Polygamy primer gets admonished

Tapestry Against Polygamy: The AG's Office comes under fire for being too lax

Salt Lake Tribune/February 19, 2005
By Brooke Adams

An anti-polygamy group Friday lambasted a polygamy primer recently published by the Attorney General's Office as being ineffective in stopping "horrendous abuses," particularly those involving children.

Tapestry Against Polygamy also said Friday that officials in Utah and Arizona are soft-pedaling on polygamy, having prosecuted just three abuse cases in four years.

The guide, released in January and designed to aid law enforcement and social workers, needs sections on cult awareness, psychological effects of polygamy and its correlation with domestic violence and child abuse, Tapestry said.

"The stark reality is this: You are dealing with individuals who have been duped into a fanatical religion, which compels them to break the law and take advantage of others," the group said in a press release.

Paul Murphy, spokesman for Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and the primary force behind the primer, had his own harsh words for Tapestry, which he said until now declined to be involved in shaping the primer.

"We're doing everything we can to protect victims," he said. "If Tapestry is aware of more crimes that should be prosecuted, please bring us the evidence and we will investigate and prosecute."

The primer, available online at http://attorneygeneral. utah.gov/polygamy.html, includes a history of polygamy, a glossary and descriptions of Utah's polygamist groups and their practices.

Murphy said reaction to the primer has ranged from high praise to complaints that it's overly negative. "It is an organic document. We expect it to change," he said, adding Tapestry's suggestions will be considered.

Tapestry's reaction illustrates its hard line on polygamy, which distinguishes it from other groups and individuals who want to root out crime and abuse, but not to infringe on the rights of those who believe the practice of plural marriage is a religious obligation.

Linda Kelsch, a co-founder of Principle Voices of Polygamy, was among hundreds of people who gave the state suggestions about what the primer should cover.

"I'm appalled but not surprised that Tapestry is criticizing it since they refused to really contribute to it," she said. "It would be refreshing to see Tapestry help victims instead of exploiting them."

The state, she said, is still grappling to understand polygamist culture, but "worked hard to do a good job" on the primer. "I hope that it serves victims of abuse in polygamist families," Kelsch said.

To do that, the primer will have to go beyond what it currently offers, said Rowenna Erickson, a co-founder of Tapestry.

"The AG's office still doesn't get it," she said. "They still can't understand what we're doing and what polygamy is. It appears to us they just want to be peacemakers and patronize the polygamist women."

Tapestry said that since the 1950s, the number of children living in polygamist households has exploded and "there are tens of thousands of children who are denied a quality life because our state has taken a hands-off approach towards polygamy."

It said the state should work to free and "rehabilitate" former polygamists rather than enable the lifestyle.

Tapestry also contends that polygamous communities need education about the difference between "power and control relationships" and "healthy partnerships."

In fact, several polygamist groups - Centennial Park and the Apostolic United Brethren, for instance - have held education sessions on abuse, health topics and other issues. And the state has held regular "Safety Net" meetings on those topics for nearly a year. The next meeting is scheduled for March 3 in St. George.

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