Fundamentalist High School Drama – Escape Chapter 6: The Nusses

After the unremitting awful that was the last chapter, it’s nice to hit a light-ish one again. This is Escape, so there’s still plenty of bullshit that will make your teeth grind, but I’ve gotta admit, it’s kind of fun to get a taste of high school drama FLDS style

There’s a new high school in town, so those folks on the Prophet Uncle Roy side of the great religious divide can finally get an education.

The split in our community was now in it’s seventh year. One of the consequences was that many families pulled their children out of the private high school so they would not be contaminated by the children of the families on the other side of the divide who supported Uncle Roy. As a result, many boys wound up working on construction jobs instead of going to high school. The girls who were forbidden to go to the private high school were confined to their homes. Most of the girls who were kept out of school were disappointed because they had wanted an education and a diploma before they were assigned to a marriage. They knew that their futures were being shortchanged.

Yep. When you’ve got your eyes on eternal salvation, you don’t give a shit about your kids’ education. You don’t care if their ignorance cripples them here on Earth, condemning them to a lifetime of misery and poverty, just so long as their souls are saved. Besides, too much book-learnin’ could lead to H-E-double-hockey-sticks. [Read more…]

Trapped – Escape Chapter 5: “Linda’s Flight to Freedom”

In our last installment of Escape, we watched Carolyn’s sister Linda flee the FLDS cult with her friend Claudel, despite the threat of losing their families and being condemned to the worst portions of hell. In the last half of this chapter, we’ll see that running from the FLDS is one thing. Hiding successfully is quite another.

When women flee the FLDS, they’re hunted down like fugitives on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, only with less of a chance to evade capture. Linda and Claudel only manage a few days of freedom before they’re tracked and surrounded by a posse of their male relatives. The woman they’re staying with has to call the police to get rid of them, and even when told by the cops that the girls are legal adults and can do whatever they want, so scram, Linda’s dad won’t leave until he’s talked to her. She finally relents when he promises to leave her alone after they’ve spoken.

Pro tip: when an abusive asshole or a cult authority tells you they’ll stop bothering you if you’ll just talk to them this once, they’re lying. So, y’know, don’t bother. [Read more…]

Bringing Warren Jeffs to Justice: The Witness Wore Red Review

If you’ve read Elissa Wall’s harrowing Stolen Innocence, you already know a sliver of Rebecca Musser’s story. She’s Elissa’s sister, and was introduced under the pseudonym Kassandra. You’ll remember her as the vivacious young woman married to elderly prophet Rulon Jeffs. She had tried to make Elissa’s underage coerced wedding day less painful, became her lifeline, and left her devastated when she fled the cult. Later, Rebecca helped Elissa begin her escape by giving her a taste of life outside the FLDS. The sisters would later be instrumental in bringing Warren Jeffs to justice.

In The Witness Wore Red, we not only get Rebecca’s own story: we get aspects of Elissa’s story through her sister’s eyes, which helps broaden and deepen the context of both their lives. We see the Wall family as it was in the earlier days, before the new house, when Elissa and Rebecca’s part of the family would have to hide in the basement to escape the violent jealousy of their father’s other wife. We’re shown some of the domestic violence endemic to FLDS families, and the child sexual assault perpetrated so often within them – in addition to the violent other mother, Rebecca has to endure groping and attempted rape by an older half-brother. She, of course, is the one who gets called a whore when he assaults her.

If you’ve read Stolen Innocence first, it’s a bit confusing at first to navigate this book, which is using different names for people we already know from Elissa’s book, but you soon get everyone sorted out. And you’re too wrapped up in the trainwrecks of all these various lives to mind. Rebecca and her co-author are very good at putting you in Rebecca’s shoes, experiencing the stomach-clenching anxiety, anger, and despair of a girl trying to navigate the minefields of her religiously-smothered life.

She survives the FLDS school where Warren Jeffs rules, and gets a brief taste of adult life as a teacher, before being betrothed to 85 year-old Rulon Jeffs at the age of 18. Shortly after her 19th birthday, she becomes his 19th wife, very much against her own wishes. She’s never been given counseling to help her sort out the guilt and shame from her half-brother’s sexual assault, and on her wedding night, is desperately hoping humans are indeed higher than animals and that she won’t be forced to endure Rulon’s sexual advances. FLDS members are supposed to only have sex for procreation, and Rulon is far too old to sire children. But he has no regard for religious rules or Rebecca’s own wishes. Her only reprieve is the notion that with so many wives, he won’t be able to sleep with her often – but then learns that he only sleeps with his youngest wives, ignoring the older ones.

She’s able to go back to teaching, but it’s a difficult life for her. She witnesses the truth of the Jeffs men: they’re not exalted beings, but selfish, grasping men who love to degrade women. When Rulon has a stroke, she watches his son Warren step in and lie to the people. She looks on in horror as he begins to marry off younger and younger women. And then her young sister Elissa is forced into marriage at 14. We see Rebecca ordered to make Elissa happy, and watch her doing her best to cheer her while crying inside.

