SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill introduced in the Utah State Legislature would allow people who leave polygamous communities to tap into a state fund for crime victims.
Rep. Kyle Andersen, R-Ogden, has introduced House Bill 214, which adds "bigamy" to the list of crimes that someone could qualify for funds from the Office for Victims of Crime.
"These are people that are often leaving a situation, a lifestyle that is fraught with abuse," Rep. Anderson said in a recent interview with FOX 13.
In order to qualify for some of the funds, the alleged victim would have to be willing to speak to police who may be investigating crimes within often-closed polygamous societies.
"They do have to be willing to work and cooperate with law enforcement. That’s part of the application, being able to gain access to that fund," said Rep. Andersen.
Often people who flee abusive situations within polygamous communities leave with nothing. Some fundamentalist Mormon communities pool their resources together into a "united order," and live off of what is doled out according to wants and needs. But often these people are also less than willing to testify against their own families.
Nonprofit groups like Holding Out HELP, Cherish Families, Voices for Dignity and Sound Choices Coalition are all over the spectrum on pro-polygamy and anti-polygamy viewpoints and offer a variety of resources for people in and out of those communities.
Joe Darger, a polygamist who deals with many fundamentalist communities, said he wanted to meet with Rep. Andersen to discuss any unintended consequences.
"We’re supportive of the concept of bringing access to victims of crime. Our concern is he may be broad-brushing all polygamists as either victims of crime or criminals," he told FOX 13.
Rep. Andersen said he wasn't sure how much his bill would be utilized, if it were to become law. But he wanted the resource to be available.
"This is not making a statement on polygamy one way or the other. It is against the law. This is not making a statement on that," he said. "This is saying these are people that need some help, have absolutely no resources."