God’s Brothel: The extortion of sex for salvation in contemporary Mormon and Christian fundamentalist polygamy and the stories of 18 women who escaped

Andrea Moore-Emmett, who was raised Mormon, documents clearly in God’s Brothel how polygamy across time and multiple cultures has never and can never be anything but rank subjugation of women and girls. The women are never equals. They are treated like property, subject to spousal rape, degradation, forced poverty, and more. Girls as young as nine are ‘married’ to grown men. Teenage girls get used as sex toys. Marriage among first cousins and even father and daughter occurs.

But wait you say, certainly there must be a few polygamist wives who are happy. Well, based on the eighteen stories here as well as quotes from Brigham Young’s wives, the answer is No. Generally, one wife is the favorite; the lesser wives get treated as housemaids or slaves. The older wives can be jealous of the younger ones and can make their lives miserable. Besides, even if there was a polygamist marriage where the wives were happy, their children, especially the girls would be born into polygamy and have no choice about their future. It is a brutal patriarchy with the man assuming he is the God of his household and ‘women are a vessel to be worn out in childbirth.’ Beatings are not uncommon. The women are told the only way they can go to heaven and avoid hell is by submitting to polygamy and complete male authority.

From the book

Much is said about many women in polygamy being consenting adults who willingly choose to live as plural wives and who are very happy. There can be no consent when girls are born into polygamy and, through isolation and limited education, do not know of any other choices. There can be no consent when women are recruited and go through the conversion process without understanding how mind-control takes place physically and mentally.

It can be devastating on the boys too. Polygamist elders frequently see them as competition for the young girls, so when the boys are 18, they are dumped on a street corner somewhere and left to fend on their own, with no jobs skills and little education or exposure to the outside world. That’s right, their elders simply abandon them. Other times the boys simply ‘disappear.’

In Prince vs. Massachusetts The U.S. Supreme Court “held that the government has broad authority to regulate the actions and treatment of children. Parental authority is not absolute and can be permissibly restricted if doing so is in the interests of a child’s welfare. While children share many of the rights of adults, they face different potential harms from similar activities.”

From the United Nations general recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Polygamous marriage contravenes a woman’s right to equality with men, and can have such serious emotional and financial consequences for her and her dependents that such marriages ought to be discouraged and prohibited. The Committee notes with concern that some States parties, whose constitutions guarantee equal rights, permit polygamous marriage in accordance with personal or customary law. This violates the constitutional rights of women, and breaches the provisions of article 5 (a) of the Convention.

The Mormon Church (LDS) will expel any member practicing polygamy. It’s zero tolerance at the official level. However, polygamy is still part of their scripture even as the doctrine announced in 1890 outlaws it for members. Some LDS members hope it may come back someday. My take on the US forcing LDS to banish polygamy is perhaps more political than those who opposed it on moral grounds. LDS was expanding fast in the mid to late 1800’s. Brigham Young envisioned a religious empire stretching from Utah to California, and the practice of polygamy attracted men to join and then have many children. The US eventually saw this as a threat to itself and thus in effect told LDS to stop polygamy or we will destroy you.

Even LDS members who might have some inclination towards accepting polygamy sometimes change their views when they see what it is like.

Ron Barton, an LDS member initially sympathetic to polygamy, was hired by the Utah Attorney General to investigate polygamy. After a year he said it now seemed to him that “the lifestyle seemed to breed abuses and, in light of that, should be kept illegal.”

The book notes that Jan Shipps, “the preeminent historian of the Mormon Church”, said in 2000 now “that these plural relationships once sanctified by the church have been tied to victimization of women and children and possible abuse of government resources, continuing toleration of the practice in the Mormon culture region will probably be less acceptable than in has been in the past half-century.”

His words are cautious however his meaning is quite clear. Polygamy is exploitative. The abuses of governmental resources he refers to is the polygamist practice of “bleeding the beast” i.e. the government, by swindling money out of them, often by welfare fraud. This reaches sickening proportions in FLDS, one of the nastiest of the polygamist cults, where due to intermarriage babies are often born with major problems and pregnant girls pat their bellies and hope for a mongloid because that means the welfare payment from the state will be larger.

The 18 stories in the book by women who escaped polygamist marriages are horrific. The women and female children were little better than slaves. They had no say in anything, were brutalized and beaten, with the girls having no childhood as they were put to work as young as four. Sometimes their brothers, half-brothers, and step-brothers would repeatedly molest and even rape them while the father looked on approvingly. Sometimes the father was doing the same. With such families often living in isolated rural areas in communities where the police are members of the polygamist cult too, then the women and girls have no protection at all.

As two of the women who escaped said, “What is going on with a sister-wife or wives is that you are sharing one penis. That’s what it all revolves around.” Polygamy is male patriarchy taken to its most extreme lengths, with women and girls being frequent and brutalized victims.

The author helped found Tapestry Against Polygamy, an organization that helps women escape, and chaired Utah NOW, who originally supported polygamy based on giving women a choice and now opposes it as does the rest of NOW.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer, investigates the real-life ‘blood atonement’ murder of a woman who was a member of a fundamentalist polygamist sect and wanted to leave it.

