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More reaction to Winston Blackmore polygamy verdict: Talk of sex abuse, polygamists staying underground and implications for Utah

Published July 26, 2017 10:13 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

From Canada to Utah, people continue to weigh in on Monday's conviction of Winston Blackmore and James Oler. The reaction spans disappointment, to satisfaction to foreboding about what's to come.

The two men, who used to be bishops in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, were convicted of polygamy. [Click here to read the verdicts.] They face up to five years in prison. First, however, they are expected to challenge their convictions. Sentencing dates have not been scheduled.

In Canada's largest newspaper, The Toronto Star, columnist Rosie Dimanno accused Blackmore and Oler of coercing women and girls and perpetrating sex abuse. (Neither man was charged with anything but polygamy in the verdicts read Monday. Oler was acquitted of a child trafficking charge in a separate trial last year.)



"Sexual abuse by any other name, cloaked as quack religion," Dimanno wrote. "Sexual trafficking of minors. And all the inside-Bountiful proscriptions that strip girls of every fundamental right this country holds sacred under the rubric of obedience."

Reporter Nate Carlisle discusses the verdicts on "As It Happens."

Over at Canada's second-largest newspaper, The Globe and Mail, Angela Campbell, a professor of Law at McGill University, doesn't argue with the verdicts. She wonders why polygamy is an offense in Canada in the first place.

Campbell makes the same argument many Utah polygamists made earlier this year when the Utah Legislature amended the bigamy statute — that criminalizing polygamy makes it more difficult to police more egregious crimes when they occur within those households.

"Sexual activity with minors, incest, assault and human trafficking are severe ills, which have all been associated with polygamy in contemporary conversations about the practice," Campbell wrote. "Each is independently a criminal offence. Authorities can and should prosecute each of these acts where sufficient evidence exists. They do not need the polygamy offence to target these harms."

A lot of people from Utah, or with ties here, paid attention to the verdict.

Amos Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah, who has written about negative effects of polygamy. He applauded the verdicts, and said Utah prosecutors should charge polygamists with bigamy.

The Utah Attorney General's Office and every county prosecutor who has been asked has said their policies are to only prosecute polygamists if there are more serious crimes happening. But Guiora on Wednesday said the Canadian guilty verdicts would be relevant to any legal challenges against bigamy statutes in the United States.

"The Canadian judiciary, the Canadian courts, are highly respected among their American colleagues," Guiora said.

Janet Benson, a professor of anthropology at Lyndon State College in Vermont and who studies polygamy, said the verdicts are an example of the law and conservative politics being out of step with public opinion.

"Finding them guilty of polygamy after all this time signals to us that this is an era of non-acceptance, intolerance of alternative sexualities," Bennion said in an interview Wednesday, "and it affects all alternative sexualities."

Bennion said her research has showed polygamists, particularly in rural areas, believe the government and mainstream society are enemies.

"These communities are not going to stop practicing polygamy, but now [the verdicts are] going to push these communities further and further into the darkness," Bennion said.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle

 

 

 

 

 

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