Thursday, September 04, 2008

Book Review: Stolen Innocence

I had been in The Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints Saints(FLDS) Church from the moment I was born. It was all I knew and the only way I could imagine living. From my teachings, I knew that the prophet's job was to dictate what was best for us and that the words he spoke came straight from God. I believed that my impending marriage was the will of God and therefore nothing could be done to stop it. But still, I had to try.

-Elissa Wall, “Stolen Innocence”

Elissa Wall’s testimony in September 2007 helped convict polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs on an array of charges.

Her courageous and detailed story of a life lived inside an oppressive cult that forced her to be married at 14 years old amidst a climate fear and self-loathing and her eventual escape is brought to life in a new book “Stolen Innocence”.

As I read Wall’s account, I was struck by my own inability to articulate the plight of the child-brides of MOVE, who are forced to become pregnant at 11-12 years old. And because none of these most extreme examples of MOVE’s abuse have yet to escape to freedom, they effectively have no voice. Finding a way to adequately express their plight has been a vexing affair for me as I have little in the way of understanding what it feels like for a girl with little or no education to be told at the onset of puberty that they will become pregnant and they will become married at once. I don’t know what that could be like, to know that your future is decided and that you have no voice in the matter, that it wouldn’t matter if you did because nobody would listen.

Reading Wall’s book has brought me that much closer to understanding what girls in MOVE go through. Wall’s honesty and candor especially considering the world she was raised in did not allow at all for either is remarkable.

Surprisingly, her story is not one of rage or a polemic. It is honest and therein lies it’s strength. Wall does not have to rage against her former captors with heavy rhetoric, her simple truths are enough. And while her story would not have suffered without her compassion, it is much better for it. For instead of giving into an understandable hatred of those who abused her and her own family members who not only stood by, but sanctioned it, she exudes love. That is not to say that she is averse to fighting for justice. On the contrary, it appears that her love for those still under the yoke of religious oppression has armored her against the fear of speaking out.

After freeing herself, Elissa Wall would do what would have been unthinkable in her former cult life and that is to go to the authorities with her story. She was entering a situation that she knew would lead to a showdown with the FLDS and it’s leader Warren Jeffs. Worse for Wall, she knew it would lead to her alienation from family members still in the FLDS and she also knew that the cult would not hesitate to hurt those same loved ones to get at her. But she did what was right in spite of her fears.

“Stolen Innocence” is as much a story about relentless abuse as it is about the power of the human spirit to endure and rise above such abuse. Wall is more than just a survivor, she is someone who despite it all is thriving. She now has a family of her own to take care of, but still apparently has time to aid those who wish to leave the FLDS cult that still must be a source of fear for her.

For me, this book has brought me new understanding of what it is for a girl and a young woman to suffer under the thumb of an abusive cult. I would urge anyone interested in cults or the abuse of children in MOVE, to check this book out.


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