Pinesdale polygamy fears

Abuse seen as a risk in closed societies

| April 24, 2008
Photo by Tess McEnroe
            “All the [polygamist] groups are somewhat related in their beliefs and practices. There is this philosophy here in the Bitterroot: You leave us alone, and we’ll leave you alone.
Photo by Tess McEnroe

“All the [polygamist] groups are somewhat related in their beliefs and practices. There is this philosophy here in the Bitterroot: You leave us alone, and we’ll leave you alone.

On a sunny weekday afternoon, Pinesdale, an enclave just west of Corvallis, looks only slightly different than any other rural town in the Bitterroot Valley. The wind gently blows the long, dark hair of two women pushing strollers on a freshly paved walking path. The women stop by a creek near a country road. Both wear nearly identical denim dresses with pastel blouses.

Aside from their traditional clothes, the women could be mothers from any American community. But when a car drives by, they stiffen and watch, rapt, until it’s safely gone. Strangers, it’s clear, do not often venture here.

Religion—in the form of a Mormon sect that’s in nationwide headlines—is the reason why.

Most of the residents of Pinesdale, population 742, belong to the Apostolic United Brethren (AUB), a Utah-based fundamentalist group that has long favored polygamy, or “plural marriage.” As news continues to unfold about a massive federal raid on a polygamist compound in West Texas—where alleged child sexual abuse led authorities to place more than 400 children in protective custody—Bitterroot locals have been left wondering if they should be concerned about the enclave in their own backyard.

Yes, they should, one Pinesdale resident says.

“Is Pinesdale this big incestuous place like in Texas? No,” says the woman, who asks to remain anonymous. “I do think there is more sexual abuse, though, because perpetrators have access to a lot more children. Incest and sexual abuse tend to stay within the family units. So it may be going on within the families, but without the community’s knowledge.”

“I do think the community is trying to address it,” the woman adds. “But it can be a much more difficult problem because of the community’s isolation and closed social structure.”

This week, the phone call that sparked the raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch (YZR) in Texas was under question. Authorities say a caller to a Texas crisis center—claiming to be a teenager who’d been beaten and forced into a polygamist marriage with an older man at the YZR—might actually have been a 33-year-old Colorado Springs resident, Rozita Swinton.

But whether or not the phone call was a hoax, social service officials say the YZR raid uncovered concrete evidence of abuse, including wives as young as 13, according to the Houston Chronicle. And in the wake of those allegations, Pinesdale residents are trying to distance themselves from their Texas counterparts, despite theological, and even biological ties.

“I’m related to a lot of those people down there,” says Dee Jessop, principal of Pines Academy, Pinedale’s middle school, referring to the group in Texas.

Jessop is a common name among many members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Willie Jessop, thought to be a leader at the Texas compound, is the former bodyguard for FLDS “prophet” Warren Jeffs, who is now in prison as an accomplice to rape for forcing a teenage girl into marriage. The woman who took the raid-triggering call at the crisis center is Flora Jessop, a former FLDS member who now runs a group to help women and children seeking to escape polygamist households.

“I knew them [Jessops in Texas] when I was a boy, but that’s all that our paths have crossed,” Dee Jessop says. “Every community has skeletons in their closet,” he adds, “but we’re pretty open here.”

While asserting that Pinesdale residents believe in plural marriage, Jessop says groups like Warren Jeffs’ sect take polygamy too far. “We don’t buy into child marriage,” Jessop says. “Our kids are allowed to grow up and choose.”

But critics still fear that in a closed rural community, where outsiders have few chances to observe or intervene, abuse might go undetected. Pinesdale’s insularity stems from its Mormon-run school, government, law enforcement, and thriving construction firms: education, politics, police, and businesses, all under one religious roof.

“There are atrocities going on there right now,” claims Doris Hanson of Shield and Refuge Ministries, a Christian group that bills itself as an underground railroad for women and girls seeking to escape polygamist marriages. Through advertisements in local papers across the West and a toll-free hotline for those who want out, Hanson says she receives more than 40 phone calls and an untold number of e-mails each month. She says she has worked with individuals from Pinesdale before, but, citing confidentiality, would not go into specifics.

