Guests: Laurene Jessop, Flora Jessop, Ross Chatwin, Flora Jessop, Eddie Farnsworth, Mark Shurtleff
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: Escape from polygamy. This woman was once a hostage of marriage, held captive, she says, by her polygamous husband. And when she tried to break free, she was thrown into a mental hospital.
Tonight in her first television interview, Laurene Jessop recounts her dramatic escape from a notorious sect in Arizona and her relentless fight to regain custody of her children.
We‘ll also meet the woman who helped Laurene on the outside. Now this ex-polygamist is on a mission to make sure other women and children don‘t suffer the same fate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This type of lifestyle is geared toward the ownership of women and children.
NORVILLE: Tonight, polygamy in America. Just how widespread is it, and why is the law often powerless to stop it? The facts may shock you.
ANNOUNCER: From Studio 3-K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.
NORVILLE: And good evening.
Tonight we begin with the story of one women, a story that she has never told before until now.
She lived in a community in Arizona, a polygamist community in which she was born and stayed for just about all of her life until she escaped. We‘ll meet this woman in just a moment.
But first, here‘s what you need to know.
It‘s been more than 100 years since polygamy was outlawed by the Mormon Church. But tens of thousands of people still practice it openly here in the United Stats.
And there are more polygamists living in the twin cities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hilldale, Utah, than anywhere else in America. They are members of the fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke away from the main church decades ago.
Most of the men there have several wives and sometimes dozens of children.
The sect is led by Warren Jeffs, a reclusive, self-proclaimed prophet who‘s believed to have had at least 50 lives. He pretty much controls the two towns from behind the eight-foot walls of his family compound.
It is a fiercely closed society, a society where outsiders are shunned. But since January, allegations of child abuse and sexual assault have come to light as some members of the community have fled.
Joining me now in an exclusive interview is Laurene Jessop, who has escaped her polygamist marriage in Colorado City a few years ago, and she‘s hoping to gain custody of all of her five children.
Good evening. It‘s so nice to meet you.
LAURENE JESSOP, ESCAPED POLYGAMIST MARRIAGE: Hi.
NORVILLE: Tell me a little bit about your life. You grew up in Colorado City, and at 19 you were married off to your brother in-law.
JESSOP: To Val Jessop.
NORVILLE: Who was already married to your sister?
JESSOP: My half sister, yes.
NORVILLE: Tell me about that. Did you get to choose him? Did you guys have a regular, you know, courtship where he called on you and you dated? What is it like?
JESSOP: Well, I knew him a little bit, because he was married to my sister. But I was assigned to him and then married him. They had been married five years.
NORVILLE: And when you say you were assigned to him, what does that mean? How does that work?
JESSOP: Well, the prophet told me I belong to him and so we were married, you know, during the day—the day of the assignment.
NORVILLE: The same day that the prophet who was the leader of the church group there told you you were marrying this man.
NORVILLE: By the end of the day, you guys were married.
NORVILLE: Were you happy about that?
JESSOP: We—that‘s the way we were taught. We just—you know, that‘s the way it was. That‘s the way we believed, what we did. And so I married him. And you know, our honeymoon was, we went home and did dishes at our house.
NORVILLE: That was the honeymoon?
Don‘t tell me that was the high point of the whole marriage, dishes on your wedding night.
Tell me a little bit about the upbringing in Colorado City, how kids were taught, what your general belief system is, because that really does seem to shape everything about community life.
JESSOP: Well, I was born in and raised in the same principal of celestial marriage. My dad had four wives. My mother had 17 children. And my dad had 54 children. And I was the oldest girl of my mother‘s.
NORVILLE: So within your home, conceivably, 54 kids were being raised? Because all four wives and your dad would be living in the same house together.
JESSOP: Well, there were two homes at that time. Most people live together now, but there were two homes.
NORVILLE: And the principal of celestial marriage, which is so important to what the fundamentalist Latter Day Saints believe, is the—in order to get to heaven to the eternal life, a man must populate the earth. And the easiest way to do that, the church subscribed way to do so, is to take many wives?
JESSOP: Three or more wives will get a man to the celestial kingdom.
NORVILLE: Three or more wives?
JESSOP: The highest degree of glory. They want to get there.
NORVILLE: And how does it work for a woman? What does a woman do in order to achieve the highest calling of God in the future world?
JESSOP: Mostly be submissive and obedient to whatever her husband tells her to do.
NORVILLE: And what kinds of things would that be? I mean, do you have—do you have a say in how the children are raised, a say in how the house is decorated? How much control, how much leeway do you as the wife in a marriage have?
JESSOP: Not really much. It sort of depends on the man, too, because like in my situation, the first wife basically made all the decisions in the home.
