Polygamy is about to be decriminalised in Utah. Is it good news for women?
By Andrea Smardon in Salt Lake City
Growing up in a polygamist community, Shirlee Draper heard stories about her father’s childhood – how he was pulled out from under his bed in a government raid and taken from his parents.
“I grew up with intense fear of outsiders,” Draper said. “We called people who drove into town that were not part of our community ‘kidnappers’. We knew that was a fate we could suffer as our parents had suffered.”
Draper was a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) – a polygamist sect led by Warren Jeffs, who is now in prison for two felony counts of child sexual assault. But it wasn’t until Draper decided to leave that she realized how she had been trapped.
“I saw firsthand how the leaders were able to gain control because of the fear of law enforcement,” she said. In Utah, polygamy is a felony, and it took Draper six years to move out. “I had no way to get help. Everywhere I went, I was visually identifiable as a felon, and I was greeted with hostility.”
Later, when her mother tried to leave the community and apply for a driver’s license, Draper said she was still wearing her FLDS clothing – a collared, ankle-length dress with puffed sleeves. “A clerk – an employee of the state of Utah – denied her a driver’s license and told her to her face, ‘we don’t want you here’,” Draper said. “As a result, my mom went back to Colorado City, and she died because she could not access the medical care that she needed.”