Melissa Eliss (Vice-President)

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My name is Melissa Ellis. I am 34 years old. My first attempt to escape from the polygamy lifestyle was at the age of 17. My family found me and forced me back home, my life was a cage. I went to school with other members and was kept track of. After school i would be taken to work surrounded by other members, then taken home surrounded by my family. I got married at the age of 18 my husband was 26 years old. I was then required moved from SLC to Huntington UT and assigned a job to work at the kingston coal mine. I wasn’t allowed a phone, we had no internet or cable tv. A week after we were married my husband approached me about the first girl he wanted to add to our marriage even though before we got married he told me that he felt like he did not need to live polygamy which was one of the reasons i married him. Things didn't work out so i must have done something wrong, i was verbally berated and blamed after every single one of the failed attempts to live polygamy.During our 10 year marriage my husband pursued many girls ages ranging from 12 to 18. In 2010 One of the girls he started to pursued is his now wife. He started pursuing her when we were married he was 32 and she was 15. They got married after i left him when she was 19 and he was 35. She is also his second cousin.  Daniel was put over our family. Daniel instructed my husband that he needed to start pursuing these young girls so that way by the time they were 18 they would know that he was the one he is to marry. I at this time had 4 children all under the age of 5. Seeing more and more of this behavior, having a sick feeling constantly and knowing that it was wrong, i asked my husband to stop. I wanted to have a family, not a husband that was always searching for a new wife. He stopped for a few weeks but then started making plans to hang out with these girls families to keep in pursuit. I knew it was wrong but i felt stuck. I have always been bigger in my weight i was told by my husband for years, no one else would want me, that i was lucky that he married me. I stopped having intimate relations with my husband, after a few months of not sleeping with him he got mad. I attempted to leave 5 times during the summer of 2012. I had nowhere to go, I had no funds that were accessible to buy food for me and my kids, I had no one to support me. I had saw one billboard about HOH on the way from SLC back to Huntington one of the weekends we had come to visit. We went to a kingston dance where he got to see and dance with these young girls. Later that evening after i got the kids to sleep, in the spare room at my parents house that we slept in when we came to SLC my husband wanted to sleep with me like he usually did after seeing these young girls. I did not want to have sex with him. He got mad, i was his wife, he should be able to have sex with me if he wanted as was taught in the group , so he did. That last act gave me the courage to protect myself and my children. I reached out to Holding Out Help. I escaped a week later.  thru the HOH system, the first step for me was therapy. I had no clue that i had been Verbally, Mentally, Financially, finally Physically and sexually, it took me a few months of therapy to realize that i was abused in all these ways and that this was not normal.

To address those feeling that this bill will force more polygamist underground Since HOH has helped so many people leaving polygamist communities they are talked bad about especially in the kingston group. For those that are scared to leave, knowing that there are resources available to them even if they don’t get help from an organization, knowing that the Government is there backing them and trying to help in the ways that they can more people would be able to break away. I do not feel that this bill would push anyone further underground then they already are. If this bill would have been in place on September 27th, 2014 My cousin Rachel would still be alive. Rachel ran away from her father John Daniel Kingston she got sent back because there were no physical signs of abuse. Because of the Major abuse that happened when she got sent back to her father Rachael took her own life at the age of 14.

If this bill were in place on September 29th 2018 my niece AmberLynn would be safe, but honestly i dont know whats happened with her. Even though she told DCFS and the police that she was being forced to Marry a much older uncle and she is only 16, because there was no abuse, she was sent back home. I Have not been able to see her because they fear that she won’t do what shes told and will leave again if had the chance. I fear for her daily. Are these people choosing this lifestyle, are they victims, should they be helped?

Let’s think about this for a moment. From the moment i was born my entire family and the entire culture that i was raised in told me that i had to live polygamy, that it wasn’t a choice that it was a directive from god. That if i did not live polygamy i would simply go to hell. At the age of 18, already an old made by my group standards i made the decision to marry the person i did, but not really. I was told the men to choose from and picked the person that did not have any other wives. My husband told me before i married him that he believed that he did not need to live plural marriage. But a week after we were married he started to pursue other women. I was taught to not question my husband. I was in shock, i cried daily. I never wanted to live that kind of life. I didn’t know what to do. Weeks turned into months, months turned into years. All i wanted to ever be was a good wife and mother. I did not choose to live a polygamist lifestyle, but i was being forced to take part in it. I was forced to watch my husband pursue other women, other girls their ages ranging from 12 to 18. I was forced to talk to and be around these other interest. I was nice because i’m a nice person, being nice is not something i was forced to do. I was forced to listen to verbal abuse telling me that him not being chosen was my fault, that i must have done something wrong in god's eyes. There is a lot more that goes into a bigamy setting than just the bigamist relationship. Men, Women, Children need this extra resource, the extra option for help. Bigamy is Illegal, not only in Utah but Federally. Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882 was put into place declaring polygamy a felony. Reynolds v. United States The Court recognized that under the First Amendment, the Congress cannot pass a law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. However it held that the law prohibiting bigamy did not meet that standard. The court considered that if polygamy was allowed, someone might eventually argue that human sacrifice was a necessary part of their religion. By not recognising the people trying to escape this lifestyle would be an injustice. The government has for far to long turned a blind eye towards those committing this crime. Those men in power in these settings feel as though because they are allowed to break a federal felony law that they are above the law. They make their own rules and teach their own way. In their world and what they teach it is ok for a man to abuse his wife, it is her job to take that abuse and learn a lesson. They know that polygamy is illegal yet continue to teach the next generation that although it is illegal that they are directed by God to live plural marriage. The are being allowed to break the law and indoctrinate children into this illegal lifestyle. Usually those leaving a domestic violent situation are escaping one or multiple single individuals, Those leaving a Bigamy setting are escaping for thousands of individuals, thousands of people that will coordinate efforts to find you. Most likely those escaping are experiencing some other form of abuse and do not know it because of their upbringing So yes those escaping are victims and should be treated as such, and yes those practicing are breaking the law and should be treated as criminals. If we aren’t going to start prosecuting those breaking the state and federal law of Bigamy, we should at the bare minimum start helping those wishing to escape, and the resources available in this bill will help towards the correct path.