“Just like in Texas, law enforcement and the community may know [about problems] for years, but police won’t do anything until there’s a victim,” Hanson says.

Even when a victim is willing to come forward, abuse cases are difficult to prove. Last year from Ravalli County, Montana’s Child Protective Services agency received 28 allegations of sexual abuse, 98 allegations of psychological abuse, and 77 allegations of physical abuse. Fewer than 10 percent were substantiated.

The agency’s confidentiality laws prevent it from disclosing what portion of the reports emerged from Pinesdale, home to two registered sex offenders, state records show.

But Chris Hoffman, Ravalli County Sheriff, says he hasn’t noticed unusual patterns in Pinesdale, and hasn’t prosecuted any cases of child abuse in recent memory. He says his department has a “comfortable relationship” with Pinesdale police, and says he takes over investigative duties in circumstances where “local law enforcement feels too close to the case.”

Many nearby residents, meanwhile, defend the Pinesdale community and say it’s unfair and unwarranted to suggest that trouble exists. “Their kids come through the regular school system with all our kids. They do business here in the local community. They’re seen as part of our community,” says Corvallis School Board Member Wilbur Nisly.

Hoffman echoes this feeling. “They’ve been contributing members to this community. We’ve never had a Warren Jeffs situation up there.”

Another local education official, who asked to remain anonymous, put it this way: “All the [polygamist] groups are somewhat related in their beliefs and practices. There is this philosophy here in the Bitterroot: You leave us alone, and we’ll leave you alone.”

Comments (31)

Showing 1-25 of 31

With an education someone here making defending the sickening abuse of the sanctity of marriage might have a chance at making a decent argument. That, however will not happen while under the polygamist rule of her family. Most of the comments are obviously made by Pinesdale inbreads.

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Posted by Gay in Montana on 10/29/2013 at 6:28 PM

Dear Rob Harper.....have ever figured out how much more income you could bring in as manager of Taco Bell?

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Posted by MmmmHm on 09/17/2012 at 12:05 AM

Great. Now I know where my mother in law gets her misinformation about the residents in Pinesdale every time she spouts off her nonsense about the people there. She's simply repeating something that she HEARD, just like you have, "Independent".

Go back to journalism school, or better yet, just go get a job for National Equirer.

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Posted by Tara on 05/27/2012 at 8:50 PM

Ha ha, "they stiffen and watch, rapt, until it’s safely gone"?! Really? And "Both wear nearly identical denim dresses with pastel blouses." This sounds a little like that "pointy architecture" article to me

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Posted by Anonymous on 05/14/2012 at 6:40 PM

This article is not offensive, if anything, it states that people in the area are "okay" with Pinesdale. The fact that you people are offended that someone said sexual abuse occurs in homes is sad- and thinking like that contributes to denial. Sexual abuse happens in communities all across the country, and no one is denying that- I think we should worry when someone DOES deny it!

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Posted by Dottie on 03/16/2012 at 1:18 PM

Pineygirl- you call me out by name so why don't you have some balls and tell me who you are in return? I have gone to court to stand up and get children out of sexually abusive situations associated with Pinesdale. Also, I'm a certified self-defense instructor who has a program set up to help women in situations when someone is trying to sexually or domestically attack them. I did this because there are no programs in Montana and it needs to be addressed. I teach them to be advocates for themselves and remove themselves from their situation. And about respecting my husband's family; everything I have said, he has said as well and agrees with. In fact, he proof reads everything I post before I post it. My in-laws are good people and not part of this. I'm talking about the people that sleep with their children or abuse their family members. All I was saying was that the information about sexual abuse in this article that was disputed was in fact true and not just rumors.