By the time Rulon dies, Rebecca is already almost at the end of her tether, having endured too much abuse and been forced to witness too many awful things. When Warren Jeffs starts marrying his father’s widows (an act prohibited by FLDS incest taboos, which he as prophet feels free to ignore), she finds herself questioning her faith. She begins a cautious friendship with Ben Musser, the only man she’s ever felt safe with. But after Ben kisses her, Warren tells her she’s cost Ben his salvation, and she’s going to be married to someone else within a week. She’s allowed to tell him her choice of men, but she’ll be forced to do something she’s adamantly against: enter another marriage.

She breaks. Then she makes a break for it, trusting a few scattered memories of the kindness of strangers on the outside. Ben escapes with her, and they begin a new life among the apostates, helped by her brothers who have already been kicked out of or left the cult. She describes how hard the transition is, how it’s difficult to make her own decisions, and learn how to function outside of the FLDS.

Ben begins a relationship with her, one that comes across as dubiously consensual to me. Soon, she’s pregnant, which causes a whole new set of issues. Ben stays with her, but the FLDS life is all they’ve ever known, and they fall into the old patterns of male dominance, which causes considerable strain.

When Warren Jeffs is arrested and Elissa’s former husband is brought up on charges of child rape, Rebecca becomes a witness against them. The last third of the book is her quest for justice, and freedom for the women still trapped inside the cult. She ends up testifying in many trials, always wearing red – a color Warren Jeffs had for forbidden.

Her work with the prosecution exposes her to the extent of the horrors Jeffs perpetrated. She’s there when his Texas compound is raided, and explains the significance of what they find there. Through her, we see the room in the FLDS temple where plural wives would have to witness their husband having sex with each of them, complete with a clerk to record the act. Girls as young as twelve were recorded being raped there. Rebecca listens to the audio of one child rape, and it is horrific, even though she shields us somewhat.

In the end, Rebecca can’t save all of her sisters from the cult. She can’t save her marriage as the strain of repeated trials and diverging worldviews destroys it. But she is able to get justice for Elissa and many other girls harmed by the FLDS cult. And with her story, she shows the way out for many more.

It’s an infuriating, heart-rending book. But it’s also infused with hope. It’s more than worth your time.

Image is the cover of The Witness Wore Red. On top, there is a picture of Rulon Jeffs with many of his wives, all of whom are wearing white. Rebecca's dress has been photoshopped to be red. Below the title is a picture of Rebecca Musser dressed in red and flanked by Texas lawmen, ready to enter the courtroom to testify against Warren Jeffs.

‘Today is a Good Day to Deny': The American Right Wing Refusal to Face Facts

I hope it’s only in America that a young white man can walk into a historic black church, tell the black people inside he’s there to kill them because they’re black, murder nine black people, tell the police he murdered them because they’re black, and publish a manifesto explaining he’s killing black people because they’re black… and end up with right wing blowhards claiming the crime has nothing to do with racism. People, if racism can’t be defined in part as “murdering a bunch of people because they’re black,” it’s time we strike the sapiens from our species’ name. We’re in no way wise if we can’t recognize the blatant racism that drove this horrific crime.

Image is nine photographs of the idividuals murdered in Charleston. The women are on the sides, the men down the middle.

The nine people murdered in Emmanuel AME Church. Via Ophelia Benson.

[Read more…]

Fleeing Marriage – Escape Chapter 5: “Linda’s Flight to Freedom”

I informed you last week, after that relatively light chapter of Escape, that we’d be right back into the horror show. People, it’s bad. You might want to grab a mouth guard, because you’re going to be spitting nails and gnashing your teeth to nubs. Content notice for emotional abuse, creepy old men, stalking, spiritual abuse, and coerced marriage.

We’re plunged eyebrow-deep in awful right from the first paragraph, when we learn that a creep in his fifties has been stalking Carolyn’s seventeen year-old sister, Linda. He reports to her father things he disapproves of: her skirt’s too short one day, her heels too high another, and why did she comb her hair differently today?

The girls’ mother, Nurylon, is incensed enough to tell her husband “that she didn’t trust this man.” This does zero good: [Read more…]

Really Terrible Bible Inspirations: Craven Hubbies Edition

I’m about a third of the way through Really Terrible Bible Stories vol. 2: Exodus, and I am already longing for the days of Genesis. I mean, God was still a complete asshole, and the people were mostly awful, but at least God wasn’t quite so sadistic. He was still a complete bully who delights in others’ pain, but in Exodus, he’s really refined his tormenting technique. And yet, for all the blood and gore and evil, it’s a hideously boring book in a lot of places. So I’ve got a job o’ work ahead of me, not merely stripping off God’s mask to reveal the shitlord beneath, but also stripping out the boring bits.

