A Sandy man has been arrested for allegedly beating his teenage daughter after the girl fled a polygamous marriage to her 32-year-old uncle.
The girl had just turned 16 when she married her uncle in a secret ceremony, becoming the man's 15th wife in September 1997.The girl was beaten after running away from the arrangement. The second time she ran away, her father picked her up and drove her to remote Box Elder County where the family owns property, said Box Elder County detective Scott Cosgrove.
Her father, 53, beat her with a belt, broke her nose with his fist and left her, Cosgrove said.
The detective said the girl walked seven miles to a gas station at 3 a.m. She called police, asking for a place to stay. She was reluctant to talk about what had happened until officials assured her she would be protected.
She is now in the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services.
"She is still scared her family will find her," Cosgrove said. "She just wants to go to high school and have a normal life. She is a brave girl. She's willing to testify and go through the whole mess."
Cosgrove said he doesn't know how many wives the girl's father has. The number is reportedly between 15 and 20. The father was booked into jail on second-degree felony child abuse after surrendering Tuesday afternoon. He was released on $10,000 bail. Cosgrove said the man requested an attorney and refused to answer questions.
Rowenna Erickson grew up in the polygamous Kingston group. When she married in 1960, she was 20 years old, and her husband already had a wife.
She said the child abuse, neglect and the practice of old men marrying young girls finally made her speak out in 1993. The Kingston group - which her parents had joined in 1935 - excommunicated her. The next year she fled the community with her eight children.
Erickson is a founding member of an organization called Tapestry of Polygamy, which offers counseling, therapy, legal advice, health care and other assistance to women and children leaving polygamy.
In a press conference in downtown Salt Lake City Tuesday, Erickson and other women voiced their support for the girl and pleaded with law enforcement officials across the state to take a firm hand to polygamy.
Erickson's daughter, Stacy, said it's about time someone spoke out.
"It's getting worse, and nobody's paying attention," she said.
Vicki Prunty was married to two polygamous husbands. She and both Ericksons serve as board members for TOP.
"Women who leave polygamy can be in real danger. Men have been known to threaten harsh punishment and even death. Some women have died trying to leave," Prunty said.
"The need for our organization may be far greater than any of us knows," Prunty said.
Polygamy came to Utah with the early pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who settled the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847. The LDS Church disavowed the practice of plural marriage in 1890 and excommunicates any member who practices it. Splinter groups, however, continue the practice, citing divine inspiration.
"Polygamy is abuse," Rowenna Erickson said. "It is not of God."
The Kingston group believes in the Latter-day Church of Christ, Erickson said. The family empire has amassed a worth estimated at more than $100 million and has about 1,000 members.
TOP officials say they believe at least 50,000 people are practicing polygamy in the West. The women in these families are living with poverty, neglect and ignorance, Prunty said.
Stacy Erickson said she admires the young girl who fled because she didn't know she could do something like that when she was young.
The 28-year-old mother of two said it was her own obstinate personality and her parents' insistence that she go to college that saved her from ending up in polygamy, too.
It is difficult to leave the family system, Prunty said, but she wants other women to know they are not alone.
"We know the high costs of leaving are worth it. We are showing other wives that we have done it, too. They can find happiness outside of polygamy."
John Daniel Kingston, 53, Sandy, was booked into the Box Elder County Jail Tuesday. According to 1st District Court officials, an arraignment date has not been set.
Cosgrove said information would be forwarded to the Sandy City Police Department for investigation of possible sexual-abuse charges against the girl's uncle.