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Sun, Sept. 22

Polygamous community target of abuse allegations<BR>Third of three parts

Flora Jessup left her home in Colorado City 15 years ago.

She was 18 years old, and, as she tells it, she didn't just leave, she escaped.

With an estimated combined population of 8,000 people, Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, make up the largest polygamous community in the United States.

While polygamy is illegal the community has been generally left alone by authorities unsure of how to handle the clash of religious freedom and illegal lifestyle.

The remote community is made up mostly of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The fundamentalist Mormons refused to abandon polygamy when the church renounced it in 1890.

Jessup said she didn't flee religion, she fled abuse.

The abuse, she said, included sexual molestation.

A smart and strong-willed girl, she took the unheard of action of taking her alleged abuser to court when she was 13 years old.

A St.

George judge dismissed the case and sent Jessup back to Colorado City, where she said she was kept a virtual prisoner in her uncle's home for the next four years.

"One day they let me out to go to the bathroom, they had got more lax, and I just ran," Jessup said.

She criss-crossed the country hitchhiking for the next five years.

The whole time, she said, FLDS leaders pursued her.

"Girls just don't leave there, or they used to not," she said.

After five years on the road she gave birth to a daughter and settled in Phoenix.

She said she finally felt that she knew enough people on the outside to protect her from church retaliation.

In February, she was married and is slowly staring to put her anger about her upbringing aside.

She spent years blaming God for her fate and struggled to find an identity outside the church.

At one point, she said, she even turned to drugs in her hopelessness.

Now things are changing.

"When I left I didn't care about anything.

I despised God.

But God didn't do this to me.

The church did.

God was sitting on my shoulder the whole time I was running or I wouldn't have made it."

Although she may be setting her anger aside, she is more determined than ever to help others get out.

She is one of a loose-knit group of former residents who run an Underground Railroad type of operation designed to help runaways make a less traumatic transition to life outside of Colorado City.

"I used to say that I'm not fighting polygamy but I am because you take out the underage girls, let them have an education, give them a choice, and how many are going to live in (polygamy)? Not very damn many."

Education in Colorado City is mostly supplied via home schooling after church members were ordered in 1999 by FLDS leader Rulon Jeffs to remove their children from public school.

Pulling children, especially girls, out of public school isn't a religious decision, Jessup said, it's a necessity to sustain the lifestyle.

"In order to continue this way of life, you keep (the girls) uneducated and don't give them a choice.

By the time they figure it out they have kids they need to protect."

Jessup's view of Colorado City clashes with the idyllic community portrait painted by Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom.

Ekstrom said he has made several trips to Colorado City in a professional capacity, most often sitting in on school board meetings when a legal opinion was needed.

"If (the residents) stood out at all it was for the firmness of their handshakes and they looked me in the eye," he said.

He saw a community with well-behaved children, few drug and crime problems and strong family values.

"Very wholesome American qualities, like Mayberry," he said.

And, while he said his office will investigate any specific claims of abuse, his office is not engaged in any ongoing investigation.

Outsiders, he said, are making "having a family with someone a horrible crime."

So far, he said, investigations into abuse and of weapons hoarding have come up empty.

No weapons have been found and the marital relationships have been found to be nothing more than consensual relationships between adults.

"I see no public policy reason to disrupt the lives of families unless children are in danger," he said.


George resident Les Zittig said children are in danger and called Ekstrom's comparison of Colorado City to Mayberry is uninformed.

"He doesn't have a clue," Zittig said.

"The children are well behaved and taught values, obedience, discipline.

That's not the issue…these people are breaking the laws in front of everybody."

Zittig left his polygamous home in Colorado City in 1970 when he was 21 years old.

He left, he said, because the lifestyle came with too many contradictions.

"I was raised in a society where the most important part of that society is the women, yet the women are in positions that they…100 percent do what the men tell them to do."

"There were little white lies, all the time…too many discrepancies."

Like other apostates (those who have left the church) Zittig has been shunned by the community and has little contact with the family he left behind.

Like Jessup, Zittig said he isn't interested in fighting people's right to practice their religion he's fighting real crimes.

"I call it white slavery," he said, saying women are forced to submit to the men and the men are forced to submit to the church leader, Rulon Jeffs, who is believed to answer to God alone.

"This has nothing to do with religion," he said.

"The issue is human rights, and FLDS women and children have no rights."

Another issue often mentioned in connection with Colorado City is welfare fraud.

Some allege that polygamous wives qualify for food stamps and other welfare benefits by claiming to be single mothers to their many children.

Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson said that was the issue that first brought Colorado City to his attention.

"Taxpayers are supporting polygamy with welfare," Johnson said, pointing to statistics that show Colorado City receives $8 in government services for every $1 in taxes paid by its residents.

That compares to about $1.22 in services for each tax dollar paid in Kingman, he said.

Johnson said that while he was investigating the welfare issue he became aware of the many allegations of abuse from former residents.

Horror stories like Jessup's, he said, are coming from too many women now to be dismissed without a thorough investigation.

Johnson said he hopes the federal government will launch a thorough investigation into the allegations.

Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow dismisses the negative attention as the work of grumblers.

"You have to realize that every community has its soreheads who attack them," he said.

As for reports that girls are being brought in from Canada to expand the town's stagnant gene pool, Barlow said, "You don't want to believe all that."

He has the same answer when asked about allegations of abuse.

"You don't want to believe all that," he said.

"(Colorado City is) a good little community."

Attempts to contact numerous other FLDS leaders for this article were unsuccessful.

Jessup and others who have left Colorado City armed with stories of abuse said they're having a hard time finding anyone in Arizona who will "believe all that."

With Ekstrom on record as seeing Colorado City as Mayberry they turned to Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano.

Jessup and Johnson both said they had a better reception from Napolitano.

But Napolitano's spokeswoman Pati Urias said the attorney general's office is "not the appropriate agency" to query about an investigation into Colorado City.

Things are a little different in Utah where two recent cases have resulted in polygamy-related convictions.

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