Book Review: Stolen Innocence

Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs by Elissa Wall: NOOK Book CoverTitle: Stolen Innocence: My story of growing up in a polygamous sect, becoming a teenage bride, and breaking free of Warren Jeffs

Author: Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright: October 2009

# of Pages: 464 pp (Nook edition)

Reason for Reading: (a) It was on sale for a very low price at Barnes & Noble for the e-book edition and (b) I am interested in the subject matter.

The emotional drama of the day had worn me out, and I dressed for bed the minute we returned to our room from dinner that night. After a few short minutes I dozed off to sleep, but when I woke up I knew something was not right. Dazed, I realized that I was in bed next to Allen and he was undressing me. In spite of all his promises, here I was just a few hours reunited with him and already he was going back on his word. Catching him beside me unfastening my nightgown brought back a flood of old feelings. I loathed him and I hated what he was doing to me. It was an instant reminder of how many times it had happened and how he’d refused to stop even as I begged him to. I’d just confided the harrowing events of the past few weeks, and the fact that he would even think of pushing himself on me in this way only proved to me how little he thought of me. To him I was merely an object of sexual desire. There was no me, just a body.

“This is going to be the exact same thing all over again,” I blurted out. “All your promises, they mean nothing. Nothing has changed.”

“I’m doing it out of love,” Allen declared. Everything he did was a contradiction, and before I knew it he was playing the guilt card again. As he continued to put his hands all over me, I just froze.

“Okay, fine,” I uttered. “Get it over with.”

Elissa Wall was 14 when Warren Jeffs, a leader of the Fundamentalist LDS Church (FLDS) forced her to marry one of her cousins, a boy who had taken every opportunity to torture her when they were children.  Although she was brought up in the FLDS religion, and was thoroughly indoctrinated in it, that act was the beginning of the end. Unfortunately for Wall, she was repeatedly raped by her then husband. She went to Jeffs pleading for a release, to no avail. She escaped her husband every chance she got, going so far as to live in the pick-up truck she used to run her business. Finally she managed to get away.

What I Liked: While it was incredibly painful to read, I appreciate Wall’s agonized honesty throughout the book. Readers who were never involved in such an all-consuming religion will be asking how anyone could possibly fall for all the crap (for lack of a better word) handed down to them by the leaders of the church (all men). Women are counseled to “stay sweet,” which basically means to submit with a smile to whatever they are ordered to do. I also really liked that, unlike many, Wall did manage to escape the grasp of the FLDS. I liked that she had an amazing support system that got her through the trial that won Jeffs a conviction on two counts of rape as an accomplice.

What I Didn’t Like: There was nothing I didn’t like about the book itself. There was plenty to dislike about the ordeals, so vividly depicted by Wall and Pulitzer, that so many women and children experience.  I find it horrific, and pray that polygamy in the United States never does become legal, not because I do not support freedom of religion, but because I do not believe that free practice of religion trumps other factors, such as sexual assault, child abandonment, physical and sexual abuse.

Grade: A

Personal note: I apologize for not getting this posted on Wednesday. Those of you who have followed my personal blog know that my house burned down two and a half weeks ago, and everything in my life is completely insane right now. But the important thing is that we got out safely, and we had insurance.

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9 Responses to Book Review: Stolen Innocence

  1. Trisha says:

    I’ve had friends whose houses have burned down, so while I may not understand how you feel, I do understand what you are going through. Stay strong!

    I’m interested in FLDS and polygamy as well. Like you, I believe that religion does not trump common humanity and morality, and I get ticked off when people use that excuse. If a religion in the U.S. said that their religion practiced human sacrifice, or even the raping of men, the country wouldn’t stand for it. Their are many hoodoo practices not allowed in the U.S. But hey, if it’s just the rape of women and abuse of children (almost always female), who cares, right?