NORVILLE: So what was your role?
JESSOP: Well, I was required to follow what she wanted done. And so when I was institutionalized, that was the requirements I had to do to go back, was go back and do the list of things that she had written for me to do.
NORVILLE: And when you say you were institutionalized, you rebelled against some of the things that your husband and—you call her your sister wife.
JESSOP: My sister wife, yes.
NORVILLE: Your sister wife wanted you to do. And you ended up in a mental hospital.
JESSOP: I ended up in a mental hospital four different times, and, like, the fourth time I just said, you know, I can‘t do this any more. I‘m not going back to her, because the more—every time I went back it was harder, because she required more of me each time.
NORVILLE: What were the requirements?
JESSOP: Well, that I submit to her and that I pay her money and go and apologize to her, tell her I‘m sorry for our family‘s problems, that basically they are all my fault.
And so when I went back and told her that then she said well, good, because I‘m sick of your, you know...
NORVILLE: Did she use a bad word?
JESSOP: And so...
NORVILLE: Which is not part of the teachings, I‘m guessing.
JESSOP: And so basically it all fell back on me again as the problem of the family. And my dad, my uncle, actually who is my dad now—my mother married him, felt like I didn‘t belong there in the first place with Val, and so I had no place to go.
So it was like OK, I‘m not supposed to be here but I was told to be here. What confusion, you know? Where am I supposed to go now? What am I supposed to do?
NORVILLE: And yet, you also have five children.
NORVILLE: That I‘m sure as any mother you are trying to protect and take care of.
NORVILLE: And—And how are your kids being treated during this period of you‘re back and forth into these institutions and obviously the belittling from the other two adults in the household?
JESSOP: A very—In a very abusive situation. Marie was abusive to them, physically, psychologically. She was pretty much allowed to continue that.
And so after I left there, they were told not to tell me anything that was going on for two years. And the children didn‘t dare talk...
NORVILLE: How did you get out?
JESSOP: Well, I was in the institution and I said I‘m not going back there. I picked up a newspaper, found me a job and said I‘m going in a live-in situation to take care of my—take care of a lady, an elderly lady. And I didn‘t get anything.
NORVILLE: What do you mean?
JESSOP: I didn‘t get any of my things from Colorado City.
NORVILLE: So you literally left with the clothes on your back?
JESSOP: With the clothes on my back.
NORVILLE: Thinking that you might never see your children again?
JESSOP: Right. And that‘s the reason why I have, you know, done what they wanted me to as long as I have, because the children were involved. I wanted my children to, you know, have some sort of stability. I don‘t want them to see us fighting all the time.
NORVILLE: It must—I can‘t imagine, as a mother, how excruciating your situation must have been for you to leave your children behind, thinking this is the only way I can save myself.
JESSOP: Well, at least I got see my children. I have a sister who hasn‘t seen her children for four years. And the same thing happened to her about the same time.
NORVILLE: And your sister also left.
NORVILLE: Help me understand a little bit about the requirements. You talked about the garments when we were speaking before the program began.
You were told you had to follow a certain set of rules, and I gather these are rules that all women within this group are asked to follow.
JESSOP: Yes, the dress code is very important.
NORVILLE: Which is?
JESSOP: They wear a dress. They wear garments and, you know, their hairstyles are, you don‘t cut your hair, you know, you don‘t wear makeup.
NORVILLE: And when you say the garments, we‘re not talking about—we saw the family photo a moment ago of a dress necessarily with a high neck. There are certain undergarments that you are required to wear.
NORVILLE: What are those?
JESSOP: Underneath the dress is a long sleeves, ankles and wrists.
Ankles and wrists.
NORVILLE: Like long johns?
JESSOP: Yes. Long johns.
NORVILLE: And the purpose of that is what?
JESSOP: To prepare for temple, temple ordinances, but there‘s no temple. It‘s like the laws of God are higher than the temple. They don‘t need the temple at this time.
NORVILLE: The temple being the human being body?
JESSOP: No, no, no.
NORVILLE: Like your body is a temple or the actual temple?
JESSOP: The temple, the church temple. Like the church.
NORVILLE: OK. OK.
How did you get your kids back? I know you know have custody, you have been reunited with three of your kids, quite recently.
JESSOP: Yes, and I miss my boys. I want to see them, too, but I have my three girls. And they are—well, it‘s a long story.
NORVILLE: Well, we got an hour.
JESSOP: OK. Well, he left them with me, actually, and he found out that I was starting to break some of the rules of what the requirements are, the dress code, you know, just having a boyfriend, for instance.
They believed—he believed that I should stay single, stay alone for the rest of my life so that in the next life, than I could have some kind of exaltation and belong to a man there and be assigned basically. I think that it was him that I was supposed to be assigned to.
