Ex-member defends Texas raid
Polygamous groups reach out to FLDS women, children
 
 
Carolyn Jessop knows many of the people swept up in the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch.

Her ex-husband, Merril Jessop, is the ranch's boss. Some of her stepchildren are in the shelters.

"I feel protective of these people," she said Sunday.

It's one reason why she disputes any of the claims made by FLDS members who spoke to the Deseret News during a tour of the YFZ Ranch. Many said they were being persecuted for their religion, something Jessop said she has not seen.

"They went in and found abuse. They took these kids out because they physically saw and found abuse," she said. "They saw girls that were pregnant at an age where, in Texas, that is a felony. This is about child abuse."

A judge issued an order to remove all of the children from the ranch. In interviews with the Deseret News, FLDS leaders and members refused to talk about the allegations of physical and sexual abuse leveled against them.

Jessop concedes that authorities' claims that growing up in a polygamous household is tantamount to abuse may be too broad, but said any child in a polygamous family has the same right to protection from abuse as anyone else.

It was Jessop's flight from the FLDS Church years ago with her eight children in tow that led to the creation of resources in Utah for women and children leaving polygamy. Her autobiography, "Escape," about becoming Merril Jessop's fourth wife at age 18 before fleeing the polygamist sect has become a best-seller.

Jessop has been to Texas twice, where she has met with Child Protective Service workers and other officials. Like the FLDS women who complain that they cannot see their children or other family members, she too was denied any access.

"They will not allow family members to talk to family members during a CPS investigation. It's just protocol," she said.

Meanwhile, members of Utah's other polygamous communities will announce today a humanitarian effort for the women and children taken into state protective custody. Many in the different polygamous sects have rushed to donate children's toys, diapers, hymn and songbooks and paper and stamps for letter writing. Included in the care packages will be letters of compassion and support.

"This touches us also," said Carlene Cannon, a member of the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston group. "We're all just horrified that this has happened."

The pro-polygamy group Principle Voices is hoping to send one care package to each of the 416 children.

"We've definitely had a lot of donations from our own communities, but we've had some from people not involved in the polygamous culture at all," said Mary Batchelor, Principle Voices director.

Batchelor has also set up an account called "Donate for the Children" at Wells Fargo Bank to take donations on behalf of the FLDS women and children.

Principle Voices will also make a plea for "cultural sensitivity" at a news conference to be held this afternoon at the Salt Lake City and County building.

"It appears that Texas is looking to build a case on the fact that these people are polygamous," she said Sunday. "We don't believe that polygamy itself is inherently abusive."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com
 
deseretnews.com
Originally published Monday, April 14, 2008
 
Back