Funding approved for polygamous 'Safety Net'

Desert Morning News/March 4, 2008

State lawmakers have approved more than $300,000 to fund support services for people grappling with abuse and neglect in polygamous communities.

The House on Monday unanimously passed SB239, a funding package to create the Safety Net Initiative within the Utah Attorney General's Office.

"This is a population that is unique only to Utah and nobody has addressed making sure people within those communities are safe and they have access and they have the same rights and abilities as other citizens within the state," said Paul Murphy, the Utah Attorney General's Safety Net coordinator.

The bill's language was broadened to include providing services to people in "underserved" and "culturally isolated" communities in Utah and northern Arizona - not exclusively polygamy.

"I think people look at this and don't see this is crime prevention and community building," Murphy said. "It fits with the goals of the attorney general's office. We want communities to be healthy and people to be safe and know that help is available."

The attorney general's office has been pushing for the funding since a $700,000 federal grant was cut that paid for emergency housing, a case manager and other necessities to help women and children dealing with abuse and neglect in closed societies. With that money gone, many social service agencies had to scale back their efforts.

Authorities have estimated that the Safety Net has helped as many as 1,300 people in polygamous communities. With much of the resources in southern Utah, the Fundamentalist LDS Church appears to have been the principal target of outreach efforts.

The Utah Attorney General's Safety Net committee came about after a 2003 town hall meeting in St. George about "the polygamy problem." Victim advocates, representatives from polygamous communities and bureaucrats have forged an alliance to provide services to those in need.

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