NORVILLE: In the afterlife as well.
JESSOP: Yes. But you know, he lived with a wife for five years. I lived alone, and that was fine for him.
NORVILLE: And you got your children back, how? He left them with you and you started state proceedings to get legal custody?
JESSOP: Right, and then he wanted them back and we are on the run.
We‘ve been running for a month now.
NORVILLE: So if—if your husband knew where you and your daughters are, what would happen?
JESSOP: He would—He would try to take them. He already tried twice to have me handcuffed and institutionalized twice in the last month.
And, you know, this being America, there‘s not much help for us women coming out of there. Because he got custody of my children when I was in the mental institution, and he had those papers and, you know.
NORVILLE: Well, there is one woman I know who was quite helpful to you during your time trying to leaving the sect and also trying to get your kids back.
We‘re going to take a short break with Laurene Jessop.
When we come back, we‘re going to meet another woman whose story is quite similar. She, too, escaped her own polygamist marriage. Now, she‘s made it her life‘s work to help others in the same situation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, exposing the secretive lives of polygamists.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They‘re looking to establish somewhere where they‘re not known.
ANNOUNCER: Flora Jessop‘s crusade to help other women and children escape that life, when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.
NORVILLE: We‘re talking tonight about polygamy in America, and joining our discussion is Flora Jessop. She has no relation to our first guest, Laurene Jessop.
Flora, too, escaped from a forced marriage, a marriage to her cousin when she was 16 years old. Since then, she‘s become a child abuse advocate. She‘s been helping other victims of polygamy.
And it‘s nice to have you on the program.
FLORA JESSOP, ESCAPE FROM POLYGAMOUS MARRIAGE: Thank you for having us.
Hearing her story, did it sound like your own life story being played back to you?
F. JESSOP: It sounds like a thousand girls that I know, plus mine.
NORVILLE: Plus your own story.
How is it that women remain in this environment if they are as unhappy as, obviously, Laurene was in her marriage? Why don‘t they just leave?
F. JESSOP: Well, if they‘re born and raised in this and it‘s all they know. They are not allowed books, newspapers, television, music, anything. Any influence from the outside world is forbidden.
NORVILLE: And so they would have no knowledge of...
F. JESSOP: They don‘t.
NORVILLE: ... of how to even escape?
F. JESSOP: Right. And any time a woman has tried to escape, the law enforcement authorities have given them directly back over to the prophet.
NORVILLE: This is some footage that was taken of the community of Colorado City, and it‘s obviously way out in the boondocks. It‘s not close to any city.
F. JESSOP: No.
NORVILLE: In fact, let‘s throw up a map just to give you a sense. It‘s right there on the border with Utah and Las Vegas is the closest city, and it‘s more than 300 miles away.
So if you were to walk out the gates of the community, where would you go?
F. JESSOP: You would be very lucky to make it to a community that you could get help from. And usually if you do, the law enforcement is so tied in with the law enforcement inside of Colorado City that you just get taken straight back home. And then—and then your life really becomes a living nightmare.
NORVILLE: And Laurene, what have you heard happens to women who have tried to get out and then go back?
L. JESSOP: Well...
NORVILLE: That was your own situation?
L. JESSOP: I did go back, you know, after I was institutionalized for four times. And once you get that name, it‘s hell for you from there on out.
NORVILLE: What do they do to you?
L. JESSOP: Well, pretty much keep you isolated, tell you you‘re crazy.
And that‘s the main abuse is just that you‘re insane and they make you believe you are.
NORVILLE: And the other people in the community keep you at more than arm‘s length. They don‘t associate with you, freeze you out?
L. JESSOP: When I went back a year and a half ago, tried to make another go of it, my dad told me, “Nobody wants to see you.”
He had one of my mother have a lock and key to my room. He put cameras in my room and watched everything I did. He tried to take my children away; he tried to take my car away.
And my ex-husband is the one that stepped in and said you‘re not doing that. She‘s still going to see the children. So, you know, he‘s not all bad.
NORVILLE: So he did come to your defense in a crunch?
L. JESSOP: Yes, but he was excommunicated shortly after that/
NORVILLE: Because of his defense of you?
L. JESSOP: Well, I believe it is.
NORVILLE: And you still have two sons, a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old.
L. JESSOP: Right.
NORVILLE: They‘re in Colorado City. What is their life like? What are they being taught?
L. JESSOP: Well, they are basically with Marie, my sister wife, their
· their other mother. And she‘s been very abusive to them. They do attend priesthood classes.
NORVILLE: Abusive how?
