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Stunning stories shared at talk in Nelson

<p>Bramham, who is also a CFUW member, mingled with members of the Nelson chapter following her talk. (Chelsea Novak/Castlegar News)</p> -

Bramham, who is also a CFUW member, mingled with members of the Nelson chapter following her talk. (Chelsea Novak/Castlegar News)

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Vancouver Sun journalist Daphne Bramham first started writing about the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C. after being contact by a member of the Canadian Federation of University Women.

Therefore it seems fitting that over 10 years later she should give a talk about her work at the Nelson chapter's 50th anniversary luncheon.

Members of the Nelson and District Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) gathered at Prestige Lakeside Resort in Nelson on Sunday to celebrate 50 years of advocating for women and girls and to hear Bramham speak.

She is a member of the CFUW herself and first learned about the situation in Bountiful from a member of the Sechelt branch.

"Except from an email from a CFUW member, I would never have written about Bountiful," she said toward the close of her speech.

The CFUW member wrote to her in all caps: "Why don't you write about Canadian women who are being trafficked to the United States. I know you won't. Nobody at the Sun ever does."

Bramham wrote her back to say that she didn't know anything about Bountiful, and asked the other CFUW member if she could help. She came through with a contact list that included the cell phone number of the Attorney General of Utah.

Thus began Bramham's path toward learning more about the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) community where underage girls, as young as 12, are married off to men much older and sometimes trafficked across the border to be married to American members.

In her speech Bramham spoke about the ways she believes the B.C. government has failed the women and children of Bountiful, putting the freedom of religion of the men above the other human rights of those sexually assaulted, forced into child labour and denied an education.

Asked if she thought she'd still be writing about Bountiful over 10 years after she started, Bramham said, "Oh I never expected to write more than maybe one column. And I think part of the reason that I even wrote about it the first time was because I write three columns a week and sometimes I'm short of ideas, and this seemed quite easy, since she not only contacted me, but gave me contact information for a whole lot of people."

In addition to what she's written about Bountiful for the Vancouver Sun, Bramham has also written a book about it, called The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in a Polygamous Mormon Sect.

For those wanting to learn more about polygamy and the FLDS, Bramham also recommends Escape and Triumph: Life After the Cult — A Survivor's Lesson by Carolyn Jessop, who escaped the FLDS community in the U.S. Bramham also recommends Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, the first book she ever read on the subject.

When it comes to working to address the problem, Bramham suggests people should talk to their politicians.

"People need to ask the policy-makers to ensure that we respect the rights of women and children, that we make sure that children get the best education possible, that they can fulfill their highest potential, that we protect women from abusive situations and that when we fail in those protections and when they need services, that we provide those services for them," she said.

Bramham pointed out that it's not just women and children from Bountiful who need that protection, but said that the situation there is unique. She compared those who leave or who are forced out of the community to refugees: they often have little education, no references for housing or employment and no support system. They have also been taught to believe that people on the outside are not to be trusted.

Bramham also recommends that people seek out those who have left Bountiful to hear them tell their own stories.

"Because one of the things that is difficult is to tell other people's stories and we need to hear the stories from those people and when you actually have the opportunity to meet the people who've left, it changes everything," she said.

One of those people is Esther Palmer, who was born and raised in Bountiful and left five years ago, when five of her nine children were leaving, and she was told she would no longer be able to have contact with them. Four of her children remain in Bountiful.

Asked what it was like to leave, Palmer said, "Actually for me it was way easier than, say, my sister Amy. Because the Bountiful community… because they want to stay very isolated, they would allow a few women to get an education. I was a midwife, so … they wanted to be able to just have babies and not anyone necessarily know that babies were being born, so if they could have a midwife then she could deliver in the community."

One of Palmer's half-sisters was also allowed to get an education to be a teacher, because for the Bountiful schools to retain provincial funding they needed properly accredited teachers.

But Palmer says that has changed.

"My 14-year-old son, he's being taught by my 29-year-old daughter who's not a certified teacher. I mean she's gone to school herself. She was actually in the middle of becoming a certified teacher when she was told by Warren Jeffs [the FLDS prophet] that now the end of the world is coming so nobody can carry on. It's all going to be gone tomorrow anyways," she explained.

Jeffs has predicted the end of the world more than once. Asked how Jeffs can keep his followers awaiting the apocalypse after the deadline has come and gone, Palmer explained, "What basically they do is they just come up with another excuse. Because Warren claims that he talks with God, so if it doesn't happen then he says, 'Well, I talked to God and pleaded with him to five us more time.' So it's all about him and his authority."

Palmer encourages people in the area to cut those who've left Bountiful a little slack.

"What I would love to see is just being able to give people a break in terms of allowing them to rent," she said.

"Help with education is huge," she added.

Palmer said that she left Bountiful with only the shirt on her back and has five children who are out, none of whom have any education money saved for them.

"So that would be huge to me, because I totally agree with Daphne that education is the answer," said Palmer.

She also thanked those who have helped her, including Bramham, the RCMP and the CFUW.

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