Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Stolen Innocence - Elissa Wall

Stolen Innocence is another one of those books I picked up on a second hand spree while in Michigan over Christmas.  I have always had an interest in the FLDS, but have never read much about them.  When I saw this first hand account of Elissa Wall, whose testimony helped to convict Warren Jeffs, priced at only a couple of dollars, I could not turn it down.

Members of the FLDS community answer to "the prophet."  From 1986-2002, Rulan Jeffs led the church as the prophet.  Upon his death, his son, Warren Jeffs, assumed command and eventually declared himself to be the new prophet.  The community, which resides in several isolated communities in the Western United States and Canada, broke off from the mainline Mormon church when they outlawed polygamy in the early 1900s.  Polygamy has remained an important tenant of the increasingly strict FLDS community.

Though polygamy is illegal in its own right, the practice of marrying multiple wives is not the main problem within the FLDS church.  Rather, the symptoms of polygamy are what have gotten law enforcement involved.  Those who escape the community, such as Wall, report abusive home situations, child brides, and separation of families, among other things.

I found Wall's account fascinating.  She grew up in the center of the FLDS community.  She attended Warren Jeffs's school and two of her sisters were married to his Rulan Jeffs until he passed away.  Wall's family was separated multiple times throughout her childhood.  Eventually, she, along with her mother and other siblings, were given to another elder within the church and made a part of his family.  Wall's father was no longer considered to be related to them in any way.  At 14, her new "father" and Warren Jeffs forced Wall to marry her first cousin, an 18-year-old with whom she did not get along.  At the time of her marriage, Wall knew literally nothing about sex.  Within the FLDS community, the word sex and any discussion of it is nonexistent.  When her new husband began exercising his "martial right," Wall was confused and scared and most definitely non-consenting.  Keep in mind, she had barely reached her teenage years.  Despite repeated complaints and requests to be taken out of her marriage, Jeffs continued to demand that Wall "keep sweet" and submit to her husband.

After several years and multiple failed pregnancies, Wall eventually escaped the FLDS community with the assistance of some already-escaped siblings and a newfound lover.  Wall went on to testify against Jeffs in the trial that would put him in prison.  The jury found Jeffs guilty of rape as an accomplice because of his knowledge about Wall's marital life and abuse.

I find it hard to accept that scenarios like this take place in the United States.  Of course, Wall's story is not an isolated incident.  Many others who have escaped the FLDS have written their memoirs, like Wall.  Their experiences in the FLDS give them no frame of reference with which to face the "real world."  They enter society with very little education or preparation to live independently.  This growing group of people need support and counseling to help them make the transition, yet that is often unavailable apart from fellow escapees.  The realization that this group of people in our country not only exists, but desperately needs help, is sobering.

Pages: 464
Date Completed: January 22, 2013

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