L. JESSOP: Physically, telling them they‘re not going to grow up being like their mother, psychological abuse that way.
NORVILLE: Does she hit them?
L. JESSOP: Yes. She‘s been—Pulled their hair back and stuffed pills down their throat. Things like that.
My girls are thrilled to be out. They cheered.
NORVILLE: Really? What did they say?
L. JESSOP: They cheered when they didn‘t have to go back to Mother Marie. So...
NORVILLE: Flora, you have made it your life‘s work since you left when you were 16 years old to be there for other women and children and, I guess, young men who might want to leave the community.
F. JESSOP: Yes.
NORVILLE: How do they get this touch with you if there‘s such a controlling environment, as Laurene says?
F. JESSOP: Word of mouth. I—My entire family still resides in the community. I am related to almost everyone there. So...
NORVILLE: Is their life worse because you‘ve been so public about your experience since you have left?
F. JESSOP: Well, I‘ve been given messages that my mother is paying the price for everything I do. What—my realization is, though, is that she‘s paying the price, whether I do anything or not.
NORVILLE: Paying the price in that she still lives there and she‘s still a part of this society?
F. JESSOP: In that she is still being abused in this society. She has no civil or human rights, absolutely none.
These—The women who come out of here, they don‘t know how to make any decisions, basic decisions, basic decisions that we learned at birth. They do not know how to even help themselves.
And if you come out of there with a third grade education and several children, how do you support your kids? You‘re trapped.
NORVILLE: It‘s easy for someone on the outside to hear this story and stand in judgment and say, this is nuts.
But the reality is, this is part of a religious belief system that I‘m sure a lot of people within the community subscribe to.
F. JESSOP: This is not a religion. This is terrorism. We don‘t need to go across seas to find terrorists, we are growing our own in the United States.
They are now—part of the private schools that they have the children in. They started these schools four years ago. Part of the teachings with the boys are that when they are called upon by God to go and wipe the gentiles and the wicked off the earth which is...
NORVILLE: Which is anybody who doesn‘t believe.
F. JESSOP: ... anybody who doesn‘t believe, then if they pray when they kill people, then they won‘t become bloodthirsty and therefore won‘t be possessed by devil while they‘re doing the killing.
The girls are being made to slaughter animals, because it‘s going to be the duty of the mothers to take care of their children when the men are all off fighting this war.
They‘re teaching survivalist tactics.
NORVILLE: How do you know this to be true? How can you tell this?
F. JESSOP: We have the doctrine that they‘re teaching. Warren Jeffs is teaching the fifth to eight grade students.
NORVILLE: This is from—This is from the school?
F. JESSOP: Yes. They also are very white supremacist.
NORVILLE: “Each prophet stands as God to the people, when he speaks it is the Lord speaking.”
And now he‘s, I guess, referring to the court case, “in the Nexavus (ph) court case where the outer (ph) states have tried to destroy the united effort plan. President Jeffs called on his people to fast and pray. We were so completely defeated at that certain court hearing.”
This is the court hearing with the gentleman we‘re going to be speaking to in the next segment, I think.
F. JESSOP: I believe it was within of those. This is one of the more frightening ones.
NORVILLE: I am reading from text which is for the fifth to eighth grade students, according to Laurene Jessop.
“The devil needed a family on earth to use, just like the Lord needed the family of Israel or Abraham.”
The next line is extremely racist, and I would prefer not to say it.
It‘s clearly very, very...
F. JESSOP: It‘s very frightening in today‘s day and age that they‘re teaching these children this.
When I came out of there 17 years ago, we were actually taught that if we associated with a person that was not purely white, we would—their sins would rub off on us. And we would turn colors, as well.
And I got stuck—I was 16 years old and I was stuck in a grocery store line. And I was almost hysterical when I got out of the store, because I just knew I was going to be a different color when I got out.
And it‘s—that is very, very psychologically...
NORVILLE: Is it brainwashing?
F. JESSOP: Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely.
NORVILLE: We‘re going to take a short break. We‘ll be back more with Flora Jessop and Laurene Jessop, talking about their experiences within this group in the Utah-Colorado border—Utah-Arizona border.
And in a moment, we‘ll be joined by a man who took on the clan and was kicked out, told to turn over his property, which includes his wife and children. His story next.
NORVILLE: We‘re talking about polygamy in the United States.
In January, Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet and leader of a polygamist enclave along the Arizona-Utah border excommunicated 21 men from the fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
We wanted to talk with Warren Jeffs, but through his attorney he did not respond to our request for an interview.
Jeffs evicted the men from the town of Colorado City, Arizona, and ordered them to turn over their property, which includes their wives and children, to the church. But one man refused.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
But I don‘t plan on moving. I‘ll have to be forced out if I‘m going to be taken out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Joining me now is the man who refused to turn over his family and home and took on court, Ross Chatwin.