Sue and I are dividing our time between San Jose CA and Cedar City UT, which is heavily Mormon – and is also by far the friendliest place I’ve ever been. LDS members value civility as a virtue. Their church has a private welfare system, something I find admirable. The Utah drug court, unlike California, gives offenders multiple chances. This is undoubtedly due to an LDS-inspired belief in the possibility of redemption. So, I’m not interested in Mormon bashing. Besides, the Catholic religion I was raised in and left at age 14 is guilty of sickening institutionalized sexual abuse and cover-ups spanning decades. Both churches have legacies they will be dealing with for years, which in different ways are about male power and dominance, a lack of accountability, and masking sexual predation behind a cover of religion. The polygamist cults are extreme and virulent examples of that.


  • DJ

    From the National Geographic article on the FLDS community: “To spend time in Hildale and Colorado City is to come away with a more nuanced view.”

    There is little doubt that some cultish environments promote abuse of women and children. It’s widespread in [monogamous] India and [both monogamous and polygamous] parts of the Islamic world. You can even see it even in certain [non-marriage-oriented] AA communities. As a commenter on your FB link said, subjugation of women does not require polygamy.

    OTOH, around Cedar City you may meet independent polygamists who are not members of the FLDS community. They– both men and women– practice polygamy by choice. It’s hard to see how a relationship entered into by choice, which can be dissolved by choice, could be inherently degrading to any party. But this must be distinguished from closed circles in which choice has been removed.

    Interestingly, polygamy as described in the Bible was intended to protect women in an environment in which they were extremely vulnerable. There were rules to ensure that most women had a husband to provide for and protect them. For example, if your brother died leaving behind a widow or widows, the law said you, the male sibling, was required to marry and take in his wife or wives. (Of course, the Bible also insists on justice for the poor and condemns loaning money at interest– its followers often disregard many of its strictures.)

    I am not a polygamist– I think a single wife is plenty, thank you. However, I have met families in which men had multiple wives and (in California) women with multiple husbands. It’s easy to condemn those who are different.

    Where a close-knit community, whether polygamous or not, promotes the forced marriage of underage women, that is a crime that should be rectified. But saying that polygamy is the cause requires the logical conclusion that monogamy is also a cause because it so often results in similar subjugation, and therefore marriage as a whole should be eliminated. Some will argue that is true. I’m not one of them. IMO, the law should protect the vulnerable, but let consenting adults do as they wish.

    • The author mentioned that there were quite a few independent polygamists, living quietly. Perhaps such a single family unit might be considerably less problematic than the large sects, which really are cults – mind control, strict discipline, and give me all your money.

      But what of a consenting woman joining such a cult then having daughters? Her daughters have no choice.

      • DJ

        “Cult” implies a closed group– the opposite of “single family unit.”

        What if she married a monogamous fundamentalist Christian man and her daughters grew up with the belief that “women should be silent in church” and “be subject to their husband”? Doe that mean they will be subjugated and abused? Maybe, maybe not. At some point, you’ve got to trust a consenting adult woman to make appropriate choices.

    • CF

      I read that article in Nat Geo when it came out last February and was extremely dissastisfied. It left out facts, glossed over abuses and generally seemed like an FLDS press release. Did you know the entire thing was approved by their incarcerated “prophet” Warren Jeffs?

      I expected more from Stephanie Sinclair given her past work with childbrides in the Middle East. Apparently childbrides on American soil are just quaint, old-timey culture.

      • An article that must be approved by the main figure being profiled is a press release not journalism

  • Theresa Lupo

    It is a true statement that abuse of women & children can happen in any type of marriage.The problem of Mormon polygamy is that it is a cult & it takes women’s rights away & makes them slaves to the socalled prophet in charge.There is noway out for these women. They are told that if they do not submit they will be going to hell.So considering the mental brainwashing & threats of hell & the fact that their husband has total control of their lives there is far more oppertunity for abuse in these type of cult marriages.Taking a person’s right to marry who they want to marry away is an abuse in it self.Their whole purpose in life is to produce children so the husband can have an exalted kingdom of his own ruling & reigning with all his wives & children in the next life.He becomes “a god” with his wives as his queens.
    Women are property of the husband & the man has to marry as many as he can .The more wives & children the higher exaltation in the next life.The women are also told that when they die it won’t be God who wakes them up on the other side……it will be their husband.Of course! who else ? considering they believe that they will become “a god” on the other side.I will list the abuses here….1Absolutely no choice in who you will marry.2Absolutely no choice on how many children you want.3 No choice as to when you will marry(as soon as you have your first period….you are fair game)or whenever the “prophet” says.That is total mental, physical & spirituel bondage.In short it is slavery through brainwashing using fear of hell as a weapon.If that is not abuse then the earth must be flat.
    Polygamy by “choice” of both the female & the male is a different thing all together.The key here is freedom of choice.Mormon polygamy does not give women any choices in life.They are the property of their husbands period.Just like a slave because that is what they are……in bondage, property=slaves.

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