Ex-polygamist wife talks about her experiences

Ogden Standard-Examiner (UT)/October 22, 2005
By Jordan Muhlestein

Ogden -- A woman who escaped from an abusive polygamist society two years ago says she finally has hope in her life.

"Now, I'm not powerless," Carolyn Jessop said. "I know as bad as the day is, tomorrow can be better."

Those leaving polygamy are refugees born into oppression and slavery, she said.

"I was born in the United States and I never experienced the bounty of a free life," Jessop said.

She spoke Friday at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center for an International Association of Workforce Professionals conference.

She said private individuals, rather than state programs, have been most important in her adjustment into mainstream society.

"I had difficulties with the system," she said.

Her speech focused on the abuses she faced in the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints society in and around Hildale, and how the state could better serve fleeing women.

"The (FLDS) culture doesn't consider abuses against women a crime," Jessop said. "However, it does consider a woman talking about abuse a crime."

She could not ask police for help because the local officers were all members of the "cult," she said.

In the early hours of April 22, 2003, Jessop's husband was gone and she saw a window of opportunity.

She and her eight children crept out of the home they shared with her husband's other six wives and 46 children, leaving forever.

"The fear is intense," she said. "To take that step is like jumping off a cliff. You really don't know how to go into society."

She said she applied for crime-victim assistance and was told she was a victim, but would receive no help.

"I was told that Crime Victims does not help a woman who is leaving a polygamous situation because the woman always goes back."

Jessop suggested creation of a government-advocate system that could inform women fleeing polygamy of their options, instead of forcing them to be at the mercy of a system they do not understand.

She said she almost lost custody of her children because she did not find a lawyer with the right expertise and she struggled with government agencies in her quest for aid.

"I have been left with the decision of spending all my energy in fighting for benefits that I need," she said, "or using my energy to hold my family together."

While her life is definitely better, the transition has been difficult. Jessop said she continues to have hardships.

"I am now living in a trailer with eight children, on welfare and sick with post-traumatic stress disorder," she said. "This cycle of abuse and poverty could have been stopped for me if I would have known there was help and where to go to get it."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff spoke briefly Friday, telling Jessop her example will help other women trapped in polygamist societies -- if they can find out about her success.

Jessop encouraged women in abusive situations to get out as soon as possible.

"If a woman can't value herself enough to leave, she should value her children's lives," Jessop said.

"(Women) owe it to their children to break the cycle of abuse."

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