He went to court and last week won the right to keep his house.
Mr. Chatwin, good to see you.
ROSS CHATWIN, OUSTED FROM POLYGAMIST SECT: Thank you. Good to see you, too, Deborah.
NORVILLE: I gather that the lawsuit was a tricky one, because in actuality, your house and most members‘ houses are owned by the church through a trust and you are there as a tenant and will.
CHATWIN: Yes, correct. The property is owned by the trust, by the UAP Trust. And we‘re expected to make improvements on the ground and then they suppose that that all belongs to them. But I objected.
NORVILLE: And you went to court, and your argument was that you should be repaid for the money you put into fixing up your house?
CHATWIN: Yes. I figured that, if they want us to move, they will have to buy us out. That way, I can start over somewhere else. Otherwise, there is no way I can.
NORVILLE: And the court ruled in your favor, so how much money do you anticipate, assuming there is not a successful appeal? How much money do you think you‘ll get from the church?
CHATWIN: Oh, I doubt I will get anything. I think what I will probably end up getting is a life estate.
NORVILLE: Which means?
CHATWIN: They have never paid anybody.
NORVILLE: And what‘s a life estate mean?
CHATWIN: OK, life estate means that I will get to stay here for all of my life and we‘d like that to also include my wife‘s life, in case that I live longer than she does.
NORVILLE: Now, you are a member of this group, but you were excommunicated, which means what? Are you still technically allowed to attend services and participate in community life, or are shunted from all of that?
CHATWIN: Yes, I‘m shunned from all of that, but, then, so is everybody else. They don‘t have services here anymore. And it‘s been almost exactly a year since they have.
NORVILLE: So how does the religion go about practicing its faith if they‘re not having organized services?
CHATWIN: They expect every family to have Sunday school at home and they just basically play prerecorded messages that Warren gives out. And that continues the brainwashing process that is necessary to keep Warren in power. And it‘s working very well.
NORVILLE: We have been hearing about what it‘s like to be a member of this community from the perspective of two women who have been a part of it. What is attractive to a man to be a part of this community? Why is this a lifestyle and a religious following that worked for you for a good part of your life and continues to do so for many men? What‘s the attraction?
CHATWIN: I was taught that it was very dependent upon that for my salvation and exultation. And it is a beautiful life, or it can be. But if somebody is forced into it, it cannot be at all. That‘s very the opposite.
NORVILLE: How many wives have you got?
CHATWIN: I‘ve only got one wife, one wife and six children. But I‘m certainly not opposed to the idea of having another wife if it was the right thing and all parties involved felt really good about it. Otherwise, it will never happen.
NORVILLE: Well, wasn‘t part of the problem when you were excommunicated that you were going around the system rather than going through the prophet to select a new wife? You were dealing directly with a young lady and you and your wife were talking about her joining your family as a wife?
CHATWIN: We were talking about it and discussing it, but we were never to the idea here of going out and looking for it. We did not go find her.
She came and found us and asked us if she could be part of our family. She said that we had a happy family and how could she have a happy family like we do. And that‘s when she invited and my wife and her got together here and decided that would be a good thing. And so she tried to pursue it and then she was slammed for it.
NORVILLE: And where is this young lady now?
CHATWIN: I don‘t even know anymore.
I know that she is over 18 years old now. And I don‘t really know where she is at. I haven‘t seen her for probably a month and a half or more. I don‘t keep track of her anymore.
NORVILLE: When the excommunications happened in your church, the church said it wanted all of your property, which included your wife and your children. Do you regard your wife and your six children as your property?
CHATWIN: Oh, absolutely not. I do not. I consider that—or regard it as a bond between a man and a woman here and she is not property and not a rug to be walked on.
But she is a part of me. And in the event that I make her feel like she that she is not part of me, like I don‘t have the respect for her, then she could leave at any moment.
NORVILLE: Mr. Chatwin, help me understand how people in your community support themselves. Do you have a job outside the home? I gather that the communities there have been on the receiving end of something like on the north side of the $8 million in federal funds, welfare payments, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid. How do you support your family, your six kids?
CHATWIN: How it has been is that we did have business ventures that we were doing and doing fairly well in it. We were making it work.
But then when Warren came into play there and told us to get out there and he also ordered that all the people in this community boycott us. And so I haven‘t had a job ever since January or anything that I—or even November—as early back as November. And now I am just getting ready to get a contractor‘s license to go start building homes in Saint George, so I can provide for my wife and family.
NORVILLE: So how are you doing it? Your family on welfare right now or food stamps? Or how do you make ends meet?