    • Trisha, you are so right about the double standards in religion and sex. I was reading “Dear Prudence” (Slate online) on Monday, and there was a letter from a woman whose fiance had his virginity taken by a woman quite a bit older than himself, and was proud of it, insisting that far from being victimized, he actually initiated the seduction. That led me to think about Mary Kay Latourneau and her now-husband, who began having a sexual relationship when she was his teacher and quite a bit older than him. Sexual assault is sexual assault is sexual assault. When I worked for Child Protective Services, the guideline they instilled in us was, when considering whether it is pedophilia or sexual assault when a grown woman has sex with a young boy, flipflop the genders. Would you be appalled if a 32 year old man seduced a 14 year old girl? Then you should be just as appalled if a 32 year old woman seduces a 14 year old boy.

      One of my beefs about the FLDS is that women are basically nothing but baby machines. They’re completely at the disposal of the men, no matter what that man may want or not want. And even in the LDS church, women have no ability to govern themselves. The Relief Society, which church leaders boast is the largest women’s group in the world, is still under the direction of men.

  2. cransell says:

    I just wanted to post and say how sorry I am that your house burned down. My apartment burned down three years ago and we lost everything, so I know what you are going through. I’m so glad you got out safely and that you have insurance. That will make all the difference. I know it will be crazy for a while, but it will get better!!!

    • Thank you so much! We’re doing okay, mostly, although there’s still plenty of stress and trauma, as I’m sure you totally understand. Thank you for visiting, and for commenting.

  3. BermudaOnion says:

    I went through a period where I read a lot of FLDS books and think I read this one. I understand why people put up with that stuff – they’re brainwashed from birth and don’t see any way to escape.

    • I agree. My husband and I were discussing Warren Jeffs last night, and he was asking how the mothers can collude in marrying off their young daughters to old men. I said it’s because they’ve been brainwashed since birth, but of course that doesn’t excuse it. Thanks for visiting!

  4. Heather says:

    So sorry to hear about your house…I’m glad everyone is safe! Hugs!

    I read this one too about a year ago. Horrific. So glad they finally put Warren Jeffs in the slammer. But I have to wonder if allowing the practice of polygamy (with consenting ADULTS) would force these abusive polygamous sects to be out in the open. They wouldn’t be able to hide so to speak since, at least, with the adult women, it would be legal. I think the gov’t would be able to get more involved with the abuse of children, etc. Just my take on it.

    Great review. Have you read Escape by Carolyn Jessop? She escaped with all of her kids in tow, though one of her daughters decided to go back willingly.

    • I haven’t yet read Escape, although it’s on my nookbook wish list.

      You know, I’ve thought a lot about your point that if polygamy were legalised, perhaps the child abuse would lessen. I think that if the government were to really enforce the restrictions, that might make a difference. Personally, I couldn’t care less whether consenting adults want to marry one spouse or ten. I do care that young men are exiled from their families and community because the older men want to marry the younger girls. And I definitely care, obviously, about young girls, barely in their teens, being forced to marry and being raped and sexually assaulted.

      Right now I’m reading Under the Banner of Heaven, by John Krakauer, and on page 90, he excerpts from a book called The Peace Maker, published by Joseph Smith, describing how wives are “pronounced the husband’s property, as much so as his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, or his horse…” I believe women who are brought up in such a community are horribly abused, and can’t really be considered consenting adults because they’ve been taught since birth that women should submit to their husbands/the priesthood in all things. Dan Lafferty (on p. 92-93), when he happened upon this book, “wasted no time in applying the book’s fundamentalist strictures to his household . . . . under the new rules [his wife] was no longer allowed to drive, handle money, or talk to anyone outside the family when Dan wasn’t present, and she had to wear a dress at all times. The children were pulled out of school and forbidden to play with their friends. . . . When [his wife] disobeyed Dan, he spanked her.”

  5. Margot says:

    I find the subject quite repulsive. I’ve forced myself to read a few books on the subject and to read and comment of book reviews. I do it so I don’t keep my head buried in the sand, so to speak. During my lifetime I’ve seen great strides made in the advancement of women’s rights. But, we can never give up until all women are free to live as they freely choose. There are many men who practice as these men do all over the world. Some are part of religious groups and some are not. Ways of getting them to change is so complex but we all must try. I believe this author and all who read this and other like-minded books is one positive way of spreading the word that these practices are definitely not acceptable.

    I hope you are getting through all the trauma caused by your house fire. Know that there are many people thinking about and praying for you and your husband.

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