When 15-year-old Debbie Palmer was told she was to become the sixth wife of a man 40 years her senior, it never occurred to her the union was anything but ordinary. Raised in Bountiful, B.C., since she was two, Palmer had been taught her role in life was to serve her husband and raise children.
"It was not considered unusual at all," said Palmer, now 49. "We were just taught to believe we were in God's protected community."
Seventeen years later Palmer would flee the fundamentalist Mormon community forever after several of her children complained of abuse at the hands of male elders.
Palmer, co-author of the book Keep Sweet -- Children of Polygamy, will be the featured speaker Friday at the Fort Garry Hotel for a presentation and roundtable discussion on the sexual exploitation of children in polygamy.
The event, which is sold out and will include speakers on both sides of the polygamy debate, is organized by Beyond Borders, Child Find Manitoba, Soroptimist International, UNIFEM and the Council of Women.
Stories like Palmer's highlight the need to raise the age of sexual consent in Canada to 16, said lawyer and Beyond Borders president Roz Prober. The age of consent in Canada is now 14.
Prober said the government often trivializes efforts to lower the age of consent.
"So we thought 'Where is there an example where children are being exploited and there are barriers to law enforcement?' The perfect example is what is going on in Bountiful, B.C."
Palmer's presentation will be followed by a panel discussion about the age of consent.