CHATWIN: Right now, we are on welfare. It was the worst thing in the world for me to go do it. I hated to go do it and I resented every minute of it. But it was almost like I had no other choice. So I decided to swallow my pride and go ahead and get on it. But I don‘t plan on being on it for very long.
NORVILLE: Flora Jessop, is that not a common way of many families being supported in this community, through federal or state assistance?
FLORA JESSOP, CHILD ABUSE ADVOCATE: Yes. Actually, the wives are ordered to go on welfare in most of the families.
NORVILLE: And collect payments based on the number of kids that they have?
JESSOP: And they collect as single mothers.
NORVILLE: Because they have not been legally married in a marriage recognized by the state.
JESSOP: Right. And even though the father is listed as the father on the birth certificate, it doesn‘t matter to the state.
NORVILLE: Laurene, were you on welfare when you were living there?
L. JESSOP: Yes. We were on food stamps.
NORVILLE: So how much would you say on a monthly basis you were generating for your family based on your five children?
L. JESSOP: I don‘t know for sure, probably about $50 per child. We were only on food stamps.
NORVILLE: Only on food stamps. But had you applied for welfare, would you have been eligible?
L. JESSOP: I don‘t know.
NORVILLE: Are many families on welfare in the community, as best you can remember?
L. JESSOP: I believe they probably are. But we had to do that to survive with that many children. We had a lot of little children.
NORVILLE: How many kids in your family as a married woman were you all dealing with?
L. JESSOP: Eight. We had eight.
NORVILLE: Eight kids. So it was a small family, by community standards.
L. JESSOP: And they were all very small. We had six in diapers at once.
Mr. Chatwin, I‘m curious about one thing. You took on the church. You won. You think you will gate life estate, which you say would be a way to stay there for the rest of your life and your wife‘s life as well. Why would you want to stay there if there is so much acrimony between you and the higher-ups?
CHATWIN: Well, I really wouldn‘t except that they are not going buy me out, I don‘t think. It will be a miracle if they did.
NORVILLE: All right.
We‘re going to take a short break. We‘re going to continue more with all three of our guests. Plus, we are going to take a look at how the state is looking at this, specifically how some states are trying to protect these child brides.
ANNOUNCER: Up next, polygamists and the law. Their way of life is illegal in all 50 states, but it‘s more common than you think. Why are so many polygamists being allowed to break the rules? The answer may surprise you—when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.
NORVILLE: A woman shares her story of escaping a polygamist clan based in Arizona and Utah, but isn‘t polygamy outlawed in this country? The Utah attorney general responds next.
NORVILLE: As you know, polygamy is illegal in all 50 United States, but thousands still practice across the country, including the state of Arizona, which outlaws polygamy in its constitution.
The constitution says—quote—“Polygamous or plural marriages, or polygamous cohabitation are forever prohibited within the state.”
Even so, Arizona turns a blind eye to multiple marriages among consenting adults. But many of those entering polygamous relationships are underage and they‘re getting married at times against their will. Arizona says it has had enough of that. Earlier this month, its governor signed legislation which makes it a felony if a married adult marries a child.
Joining our discussion on polygamy in America now is Arizona‘s House majority leader, Eddie Farnsworth. Also with us this evening, attorney general of the state of Utah, Mark Shurtleff. Arizona modeled its child bigamy laws after Utah‘s.
Mr. Farnsworth, let me start with you first.
I don‘t get it. If your constitution specifically says polygamous cohabitation is illegal, why aren‘t you stopping what‘s going on?
REP. EDDIE FARNSWORTH, ARIZONA HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, it‘s an issue of enforcement. And the legislature has made polygamy illegal for decades, literally decades.
But it‘s an issue of going up and dealing with a sect of people who are up in Arizona, northern Arizona on the border of Utah, and literally tearing those families apart. That something that was done back in the mid-‘50. And there was a tremendous backlash when the voters in Arizona and the citizens saw that they were pulling babies out of the arms of their mothers.
So there has been some hands off because of that backlash back in the ‘50s.
NORVILLE: Isn‘t that giving folks a carte blanche to flout the law?
FARNSWORTH: Well, I don‘t there‘s a carte blanche. And the legislature that sits now is determined to do some things to give law enforcement some opportunity to enforce those laws that we‘re passing to try to stop that kind of thing.
That‘s why we dealt with the child bigamy law, to try to give the A.G. and the people who are dealing with law enforcement the opportunity to go in, find the most egregious cases and deal with those and obviously have the power and the authority by the legislature to do so.
NORVILLE: As we mentioned, that law was modeled on a similar law in the state of Utah, which has also had to deal with the polygamy situation.
