More Youths Flee Polygamy
By Jason Emerson, Lorraine Whetstone and Betty Webb
East Valley Tribune, Jan. 19, 2004 The Fawns in Phoenix opened the floodgate.

Less than a week after 16-year-old redheads Fawn Holm and Fawn Broadbent escaped the polygamist stronghold of Colorado City, Ariz., eight more "absolutely terrified" teens have fled - and more are expected to, activists and officials said Sunday.

"The word spread like wildfire that we had received the court order here in Arizona giving these children safety," said Flora Jessop, executive director of the Child Protection Project, which is based in California.

"It was a ray of hope," said Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, who helped arrange money for the eight to leave.

Jessop, an activist who on Jan. 11 helped the two girls flee, praised the Arizona Attorney General's Office for a court order late Friday afternoon that put the girls in state custody.

"This is the first time that we've successfully created a legal pathway through this system for the children to go to," she said.

Normally, authorities just bring the children back, Johnson said

And that explains the others fleeing, Jessop said.

"There's never been this many as once," she said.

The problem in the past is authorities never recognized that forced marriages as abuse, she said.

"We're finally getting them to recognize that the threat of these marriages if very real to these children. Do we have to wait until they're raped until we help them? It shouldn't be that way," she said.

Some of the eight who fled Saturday are male, Jessop and Johnson said. All of the youths are being kept at an undisclosed location.

Boys are sexually abused as well, Johnson said.

"It's quite prevalent," he said.

The abuse takes place when the boys are little, he said. When they get older, the men view them as competition. Often, they take the boys and dump them on the streets of Salt Lake City and tell them that God doesn't want them to talk about what happened, Johnson said.

Arizona Sen. Linda Binder, R-Lake Havasu City, an antipolygamy activist, said her office has received information that others want to escape.

A system needs to be established to make sure those who escape get through safely, she said.

There are an estimated 55,000 polygamists living in Arizona and Utah, the majority of them in the area known as the Arizona Strip, to the north of the Grand Canyon and along the border with Utah.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Colorado City is not aligned with the mainstream Mormon Church. The polygamists were excommunicated from the Mormons more than 100 years ago. Modern Mormons do not condone polygamy.

The eight who left Saturday have no belongings, Johnson said. The activists need help, such as food, clothing and money.

They also need temporary safe houses where the children can stay, Jessop said. They can't go to state group homes because they are socially inept. They are not used to living in a world of television, music and magazines. They would have to be placed in homes in pairs and have space away from church to acclimate themselves.

They've run away to this "huge world they think is full of satanists," Jessop said.

"When they get to the point when they're willing to damn themselves to hell to get out of it," she said, "that's pretty bad."

To get involved

Information: To help, call Flora Jessop at (602) 569-1406.