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Posted by Nicole on 04/28/2011 at 5:41 PM

Montana Girl, aka Nicole, there are sick people every where you go. There is no higher concentration of sexual abuse here than anywhere else. You need to do your homework before you go and decide that everything your husband says is true. Maybe instead of spreading rumors and believing that all people are like that you should be the person to stand up and help children that may be in homes where abuse occurs. If you are looking for the bad you will always find it. There are certainly more great people in Pinesdale than sick people who have a history of sexual abuse. Your husbands family is here. Whether you agree with the people here or not you should be more respectful of his family and his background. I am from Pinesdale, and very proud to say so. This community has been nothing but welcoming and great to me. There are people here who dedicate large amounts of their time to stop the abuse that happens here. Abuse will never stop if people just continue to talk about it instead of working to resolve it. I worked at a crisis center where we dealt with abuse on a daily basis. I also spent at least 60 hours a week on a crisis hot-line. I did this as a volunteer. What have you done to help these poor children? Besides make their lives even harder by talking about their families?

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Posted by pineygirl on 04/24/2011 at 3:42 PM

To 'Are U Serious' - No, I don't believe everything I hear, but I believe my husband who was raised for 19 years there, my mother who was raised for 16 years there and my two aunts who have spent their whole lives living there. In fact, you probably would even know me or them. I'm not an outsider. I grew up around all of them and know what goes on there.

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Posted by MontanaGirl on 04/20/2011 at 10:53 PM

Ya well there is molestation as was said "only in the families" but as the leader there ,Marvin Jessop, says "It is just male curiosity" - but it hasn't happened to my grandchildren has it?

Such pain and humiliation of the sisters, being degraded by the abusers and leaders. Are they righteous leaders that will cover terrible abuse, demoralize women who face physical abuse, allow men who molest the daughters of their "wives", teach their sons these actions. Shower with their own sons. How can this be right.

You will find it hard to find people to speak out when the whole community is related to each other some way. They can place each other into several of these relative position: aunt, cousin, niece, dad, brother in law, father in law, the whole place is a big family. The game is how are we related.

So much spiritual abuse lies there, mental abuse if you stand up for yourself and the wrong that is their leader from Utah told me, "I can do nothing, the leaders Marvin Jessop, Morris Jessop are in charge".

See how many times the money turned in has paid for the leaders businesses, family income, and they leave the widows, poor and needy still in need. They do not truly lead the people into perfection as they think they are. They are not LDS related yet in public they cover their beliefs and style of living by the title LDS or Mormon. They have their own label: Better than the world, Perfected; so is it perfect to degrade and talk against the LDS church leaders or their teachings. Yet Pinesdale teaches from the LDS scriptures and teaching manuals.

The truth depends upon your perception, each persons truth is different.

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Posted by whos truth on 03/03/2011 at 8:54 AM

I couldn't comment one way or the other on the Pinesdale community. However after reading this article I can comment on the very poor journalism used by its author. Good grief! It might as well have been a story on a bigfoot sighting, as there was about as many facts used.

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Posted by Jensen on 10/16/2010 at 3:04 PM

I grew up in Corvallis. I went to school with innumerable Pinesdale kids, or "Pineys" as we called them. Anyone who questions whether or not there is serious abuse going on in that community should read a great book by Lance Allred titled "Longshot." He is a direct descendent of the men who started Pinesdale, and Lance knows what he is talking about. The large majority of Pinesdale girls i grew up with were not allowed to finish high school. They would drop out around fifteen, get pregnant, and either live at home and tend to the brood or work at McDonald's. Hmm... Knowledge is power, right? Startlingly similar to the slave era laws prohibiting black people from learning how to read. Did you know that the majority of families in Pinesdale are on welfare? Its rather ingenious, really. Since government will only honor the first marriage these men enter into, every family they create with another woman after that has absolutely no income, and are, in the eyes of the state, a single mother with a bunch of kids and absolutely no income. FISHY FISHY FISHY. Shame on any community that uses religion to abuse their women and children.

