Image taken from Mormon Polygamy: A History

Following a call from a 16-year-old girl claiming she was sexually abused and assaulted by her 50-year-old husband, a fundamentalist Mormon compound where men have several wives has been raided and 419 children taken into temporary custody by Texan authorities.

The raid took place last Thursday after a teenager called social services on March 19, saying she was forced to marry at 15 and was beaten and choked by her husband while he forced her to have sex with him. The ranch is the base of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day (FDLS), an off-shoot of the mainstream Latter-day Saints (LDS) who denounced polygamy over 100 years ago.

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"Most Mormons find this really very odd"

Michael Nielsen was brought up as a Latter-day Saint - a branch considered as mainstream Mormonism. He's a member of the Mormon Social Science Association and a psychology professor.

Within Mormonism there are different reactions to this type of sect. People who understand the history of the religion are more open minded about the idea of polygamy. In the Mormon religion you are married to your wife for eternity, not just on earth. So if your wife dies and you remarry, then officially you are a polygamist. But most Mormons find this really very odd.

This is such a huge problem in the US; it's estimated there are 40,000 practising polygamists here, so the authorities have largely tried to ignore it. But with this case they felt they had to act. The FDLS church has become much more authoritative in the last 15 years. Except for their ability to bring more children into the church, women and children are not valued highly.

They carry on with this because they think that even though it's tough in this life, they will be rewarded in heaven. "The highest degree of glory is awaiting them". Most of them don't agree with child abuse, but those who suffer or see others suffering have a strong belief that "god is testing you" and "the prophet can do very difficult things but it's just part of life". A woman's job is to make babies - in fact part of her status is how many babies she has. And many of them are isolated and they can't get away. There are guards on the gates and when a woman goes into the town she's not allowed to take all of her children.

This event will strengthen the community. They're told that the people "outside" are sent by the devil to try to take them away, and this will only prove them right."

"The idea of polygamy has really soaked into the Mormon church"

Marie Drillhon volunteers for UNADFI, an association that defends sect victims.

The founder of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith, was himself a polygamist. He claimed that God had revealed to him that the principle of multiple wives was divine. He defended the principle by explaining that Jesus's disciples themselves had several wives. Mormons work on the basis of revelations transmitted through their prophets. They say that the bible is constantly being updated.

The official church abandoned polygamy, which they call "plural marriage", in 1890 during the unification of the US. If their State, Utah, had not renounced the practice, they wouldn't have been able to join the union. Because of their practicality, the Mormons chose to give it up it.

The idea of polygamy has really soaked into the Mormon church. Even today I meet young missionaries who don't appear particularly shocked by the idea of having several wives. And as the case of the Texs ranch reminds us, there are rebel groups that haven't given it up. The US holds a very strange position when it comes to religious freedom."

"I wouldn't be human if I said I wasn't jealous"

Carlene Cannon lives in Davis County Cooperative in Salt Lake City; a similar compound and in contact with the FLDS community in Texas. For legal reasons, she cannot answer questions about her marital situation.

We're horrified about what's happened in Texas. If they can do this to our neighbours, they could do it to us too. To be handled in such a way, it's just total disregard for civil rights. We're helping the women there who've had their children taken away by exchanging letters of support. They need to get to the bottom of this case. It happened in our community once when somebody from outside called social services and children were taken away. If someone's got a problem with you, they will do that [make a false call].

I live this way because my parents lived that way and it's something very dear to me. If you're an adult you should be able to make that decision by yourself. It was definitely the right decision for me. There are so many benefits. For example, your children have more than one mother. While someone goes to work, someone else looks after the kids. I wouldn't be human if I said I wasn't jealous but there are more important feelings than that. What frightens me about monogamous relationships is that only half of them survive, whereas polygamous relationships tend to be very successful.

I think they should decriminalise plural marriage because then people wouldn't be forced to go underground; there wouldn't be a situation like this one. People would have access to services and a fair justice system, like normal people. I blame the government for this, for isolating us. We're just a different culture. You can't herd us away like cattle."