Jeffs' arrest may lead to an exodus of FLDS

Groups prepare to help those leaving abusive situations

Deseret Morning News/September 7, 2006
By Ben Winslow

Now that Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs is in custody, people trapped in abusive situations within the isolated polygamous sect may have a chance to break free.

"We are aware of some people in the community who have remained in the community who do want to leave," Mary Batchelor of the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices told the Deseret Morning News. "This may be an opportunity to leave."

Representatives from social-service groups, government agencies, advocacy organizations and other polygamous groups met Wednesday in Salt Lake City. They comprise the Safety Net Committee, a group coordinated by the Utah Attorney General's Office to provide resources about abuse and domestic violence to people in closed polygamous societies.

"The one thing that I did hear from some of the other polygamous groups is reaching out and trying to help people within that community," said Paul Murphy, the attorney general's Safety Net Committee coordinator.

Murphy said the Safety Net Committee wants to make sure the FLDS communities are aware that help is available for those who want out, and even those who want to stay. However, FLDS faithful continue to remain silent.

"They are as isolated - or more isolated - than ever before," he said Wednesday.

Within the last 6 months, Murphy said the Safety Net Committee has been contacted to provide help to people leaving abusive situations, particularly from the FLDS communities in Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz.

"A lot more people are coming forward for help than ever before," he said.

Other activists are preparing to help anyone who wants to leave.

"We're trying to gear up for it a little bit," said Joni Holm, who has sheltered children who have fled Hildale and Colorado City. She did not anticipate any kind of mass exodus, saying that many in the FLDS Church are still unaware of all the details surrounding Jeffs' arrest.

"It's going to be awhile before any of them feel brave enough to venture out," Holm said.

Batchelor said members of the Safety Net Committee need to be ready to help people who decide they do want out.

"I've been in touch with a lady who left the FLDS years ago. It was so hard for her to make the transition," Batchelor said. "She told me, 'When I was in the culture, I always had a home, a husband and food for my children. When I left I had nothing.'

"We need to have those things available," Batchelor added. "They're not going to leave if that's what's on the other side."

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