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May 08 2013

How to Forge Your Own Chains

If you haven’t read Under the Banner of Heaven, I urge you to do so.

Warning!

TW – Murder, Rape

The Fundamentalist Church of Mormonism has a major problem. You see? There is a massive onus on “Individual Revelation”. This caused a split from the Church of Mormon. Basically? All members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints are prophets.

Under the Banner of Heaven is set against the case of the murders of Brenda Lafferty and her daughter Erica. She was married to Allen Lafferty and was murdered by his older brothers Ron and Dan who became enamoured with fundamentalist mormonism. She was a relatively strong and outspoken woman compared to the “usual mormon wife” and when Ron wanted to take a second wife, she gave his wife the strength and support she needed to leave him. Ron’s revenge he claimed was divinely ordained but he broke into her house and cut her throat and that of her infant daughter.

The Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints distanced themselves from this man but such behaviour is not alien to them. The problem being that the church encourages a complete absence of social filters because any such notions are not tempered by common sense. A notion can become a divinely ordained revelation based on how much you “want something to happen”.

Kidnappings of “Brides” has been noted as such a phenomenon.

Elizabeth Smart was one such case. Kidnapped aged 14 and held captive for 9 months, Elizabeth Smart was “forced into a polygamous marriage”. Which is just fancy words for rape. She was a prisoner and lived tethered to a metal cable and raped daily until she was rescued 9 months later.

The thing was that she was only rescued when she and her kidnappers were walking down a street. People asked the question “Why Didn’t You Run Away?”. And here is something I have been telling people for ages. Women brought up in conservative cultures where a undue amount of emphasis is placed on shame and purity are traumatised by rape and so often struggle to escape such abusive situations because they themselves believe that they cannot escape and if they do escape they will be somehow worse off.

Elizabeth Smart spoke to an audience at John Hopkins about human traffic and sexual violence. She explained that the victims of such sexual exploitation often feel worthless after being raped particularly if they (like herself) grew up in a conservative culture where they were exposed to abstinence only education and sexual purity was seen as a standard. Sexually pure girls don’t get raped after all…

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

She recalled a teacher who once spoke about abstinence and compared women to chewing gum. No man would want to re-chew someone else’s gum after all. When your entire being is held to account solely through the status of your virginity and how you lose it, then loss through anything but the widely accepted “norm” is considered unacceptable. If your role in society from birth is to be taught to be nothing more than someone who has to fit into the needs of a man then you would believe your life is ruined. That it no longer has any value.

Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

Elizabeth Smart today runs a foundation that teaches self respect and real sex education rather than the religious tinged spiel of abstinence only education. It’s widely known now that comprehensive sex education for both boys and girls teaches them about their bodies. In addition it clearly tells children what is and what isn’t considered abuse and how to avoid abusing someone sexually through proper consent and respect for each other. In addition it helps them describe abuse without shame and helps the victims of sexual abuse to seek help without fear of social stigma.

Let’s call abstinence only sex education out for what it is. A spade is a spade after all. It’s Shame Based Education. If you are ashamed of who and what you are you won’t have sex. Someone who asks about those things is clearly a slut and so kids are less likely to ask about those issues. Also? Any person who flogs shame based sex education is bound to be a font of terrible advice so any kids who do ask for help often don’t receive what they need.

These programs do exist and do impart harmful messages. There is a long history of them and they are even exported such as under the Bush Administration where such ideas were pushed equally in places like Africa and the Philippines with devastating effects.

And even at home in the USA! I wrote about it here where Pam Stenzel told students that if they took Birth Control that their mother hates them. That’s the level of sex ed available to women.

“I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.”

- Pam Stenzel

In Smart’s home state of Utah, sex ed is under attack to reinstate an abstinence only curriculum. And she is a campaigner for better sex education in order to stop more cases like herself and help others who suffered.

“You will always have value and nothing can change that.”

- Elizabeth Smart

2 comments

  1. 1
    Kevin

    What an admirable person Smart is.

  2. 2
    TGAP Dad

    I second Mano’s recommendation for the book Under the Banner of Heaven. Other books on the polygamous sects worth reading are Escape! by Carolyn Jessup and Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall, who was born into the Warren Jeffs community and married to a cousin at the age of 13. Both are first-person accounts and aren’t written with the skill of Krakauer, but worthy reads in their own right. Oddly enough, while both women recognize the religion’s role in keeping them servile, both remained religious, although in different form after leaving their marriages.

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