The impact of sexual violence on people in a plural marriage relationship can be complicated. In Utah, the state’s Coalition Against Sexual Assault is working with victims who struggle to find support for families who may have more than one spouse. Many legal issues and feelings of isolation can complicate matters for those who need help.
Plural marriage, which is better known as polygamy, is illegal in the U.S. However, there are still those who have more than one spouse. For some, this practice is religious, for others it is culture based. Alina Darger has one husband and two sisterwives. She is the founder of Cherish Families, an organization that focuses on helping domestic abuse and sexual assault victims in a plural marriage context. She said there are a lot of assumptions about her and others who are in a plural marriage.
“I’ve been asked a couple of times in my life how I escaped polygamy or questions about my prophet Warren Jeffs, which I’ve never met him, I don’t know anything about him,” she said.
Darger is part of a group of independents that practice plural marriage because of religious reasons but do not belong to any specific church. Each group and family has varying beliefs that range from fairly modern lives like the Darger’s, to more conservative lives and dress that you might see in someone who is part of the FLDS group, formerly led by Warren Jeffs. Because of the stigma surrounding plural marriage and various raids targeting this population, Darger says many people don’t get help when they need it.
“A lot of the times it’s like, 'Marriage counseling? Okay Google, find me marriage counseling for quads," Darger said. "How do you do that? How do you find that? I’ve had a lot of people that I work with say they ended up giving therapy to the therapist. So, it really is like getting people educated and trained that are providing services on what some of those barriers are so that the person in front of them can receive services and not be retraumatized.”
Not knowing where to get resources safely can be isolating, said Darger. Turner Bitton hears this often. He’s the executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“The thing that we always get when we are talking about sexual violence - we hear phraseology like this is a crime of passion, it just happens, it’s a sex crime," Bitton said. "The reality is it’s not, it’s a crime of power and control in that perpetrators engage in a very deliberate, thoughtful and intentional process where they probe for vulnerabilities and they target specific victims. Thereby, sexual violence is not a crime of sex, it’s a crime of power and control. Systems where there is unchecked power, unchecked control by one person over another are the breeding ground for sexual violence. So you see this whether it’s in the Boy Scouts, whether it’s in a polygamous community, whether it’s in a loving healthy family where a father has too much control over children or power over children. Any opportunity a perpetrator has to isolate and control victims is the perfect storm for sexual violence.”
“I think some of the things about really supporting people from polygamous communities, whether their leaving, whether their staying, whether they’ve experienced abuse or not is to understand the diversity that exists and really see them as a person sitting in front of you," Darger said. "Not the family history or that polygamous sitting in front of you. But really focus on the issue at hand. If somebody is sitting in front of you because they’ve experienced sexual assault or domestic violence, focus on that. And then be really great about being okay that you may not know and ask them questions. Then assure confidentially really helps if they can trust you to be safe and say the things that they need to say- of course we are all mandatory reporters and that applies. But as far as like just not judging them wherever there at, I think it’s really key."