Yesterday, after calling a family violence hotline with a borrowed cell phone, a pregnant 16-year-old girl escaped from the Yearning for Zion Ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Eldorado, Texas.
It's a gleaming, well-ordered place where the church members made cheese and cement to support their lifestyle, and committed some bizarre atrocities in the name of God.
The girl is one of 50-year-old Dale Barlow's seven wives, and the story she's telling authorities -- of captivity, polygamy, and physical and sexual abuse at the hands of older men -- is nothing less than shocking.
Raised in the church compound her entire life, the girl was told by church elders that she'd be forced to cut her hair, wear make-up and have sex with different men in the outside world. But apparently, those options became less horrifying to her than continuing to live in a closed society where she was already a mother at 16 and routinely beaten by her spiritual husband while his other wives looked on.
I'm rarely surprised by the lengths to which certain religions will go in order to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, and the rites they observe as part of their worship. But I'm endlessly fascinated by how often those same religions will organize themselves so that men can enjoy sex with multiple, underage women. It's like the guys all got together and decided the answer to "What would Jesus do?" is "He'd hit that."
The compound was raided yesterday. Authorities removed 416 children, many of which were unable to identify their biological parents, and have placed them into protective custory. Nearly 140 women have left on their own. You can bet all of them have been traumatized, are traumatized now, and will be traumatized for some time by their experiences.