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Posted by progressiveprick on 10/04/2010 at 1:07 PM

To MontanaGirl- Are u stupid! U must believe everything that you here apparently

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Posted by Are U serious on 09/15/2010 at 3:52 PM

I live in pinesdale..... And We are nothing like the compound in texas! Not once have i heard of a girl getting abused or raped! This whole article is a bunch of Bull Shit! Pisses me off when people have know idea what there talking about. The people here are the hardest working and kindest people you will find... Sorry Rob Harper but your an Idiot

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Posted by Are U serious on 09/15/2010 at 3:47 PM

To bigskygirl- My husband was born and raised there, as well as my mom being brought up in Pinesdale. Yeah, you're dating one but there are a lot of things you don't know about the people there. Sure, some of them are great people, very nice, just trying to do what they believe is right. However, my husband has told me of stories there that have been hidden by their "brethren" for years and have just recently come out. Such as: one mother there was having sex with her son and her father. The only reason that story came out was because she got pregnant by her father and someone found her papers for an abortion so they had to explain to a group. There are countless stories of molestation there, which have recently come up in my Uncle's divorce hearing about his wife's family and our fight to keep my cousins away from her child molesting family. Not to mention the case that just came out about a boy molesting a girl for years. Oh, and then there is the girl that goes to school with my sister whose parents found out she was having sex with her boyfriend and are telling them: stay apart for 6 months and at that time, you will have to either decide to get married or stop talking and seeing each other completely. "dating" someone doesn't mean you know everything. My best friends growing up were from there, as well as some of my family and I didn't know any of this until I married someone who grew up there and has since left. You don't know anything about what it's really like there apparently.

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Posted by Montanagirl on 09/07/2010 at 12:35 PM

It is amazing that a contry founded on freedom of religion still finds it aceptable to persecute people who practice a spirtual path they dont understand. Poligamy is not a haven for child molesters and 40 years ago a 13 year old girl marrying was not even news. When your ignorance causes you to fixate on others it is time to take a look at yourself. Child abuse happens in every community by people who most of you have great respect for as well, so until you look in your own community leave the rest of us alone.

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Posted by PaganLady on 08/24/2010 at 10:01 AM

i am dating someone from there and i spend alot of time up there and have never seen or heard of any child abuse, and i have no idea where you got the matching outfits from. you just jump to conclusions because you dont understand you should pull your head out of your butt and get your facts straight. they are very hard working people and have great moral and are very family oriented. i think that we could all learn a few things from them. and all the rumors you hear like its a guarded comunity and all that other shit is not true and just a bunch of crap so stop judging and grow up

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Posted by bigskygirl on 08/11/2010 at 10:34 PM

this is a load of shit im dating someone from there and spend a ton of time and there is no child abuse and i have no clue where you got the matching outfits from. you should do your job and not just jump to conclusions because you dont understand it. they are all very hard working people with great morals and work ethic. they are very family oriented and i think that we could all learn a few things from them. so pull your head out of your butt and get your facts straight.

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Posted by bigskygirl on 08/11/2010 at 10:29 PM

Wow. This article is getting way too much attention. What a waste of time!

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Posted by Steve on 05/22/2008 at 11:50 AM

Typical trash journalism. The real story of Pinesdale isn't one of sexual abuse, matching denim outfits, or women and children in fear, but one of strong moral and ethical standards. I respect the author's quest to get both sides of the story, but embellishment or misleading facts is not the way to go. To "anonymous 04-30-08 ", I'm sorry you went through that, but God knows every community has its problems. However, this is not justification to embellish, exaggerate, or lie.

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Posted by The Physician on 05/20/2008 at 2:19 PM

I know a person that was working for the a utilities company in the seventies that was very much intimidated by Mr. Alred and his henchmen. After answering a service call and being led to a cache of stockpiled weapons by the town half wit MR. Alred came flying up in his truck and ran the guy off before he could even do his job. That is a scary place and I have no doubt that it is full of creeps molesting children.

