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St. George • Her son was covered in bruises bigger than oranges the day she finally called child protective services.

It wasn't easy, and not only because she was afraid of her abusive husband. She is Amish, from a Midwestern community that prides itself on being separate and self-sufficient from mainstream America.

But her desperate outreach didn't matter. The worker took pictures, told her husband to take anger management classes, and left. And it also didn't matter the time a police officer put her husband in jail for 13 hours, only to have him come back to make home "a living hell."

"I finally decided it was because we were Amish and it was unusual we would ask the law to come in to help us," said the woman, whom The Tribune is not identifying for her protection. "Maybe they just don't believe me."

She shared her story Friday as part of a gathering focused on another distinctive subculture: polygamous communities. The Safety Net Clinical Conference brought together about 100 people, including child protective staff, social workers and doctors, to educate them on how best to communicate with and help people from plural families.

"Please remove the generalizations," said Shirlee Draper, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. "There are cases of abuse in Colorado City just like there are cases of abuse in St. George."

Polygamists don't often come to the government for help — Draper didn't when she left the FLDS Church. If they do reach out, she said, it's important to treat them as individuals who don't need to be "rescued."

And plural communities are also opening their doors to the outside world. Centennial Park, located in Arizona just south of the Utah state line, hosted a meet-and-greet event at its community center and church the night before the conference.

"We feel like we have the right to live our lives, as long as we're doing it responsibly and decently," said Susie Timpson, chair of the Centennial Park Action Committee.

Members of polygamous communities can be the connection between a victim and outside help. Susan Hammon, a resident of Centennial Park, said she went first to a friend, then to counseling through Safety Net, a group organized to increase communication between plural communities and government or nonprofit services.

"She created a bridge for me to deal with the abuse going on in our family in the way that I trusted," Hammon said.

It was similar for the Amish woman. After 21 years of abuse, it was a friend who finally made her leave her husband; she later went into therapy at a women's shelter.

"For me, it was so important to be somewhere in my culture," she said. "Because the world looked huge. The world looked impossible."

Correction appended: A earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Hammon's affiliation.