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Polygamy views targeted

Meetings will seek to counter stereotypes

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Progress has been made by government agencies reaching out to help victims of abuse and neglect within often-closed polygamous societies.

However, stereotypes still exist.

"The stereotypes have worsened with the public at large, I think, due to the media hype over the Warren Jeffs case," said LeAnne Timpson, a member of the fundamentalist community of Centennial Park, Ariz. "I don't think the public at large understands the different groups. I think the public at large labels polygamists. If they hear of a crime happening within polygamy, then polygamists are labeled with that."

Politicians, polygamists and community activists will gather in St. George later this month for training and a town hall forum to discuss ways to break down barriers within closed societies.

"There's been amazing progress," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told the Deseret Morning News. "A lot more people are seeking help. A lot more people are taking advantage of services that they were denied or didn't have access to."

The training will be held Tuesday in St. George as part of the U.S. Justice Department's national crime victims' rights week. It will feature Livia Bardin, a social worker who is considered an expert on authoritarian groups.

Timpson met Bardin while attending a conference in Denver last year on "cults." The conference was sponsored by the International Cultic Studies Association and included panel discussions from ex-members of polygamous groups. Members of the Centennial Park community showed up to listen and also rebut some of the claims.

"I appreciated the focus that she (Bardin) brought to her presentation on looking at individuals as human beings," Timpson said.

After the training, a town hall meeting featuring Shurtleff and Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard will be held.

The event is sponsored by the Safety Net Committee, a group set up by the Utah and Arizona attorneys general to reach out and provide resources to victims of abuse and neglect in closed polygamous societies. Members of some polygamous groups also sit on that committee.

"There has been progress made with the agencies that are actually working with the people in the way of understanding and mutual appreciation," said Timpson, who sits on the committee.

Stereotypes are another issue. Timpson said many people still think of all polygamist groups as secretive, closed societies that marry child-brides. Not all groups are like that, she said.

"Polygamy does not equal crime," Timpson said. "They're not synonymous terms."

Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs, 51, is facing criminal charges of rape as an accomplice. He is accused of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her older cousin. His trial was originally scheduled to be under way at that same time, but has been postponed indefinitely.

"We were a little concerned about the overlap," said Shurtleff.

Instead, organizers hope the focus will be away from Jeffs and more on providing equal access to justice, safety and services.

The town hall meeting will be 7-9 p.m. Tuesday at the Dixie Center in St. George.

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com