Attorney General Shurtleff, why would you need to legislate against child marriage if polygamist marriage in and itself is illegal under your state‘s laws as well?
MARK SHURTLEFF, UTAH ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes. Bigamy in Utah, Deborah, for 100 years has been a third-degree felony in this state. But there are as many as 20 or 30 some, maybe even more, thousands practicing polygamists.
NORVILLE: Isn‘t there a difference between bigamists and polygamists? A bigamist is a person who legally marries another person when they are already legally married. These are people who may do one legal marriage recognized by the state and then cohabitate in a common law situation with multiple spouses.
SHURTLEFF: It‘s semantics. We call that bigamy. It is against the law to either marry or cohabitate or purport to marry more than one spouse in the state. That is against the law, 20,000 or 30,000 people. We just don‘t have the resources to go after all of them.
And so, after the chief legal officer of the state of Utah, I‘ve determined that my responsibility is to protect women and children in these organizations who are being victimized. The problem is, is that we have laws, current laws, unlawful sexual activity, for example, with a 16-year-old if the perpetrator is more than 10 years old. And we‘ve convicted people of that practice within these organizations, including a police a year ago.
But they have demonstrated their willingness to commit third-degree felonies. And so I went to the legislature a year and said, we have to up the ante on this. We need to make this a second-degree felony punishable by one to 15 years in prison and make it very serious, that if you marry, purport to marry, or cohabit with a minor, which is 17 and under in the state, that‘s a second-degree felony.
We all remember the Tom Green case. It got a lot of publicity around the country. And he sentenced to prison for having married underage and yet borne a child with that person. And yet it goes on. Obviously, the publicity surrounding that one case didn‘t do much to dent the practice elsewhere.
SHURTLEFF: Well, from that case, which my investigators were involved in, that‘s when we learned and when I first found out three years ago that hundreds of girls were being forced into marriage with older men.
And so I determined that I was going to do everything I could to protect those women and children. And they have had a pass, quite frankly, Deborah, for 100 years. And I don‘t know why, but they have gotten used to it. This isn‘t an attack on one similar group or one religion, as they‘ve suggested. We enforce the laws and we protect women and children throughout the state. But there have been victims for 100 years down there who have not been protected. And we are putting an end to that.
NORVILLE: Representative Farnsworth, I know one of the provisions of the legislation that recently passed in your state was the creation of a 211 system; 411 goes directly to the police hot line, which is often manned by people who are part of this particular sect that we‘re speaking about.
The 211 system would bypass that and go directly to someone who was more independent. Explain how that works.
FARNSWORTH: Well, I think the intent is to make sure that there is an opportunity for girls that have been coerced into some kind of polygamist relationship to be able to get out.
And when they get out, they need a place to go. And the 211 system is intended to allow them to have an easy access to help that they will need.
NORVILLE: How are they going to hear about it if they are shut off from the rest of the world?
FARNSWORTH: Well, those are things that we‘re hoping, as information gets out and as we identify those girls, we have people who have left that polygamist sect that now are getting involved as activists. And that process is going to have to grow.
So the hope is that, by putting that in place, we can identify those girls. Through those activities, hopefully, we can expand the resources that we have to notify them as they seek to get out of that polygamist relationship. And we can give them an avenue, aside from the law enforcement just going in and trying to identify who it is that‘s in a polygamist relationship, which you know is very difficult. It‘s a very closed community and a very closed society. And this gives them an ability to contact the state.
NORVILLE: No one knows that better than Flora Jessop.
Does this change in the law really accomplish anything?
F. JESSOP: As long as it‘s enforced.
But what I don‘t understand is why we must wait until those children are forced into these marriages to help them. This is why I get involved, because we don‘t need to wait until these children are victims to help them.
NORVILLE: And you think that they wouldn‘t be able to make the emergency phone call before the marriage?
F. JESSOP: I know they don‘t, they can‘t. My sister is a very good example of that.
NORVILLE: Because she was married immediately after finding out...
F. JESSOP: Fourteen years old, she was married to her step-brother. She desperately, desperately tried to reach someone to come and help her and could not get a hold of anybody.
NORVILLE: We‘re going to take a break at that moment right there.
NORVILLE: You know what? I‘m going to let you respond, but we‘re going to dash over to a commercial, but we‘re going to come right back and we‘ll follow right up with you in just a moment.
More after this.
NORVILLE: Continuing our discussion about polygamy in America.
Just before the break, Representative Farnsworth, I know you wanted to respond to Ms. Jessop‘s comment that, if a girl is trying to avoid a marriage, time is of the essence.
FARNSWORTH: Well, Deborah, I agree.
