August 21, 2003

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Summit to discuss issues of polygamy

By Pamela Manson
Salt Lake Tribune

Rowenna Erickson believes abuse in polygamous communities is greater than outsiders can imagine.
So the former plural wife is applauding a summit scheduled for Friday that will bring together government officials from
Utah and Arizona to discuss issues related to polygamous communities. Erickson calls the meeting, which will be held in St. George, a good first step.
"It looks to me like they're covering a lot of bases," said Erickson, a
Salt Lake City resident who co-founded Tapestry of Polygamy, an anti-polygamy group. "Hopefully, they'll see how big the problems are."
At the summit, representatives from law enforcement and social services will discuss how to prevent child abuse, how to fight fraud and how to set up a safety net among various social and government agencies to assist people in polygamous communities in southern
Utah and northern Arizona .
The summit was called by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff , whose office won a conviction last week against a polygamist.
The first hour will be open to the public, followed by a private three-hour meeting. There also will be an open session after the closed-door meeting, said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office.
"This is just a start," Murphy said. "This is where we begin, and we're going to be doing more."
The work by the participants is geared toward the twin communities of
Hildale , Utah , and Colorado City , Ariz. , where most residents belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The fundamentalists split with the mainstream Mormon faith, which abandoned polygamy in 1890, and still believe in taking plural wives.
Canadian officials were invited to Friday's summit because of the ties between
Colorado City and Hildale with the polygamous community of Bountiful , British Columbia . They were unable to attend, but may come to future gatherings, Murphy said.
Salt Lake City attorney Rod Parker is questioning the value of the summit, saying it could even be counterproductive.
Parker, who has represented FLDS members for 12 years, said no representative of the polygamous community was invited to the meeting.
Parker said excluding FLDS members marginalizes them and makes them less likely to seek out social services.
"The solution is not driving them further to the margins of society," Parker said. "Let them be part of the solution."
Murphy said the summit was set up for officials to discuss issues in private and that all members of the public -- including polygamists -- can attend the public sessions.
Hildale Mayor David Zitting , a member of the
FLDS Church , said the meeting could be useful, depending on what's discussed.
However, he said, "If it's specifically for coming after the people of this community, I take that as an affront."
He added that Hildale residents already know about social services that are available and use them when necessary.
Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow was out of town this week and could not be reached for comment.
The summit comes about a week after Rodney Holm, on leave from his job as a Hildale police officer, was convicted on two sex charges and one count of bigamy. The charges stemmed from his "spiritual" marriage to 16-year-old Ruth Stubbs when he already was married to another woman.
Erickson claims that abuse of women and children stems from polygamous unions and is one of the biggest problems with polygamy.
Women suffer in both body and spirit from being under the complete control of their husbands, she said.
"It is the cruelest, most horrible form of life that could ever be perpetrated on women," she said of polygamy.
A lawyer north of the border says the women of
Bountiful face the same problems.
Vaughn Marshall, a
Calgary attorney who represents former plural wives planning to sue to get their share of assets from their marriages, said that the church gets most of its members' income and that the women must rely on their husbands for support.
If the women leave the marriage after dedicating themselves for years to the union, they get nothing.
"Once a person reaches puberty, they belong 100 percent to the priesthood [the church],"
Marshall said. "When you have that amount of control, there's bound to be abuse."

Copyright 2003, The Salt Lake Tribune .
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