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Posted by Joe on 05/11/2008 at 8:03 PM

To the person who lived in Pinesdale for a year when they were 8.... Although I don't know who exactly who you are, you're right, it's not difficult to figure out what family you are from. You have every right to be bitter and angry at how people treated your grandfather and his kids; they certainly were the "black sheep" of the community. I went to school with your uncle and I have always been haunted by how he and his family were treated. I've spoken to my siblings and friends about how awful we acted both individually and as a community and we are very ashamed. It's too little too late and nothing can change the mean things we did as kids, but I want you to know that I am deeply sorry (and have been for years) for being unkind to your family. You're right. Where your family was concerned, Pinesdale did suck. G Allsop

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Posted by You're Right .... on 05/08/2008 at 3:50 PM

This story TOTALLY MISSES THE BOAT. It pretends the molesting is only going on inside homes... this writer is an idiot to not mention how the Pinesdale religious leadership has monthly molestation competitions where church elders get together and see how many little girls they can molest. The one that molests the most girls before sunrise gets more "pokie points" that can be cashed-in when he dies to get further up into heaven. It's a really competitive thing. How could you look over this fact Mr. Harper? Perhaps you are a molester yourself!

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Posted by Maybe this writer is a molester himself on 05/07/2008 at 2:50 PM

Maybe the "Missoula Independent - free thinking" should leave "thinking" out of the title. It appears that very little "thinking" was done in the preparation of this article. You could go with the new name "Missoula Independent - free". That is about what its worth.

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Posted by anon on 05/05/2008 at 9:51 AM

I would like to address a few of the statements in this article that I know to be false. I will refrain from commenting about the description of two women’s clothing that have so many people riled up, as I believe it to be a waist of my time. 1.) To the woman, who asks to remain anonymous, who stated there is more sexual abuse in Pinesdale than in the FLDS compound in Texas: If you are so knowledgeable about what’s going on behind closed doors, why haven’t you stepped forward? Also, where do you get off saying that “perpetrators have access to a lot more children?” What are you talking about? Who are the perpetrators? When/where is all of this extra access to children taking place? Tell me, I’d like to know. There are a few holes in your story and you know it. How could the whole community be oblivious to such abuse, and you be so knowledgeable? As for you, Rob Harper, since when is making such blanket statements with no backing or proof of anything a way to write an article? You’re picking and choosing statements so that you can have a story. You’re trying to destroy people that you know very little about. If you had done your job and talked to more people, both in and out of Pinesdale, you would have seen how untrue these statements are. ______________________ 2.) Quoting paragraph 17, “Last year from Ravalli County, Montana’s Child Protective Services agency received 28 allegations of sexual abuse, 98 allegations of psychological abuse, and 77 allegations of physical abuse. Fewer than 10 percent were substantiated. The agency’s confidentiality laws prevent it from disclosing what portion of the reports emerged from Pinesdale, home to two registered sex offenders, state records show.” First of all, Rob, do you know how many people live in the Ravalli County? How do you know that any of these cases are from Pinesdale? You don’t—you admitted that yourself! You are trying to make it sound like Pinesdale is responsible for these numbers. Do you know how many registered sex offenders are in the Ravalli County? I’m guessing you do—you’re just not brave enough to put it in your article because you might not seem so credible. Again, if you had done your job, you would know that the 2 offenders you mentioned have nothing to do with polygamy or religion in Pinesdale. Pinesdale is not such the secret society that you’ve portrayed it to be. People can come and go as they please, people of many different (and no) religions live there and there are more people who do not practice polygamy than people who do. Abuse happens all over the world, in every religion and in every community. You can’t pinpoint it to polygamy or Mormons. Polygamy is practiced in the Muslim, Jewish, African and some Christian faiths. Google it. Even the rapper Akon has three wives! Why don’t you invest your time in something worth while? I hear there are a few Catholic choir boys who need intervention.

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Posted by anonymous on 05/04/2008 at 3:47 PM

WOW! all i have to say is wow... First of all I have live almost all of my life in Pinesdale and I have never once seen anyone stiffen at the sight of "strangers". People come through all the time and we mostly just wave. I am 19 years old and going to the U of M for my journalism degree right now but if this is how they teach you to report "facts" then F**K that. Dude, matching denim? Where have you been the last twenty years the clothes may be out of fashion, but come on! Yes every community has its problems and abusers but on a whole these are some of the most honest and hard-working people you will ever meet! And if this were a real publication you would have your a** fired so fast and never work as a journalist again I would personally see to it but as this seems as worthless as you I won't waste my time.

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Posted by Blown Away on 05/02/2008 at 9:26 PM
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