One thing Exodus is mercifully free of is cowardly husbands. You know the ones. Remember Abraham, who tried to pass Sarah off as his sister? Twice? And then it turns out that she is his sister! He married his half-sister. Ew. And then he was too much of a coward to stand up to other men, but made her pretend to be unmarried so the horny dudes would creep on her without trying to kill him. What a mensch. [Read more…]

Teenagers Stampede to Avoid Marriage – Escape Chapter 4: “New Wife, New Mother”

This chapter of Escape is a welcome break from the last. It’s practically sunshine and puppies in comparison, although there’s still plenty to be horrified by.

When you hear the words “new wife, new mother,” do you immediately think of a newlywed who’s just had her first child? Then you’re probably not FLDS. In this chapter title, Carolyn’s talking about her dad, Arthur, getting another wife, who will become Carolyn and her siblings’ new mother. Fortunately, the FLDS prophet has paired her dad with a woman everyone already likes: their mom’s niece Rosie.

Yep. Niece. Carolyn tells us that it’s “not at all unusual for sisters to be married to the same husband, and it was certainly not unusual for a niece to share a husband with her aunt.” Oof. We also learn that some men never get a second wife. Those who do generally wait 10-15 years after their first one. The more wives a man has, the more powerful he is.

Lovely. [Read more…]

“Scripture and Whip” – Escape Chapter 3: School Days

This is one of the worst chapters in Escape. Considering how much abuse we’ve seen already, and how bad it gets later on, that’s saying something. Needless to say: Content Notice for severe child physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse.

Carolyn starts the chapter with her excitement at finally being old enough to start school. She’s now six and a half. We learn that FLDS kids don’t attend kindergarten; supposedly home is better. But Carolyn’s home is one without books, without even fairy tales. I can’t even stand this. My mom filled my childhood with books. I started to read a bit on my own by age 3, and some of my best memories are of afternoon reading time with my mom. I became a writer because she’d told me every fairy tale she knew and run out of ideas for new ones by the time I was six, so she encouraged me to make up my own. My thirst to learn and imagine was never quenched – that would be impossible – but Mom gave me bottomless springs to drink from. Carolyn was just as thirsty, and was only given a few pitiful drops to drink.

There wasn’t even a public library, in a town of several thousand people, overflowing with children. That’s practically criminal. And no, I’m not being sarcastic.

Just before Carolyn starts school, they have one of those magnificent southwestern summer downpours that turns the desert into an instant wetland. [Read more…]

Please, Please, Read These Stories Before You Choose a Midwife-Assisted Birth

I’ve spent part of the night reading about babies who didn’t have to die. And I don’t want their stories to be yours. If you’re pregnant or planning, and considering giving birth outside of a hospital, please stop right now and read Grant’s story. His mother Rachel had to tell it. He didn’t live. He didn’t have to die.

Let me remind you that when I first arrived at the birth center for the second time that evening I was offered a transfer for not being able to handle my labor. Why, now with my baby dying were they not offering us a transfer? Why were they trying to make me push when I wasn’t dilated?

I was moved from the birthing stool to the bed… still not 100% dilated. I was told that I needed to get this baby out now. I’m still trying to push. I’ve never pushed so hard in my life. The pain is so bad that my vision is becoming blurry. I was given oxygen. When I look back at this scene I still wonder why no one has called for help. The baby has been in trouble and I’m having a hard time… why?

My husband and I were so focused on pushing this baby out as fast as possible and so focused on what we were doing that we couldn’t stop and tell her to call 911. We weren’t sane. We were relying on all of those midwives to do that for us if need be. We were counting on them to make the decisions that would need to be made when necessary. We were still all on our own as our baby was losing his struggle to breathe.

Read her whole story. Read about her having to leave the body of her perfect baby boy in the arms of crying nurses. If your heart didn’t shatter into atoms, you had no heart to begin with.

People, I have read far too many stories about dead babies. [Read more…]

To The Victims of Josh Duggar and Predators Like Him

The girls who were abused by Josh Duggar, and other kids in the Duggar family who need to escape, will probably never see this post. But if by some miracle they do, I want them to know: there are avenues of escape, should you want them. I’m pretty sure many of your fans would leap to provide you financial assistance through a GoFundMe campaign. Even those of us who aren’t fans would chip in – we care about your safety and well-being. You can hear other survivors’ stories and reach out for advice through No Longer Quivering and the Spiritual Abuse Survivors Network. I’m pretty sure the Free Jinger folks would lend a hand. If you need resources to help you deal with what Josh did to you, reach out to the good folks at RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network] for information on where you can get proper counseling. You don’t have to wear a mask forever. You can overcome this, and you can live a life you were never allowed to dream of. And those resources will be available whether you need them today or decades from now. Someone on the outside will always be here for you.

That goes for all victims of sexual assault, and everyone trapped within the Christian Patriarchy movement. You don’t have to face this alone. The abuse you suffered does not define you. [Read more…]