Babies often tortured by fundamentalist polygamists: Witness

Calgary Herald/January 12, 2011

Vancouver - Water torture of babies is one way some members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day instil fear of authority, a former member testified Wednesday.

"It's quite common," Carolyn Blackmore Jessop told the constitutional reference case to determine whether Canada's polygamy law is valid.

"They spank the baby and when it cries, they hold the baby face up under the tap with running water. When they stop crying, they spank it again and the cycle is repeated until they are exhausted."

It's typically done by fathers and it's called "breaking in."

Jessop, who is from Arizona, testified about the practice during her testimony in B.C. Supreme Court.

Outside the courthouse, Jessop said water torture is common enough that there doesn't seem any shame attached to the practice.

In her cousin's baby book, there's a handwritten note by her mother noting that when her daughter was 18 months old, she was becoming quite a handful and, as a result, was being held under the tap on a regular basis.

In court, Jessop said water torture was one of the reasons that she gave for gaining sole custody of her children after she left the group in 2003. She said her ex-husband, Merril Jessop, used it on "a lot" of his 54 children including her own.

"Merril was very abusive," she said.

Abuse is one reason Jessop left the fundamentalist church, which has no affiliation with the mainstream Mormon church. As long as she stayed, Jessop felt powerless to protect her children from physical abuse because of the over-arching requirement of unquestioning obedience. The other is that her oldest daughter was 13 when the prophet, Warren Jeffs, began arranging marriages of girls as young as 14.

In the courtroom, Jessop testified that she was terrified of both her ex-husband and of Warren Jeffs, the current head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day who is in jail in Texas facing charges of bigamy and sexual assaulting girls.

"Polygamy is not pretty to look at. It is nice that it is tucked away in a dark corner where nobody has to see its realities because it's creepy," she told Chief Justice Robert Bauman, adding that her biggest concern is that polygamy and all of its consequent abuses are ignored by the courts and law enforcement.

Jessop favours decriminalization, but only if it means that abuses will be investigated and prosecuted including what she calls the "educational neglect" that results in most FLDS children - at least in the United States - growing up illiterate, unaware of their rights as citizens and unable to function in the outside world.

Yet in an interview, Jessop said even with tougher laws requiring education, it's unlikely that FLDS leaders such as her ex-husband (who is now a bishop) would follow them much less extend legal rights to women or stop the practice of abandoning boys who are surplus in a community where the older, powerful men arrange the marriages and take multiple wives.

Jessop is the granddaughter of Harold Blackmore, who founded the community of Bountiful in southeastern B.C. Her mother's family have been polygamists since Joseph Smith had his revelation about plural marriage in the mid-1800s.

Jessop was 18 when the prophet determined that she would become 50-year-old Merril Jessop's fourth wife.

In 2003, Jessop escaped from Colorado City, Arizona, with all eight of her children - including one who is severely handicapped - with $20 in her purse and barely enough gas in her van's tank to get past the religious police who watched over the town.

Although she eventually managed to gain sole custody of all of her children, her oldest daughter returned to the FLDS when she was 18.

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