–Sophia Loren, Women and Beauty
I remember when the news broke about a polygamist ranch, and the abused teenage bride who called for help. I was thrilled at her imminent rescue. Then I heard that they bused away over 400 children, along with all the mothers who would come with them. The state classified the children as endangered, identifying a pervasive pattern of abuse within the community. Shortly thereafter, the state separated the mothers from their children to eliminate undue influence during the investigation. They also announced that they could not identify the teen-aged bride who had sounded the alarm, but that the ranch constituted a dangerous environment, and they were keeping the children.
I watched as these mothers, who had been raised to fear and shun the outside world (with special emphasis on the media) went on national television, braving Larry King, Anderson Cooper and other assorted inquisitive, cynical interviewers to demand the return of their children. They all seemed earnest, and profoundly odd. I remember a feeling of discomfort creeping down my spine.
In these United States, we do not force girls into marriage. In this country, we try to protect the weak from abuse. It is a no-brainer that boys should not be raised to victimize women. We champion freedom, and freedom ends when your desires trample my freedom. Yet, to confiscate 400 children, on the basis of broad-based perceptions of an alien culture is clearly suspect. When we make judgments without facts, we invite boot-strap tyranny. Apparently, the courts found the state’s case underwhelming, and ordered the children’s return to their parents.
The courts have imposed strict guidelines. Parenting classes, travel restrictions, and unannounced physical and psychological examinations act as a safety net. For their part, the sect has banned under-age marriage. How rational. It seems all will be well.
And, still I am uncomfortable. Strong case or weak, parents who have experienced an epiphany or not, abandoned prejudices or those kept safely in our back pocket, how do we safeguard the children? Short of placing the compound under surveillance, or permanently camping out in living rooms, how can we guarantee against systemic abuse? Frankly, how do we ever - anywhere?
Do we rely on the mothers? And, hope?