“It’s not like being born in the U.S. It’s like being born in another country,” says Joseph, who more than a decade ago fled a polygamous town in Utah. “I think of my life like being caught up in the Holocaust.”
There’s so much I remember, but especially the children. It was summer, and in the more than ninety-degree heat, boys played basketball in long pants and long-sleeved shirts and the girls were dressed in handmade, cotton, pioneer-looking dresses, despite the heat wearing slacks underneath to ensure modesty. And the children were everywhere, swarms of them on swings and in playgrounds, laughing and smiling. But they scattered whenever I approached like tumbleweed in a dust storm. I was an outsider, and they’d been taught from birth to stay away from outsiders. Outsiders wouldn’t understand their lifestyle, their culture. Outsiders were the enemy.
Recently, watching the news coverage of Eldorado, I thought about the children of polygamy yet again. Much attention has been given, as it should be, to the abuse of the young girls, married off at tender ages to men decades older, at times their biological relatives. I wondered, too, about a subject that has gotten less press: what it's like for the boys. To find out, I made a few telephone calls. Eventually, I connected with a man in his thirties who grew up in polygamous households until the age of nineteen. He agreed to talk. For our purposes, I’ll call him Joseph.
KC: When you look back on your life, what do you most remember?
Joseph: The way we were all indoctrinated, brainwashed. The mind control used on us. When I went to the Holocaust museum in Washington a few years ago, I realized they were many of the techniques used by the Nazis--sleep and food deprivation, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse.
KC: Was this type of abuse prevalent in the community?
Joseph: I can only speak to the house I grew up in. The father was in complete control, and there was abuse at every level. We had no one to go to, no one to complain to.
KC: What did they use to control you?
Joseph: He distorted our sense of reality. We suffered horrible punishment if we didn’t do what we were told. The father was a brutal dictator. From early ages, we were told that if we didn’t do what he wanted, including the incestuous behavior, we would never get to heaven.
KC: What happened when you began coming of age?
Joseph: From the time we’re kids on, boys and girls are told that we’re not to have normal relationships. Talking to a girl is a no-no. God doesn’t like boys to talk to girls. It’s not allowed.
KC: What made you decide to leave?
Joseph: For polygamy, they want to keep the girls. By the time we’re teenagers, the leaders have decided which of the boys they’ll keep and which they’ll get rid of. They keep the ones who do what they’re told. Boys who aren’t chosen are forced out.
Joseph: They put a lot of pressure on, a lot of abuse.
KC: What we’re talking about is that there aren’t normally five or ten women to every man. To get the percentage of women to men high enough for polygamy, the leaders have to drive out some of the boys?
Joseph: Yes. They begin harassing the boys they don’t want at a young age, so eventually the boys just give up and leave, even though it’s the only home they’ve ever known. They have to leave their parents, brothers and sisters behind. I dropped out of school young, because they made it so hard for me.
KC: Do you hear from your siblings?
Joseph: No. I’m the only one who left. But when you’re born into it, you don’t know any better. Our mom was a child bride, married off at sixteen.
KC: What do you think about what’s going on in Eldorado, Texas?
Joseph: I’m behind Texas, because of the abuse I’ve suffered. I’m glad they’re doing what they’re doing there.Tweet