see this as justification to become even more distrustful of anyone outside their sect and consequently withdraw further from society. Frankly, that's the last thing those kids need, and I'll tell you why.

I'm gonna lay this out--see if you follow the logic: For reasons stated in my original post (re: the Tilda Swinton, situation) I'd much prefer that folks who are going to fool around and make babies with multiple people actually make some sort of legal, binding commitment to their partners and children. I could argue this from a public health standpoint, a family law perspective, etc.

While I do not subscribe to or support either lifestyle, I maintain it is better for us to expect some sort of accountability for personal choices that impact society as a whole. Thus, if men and women choose to enter into such arrangements of their own free will and choice, then so be it--I see it as far less damaging to society than absentee fathers, deadbeat dads, welfare mothers, etc.

Okay, hopefully you're still with me:
Note the caveat--"of their own free will and choice." That is key. When kids grow up in a cloistered, cult-like environment (again, NOT referring to Provo here) their choices are naturally seriously limited, simply because they are unaware--they're classic victims of imperfect information, thus making rational choice an impossibility. If they don't know they have options, then, let's face it, they DON'T have options.

On the other hand, when you can freely observe the options before you and make a conscious choice, you can then choose rationally AND have integrity about your decision.

I fear that episodes such as Eldorado will add fuel to fire for many polygamists. I think you're right Aryn, I think they will view this as prophecy fulfilled and, as a result, retreat further from general society, taking their little one with them. The sad consequence, of course, being limited exposure and even fewer choices for these kids.

Aryn said...

ok, I'm rolling over the Provo comments/comparisons. (who DID do that to all those poor BYU girls? FOR SHAME.)

Watching more Larry King... there was a BED in the temple/eyesore?! And sometimes the marriages will be consummated in front of people?! That's just weird, right? I mean, you did the ceremony. The girl will turn up pregnant almost immediately. Do you REALLY need the consummation part recorded?

I agree with your thoughts. These girls absolutely do not have a choice. I don't think this is about polygamy (if this were consenting adults, we really wouldn't care), but I DO think it may be - to some extent - about sticking it to a group of people who are 'different.'

Maybe it's my sweet angelic innocence, but I want to believe there are good people who simply believe in the principle of polygamy (hello, mainstream Mormons). And if the goal really is just to populate the earth, it ALMOST makes sense to get started as soon as a girl (or boy) can conceive (of course, this begs the question whether boys (or at least the ones not kicked out) are getting started at 14-ish). And if your parents married you off at 14, you might do the same thing to your daughter...

These people (clearly) are not interested in the law of the land, only in the law of God, so I don't think they will adjust their practices (i.e. not marry girls off until they're 18). One guy was chattering on about how officials warned Warren Jeffs awhile ago to "lay off the young girls", and Warren essentially gave them the finger back. I guess we'll see how the men react to their families being taken, but I think it will have no effect on their beliefs, nor on their practices.

I guess we'll see how it all unfolds...

One Southern Belle said...

What??? A bed in the temple/eyesore? Okay, I feel about that the way I feel about smoking--there is NO WAY POSSIBLE an adult human being can honestly believe that is okay.

And for the record, assuming I were a member of the FLDS Church and my membership depended on me doing it in front of a bunch of folks, then NO THANK YOU--all bets would be officially off.

Is that their thinking in exercising polygamy--the goal is to populate the earth ASAP? Actually, to me that sounds like a line a horny old guy would feed a gullible/faithful young girl--you know, convincing her that sleeping with is her duty to the greater good? I mean, didn't you see Grease II? Remember the scene in the bomb shelter? Well, I do:

"Let's do it for our country
the red, white and the blue
It's not much to ask from us
Our parents will approve.."

Yeah, I'm pretty sure Warren Jeffs saw that movie too and thought, "You know, it's so crazy it might just work!"

Rich said...

An interesting debate. I have actually been thinking a lot about this one. I agree with everything that has been said by you and Aryn. I really don't have anything very intelligent to add. This is a super-sticky situation and it seems that while something needed to be done, not everything that was done should have been done and will only be more detrimental to many of these kids.