And what I wanted to make clear is that this legislature is not suggesting in any way that we shouldn‘t be enforcing the laws and protecting those children. In fact, that‘s what you see with this bill, is, we‘re doing our very best to give the A.G. and the other law enforcement agencies the opportunity to go in and deal with those problems.
Just like the attorney general from Utah said, they‘ve been ignored for a long time. They‘ve become used to it. They‘re violating all kinds of laws, including child bigamy, welfare fraud, and a myriad of other things. And so we are trying to strengthen that. I am one of a number of legislators in the Arizona House and Senate that signed a letter requesting that the A.G. and that the governor start to enforce these laws. And so it‘s very imperative that we do that.
NORVILLE: Well, are they?
FARNSWORTH: And we‘re trying to give them the tools to do so.
SHURTLEFF: We are.
NORVILLE: Let‘s go over to Utah.
I know, Attorney General, you‘ve had a number of people talk to you ever since these excommunications. And the allegations are very, very serious, child abuse. We‘re hearing about kids being beaten. As Ms. Jessop said, her own children were having pills forced down their throat.
What‘s the state doing to try to help these kids?
SHURTLEFF: We‘re doing exactly what we‘re doing. And that is investigating. And when we put together a case, we‘re charging people with crimes.
NORVILLE: How do you put together a case, though, when it‘s so hard to get in there?
SHURTLEFF: Well, what we‘re doing is, we‘re trying to build some coalitions.
Not only are we working with people who have left polygamy and those victims who have come out to talk to us and given us evidence, but we‘re also working with some people who are still in polygamy who abhor these practices, who know people, and who are willing to help us out. So we‘re trying to bring everybody together.
In addition, we‘re trying to provide a safety net, provide resources for those victims, so they feel they can come out and provide testimony. In addition, our Child and Family Services rules are that if a child believes that she‘s going to be forced to marry an older man, she does not have to wait until that happens. She can contact us and she can get Child and Family Services.
We‘re working to have local law enforcement there, meaning county law enforcement, not the police in those communities, who are also polygamists. And it‘s questionable whether they‘re following the constitution or the prophet. And, in addition, we‘re always at trying to get some signage up, some billboards that will notify of hot lines so that the information can get to these victims.
NORVILLE: So you‘re suspicious abortion local law enforcement there,
Ross Chatwin, you are still in the community. You live there. You know what‘s going on. You know what people are saying. Are they aware that outside law enforcement is looking more closely at what‘s going on there?
CHATWIN: Yes, I am. I‘m very much aware. And I think that they are quite frantically worried about it.
NORVILLE: And are they making changes?
CHATWIN: And I think that Warren knows that he‘s basically a practicing pimp without a license.
CHATWIN: And I think that he should be concerned.
NORVILLE: And how would a case against the prophet be put together>?
You just made a very serious allegation there.
CHATWIN: I think it‘s quite true to...
CHATWIN: Go ahead.
SHURTLEFF: Deborah, I was just going to say that we have an investigator who works full-time. We‘re working with other agencies. We have a subcommittee put together, federal, state, and local law enforcement officers.
We‘re working very hard to work with victims. And when these men are being excommunicated now and when women come out, we do interviewing them. Sometimes, with the women, our problem is, they have to first get custody of their children or they‘re not going to want to be witnesses. And that‘s a process that takes a year or so.
NORVILLE: And on that note, let me turn to you, Laurene Jessop.
You have fought so hard to get your three daughters back. And yet your two sons, ages 12 and 13, are not with you. And you have been unsuccessful in getting them back.
L. JESSOP: Well, they are in my custody, temporary custody. We just don‘t know how to go about getting them back here, back with me.
NORVILLE: How to get them physically with you.
L. JESSOP: And also she can explain a little bit about that, that what they‘re taught. I‘m not sure that they can fit in here.
F. JESSOP: We don‘t know if it would be safe to have the boys in the home with Laurene and the girls at this point because they belong to this group called the Sons of Helaman or Helaman. Warren Jeffs has started this group of basically a Hitler youth group.
NORVILLE: So the brainwashing goes on.
F. JESSOP: Yes. I would also like to say that Utah has been very good at working with us. And Arizona has been nothing.
NORVILLE: Well, I know Arizona is working on that. They‘ve just passed one law in that direction. And we‘ve heard what Representative Farnsworth has to say.
I want to thank you so much for being with us, Arizona House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Ross Chatwin, our thanks to you. And, Laurene Jessop and Flora Jessop, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.
NORVILLE: We‘ll be back in a moment.
NORVILLE: That‘s our program for tonight. Thanks for watching.
Tomorrow night, the Olympic gold medalist who is bowing out of the Athens Olympics. Why? He thinks it‘s not safe.
That‘s our show. We‘ll see you tomorrow.
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