'Primer' details intricacies of polygamist life

Desert Morning News, Utah/June 11, 2006
By Ben Winslow

Boyd Madsen was handling a case involving the Kingston polygamous group when a family member handed him a stack of papers titled "The Primer."

The Division of Child and Family Services caseworker said the Kingston family member wanted him to read it.

"They wanted us to know the terminology they use and understand there are different groups," he said. "They're not all one homogenous group. Every family is different. Even in the groups." It certainly has been educational for Madsen. "The Primer — Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities" is a 56-page guide to the plural communities within Utah and surrounding states. On Thursday, the Utah Attorney General's Office released an updated version.

"We want to keep it current, because we want law enforcement officers and social workers to have the most recent information about some of the changes going on in the different groups," said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

"The Primer" has been updated to include the latest developments within the Fundamentalist LDS Church, based in the polygamous border towns of Hildale and Colorado City. It includes the criminal charges filed against fugitive FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, his status as an FBI Ten Most Wanted fugitive and a Utah judge's takeover of the United Effort Plan Trust, which controls homes, businesses and property in the communities.

New polygamous groups have also been added to "The Primer," including the FLDS community in Canada and ex-FLDS leader Winston Blackmore's splinter group in Bountiful, British Columbia. "The Petersen Group," also known as the Righteous Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was added to the list. That group is based in Modena, Nev., where it has a pyramid shaped temple.

A rough census of the polygamous groups has also been included.

With its glossary of fundamentalist terms, definitions of domestic violence, state criminal codes and a newly added psychologist's report on the psychological impact on women and children in polygamous groups, Murphy hopes "The Primer" will continue to inform and enlighten government agencies that deal with plural families.

"I think it has created a dialogue within the polygamous groups and with the government and social service agencies," he said.

"The Primer" has been criticized by anti-polygamy activists as "endorsing polygamy." In a letter to Utah's attorney general last year, Tapestry Against Polygamy called it "one more attempt to normalize polygamy."

Social workers like Madsen have found "The Primer" helpful.

"It opened my mind to how many people live the lifestyle," he said. "There's like 50 groups. I had no idea. It told me some of the history that I didn't know. For example, this group (the Kingstons) doesn't dress in bonnets and long dresses."

Some polygamous groups have been very sensitive about "The Primer," with their religious beliefs — and faults — publicized for the world to see.

"It's been waved as this list of shames," Murphy said. "It is something to help people within their community deal with problems that go on in every community."

The Arizona Attorney General's Office has released a companion guide to "The Primer." The Safety Net Directory is a listing of government agencies and non-profit organizations that help abuse victims within polygamous societies. It includes a wide range of groups from Tapestry Against Polygamy to the HOPE Organization.

A newsletter publicizing the updates is expected to be sent out to people within all of the polygamous communities. Both "The Primer" and the Safety Net

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