Joanne Hanks answers questions
about Sister Wives, and how to help
women stuck in polygamist cults
Hi there. I really enjoyed reading your book. You’re an amazing lady. I have a couple questions if you don’t mind.
My first is, I’m wondering how you feel about the show Sister Wives. I watched it religiously (pun only half intended) and I thought it was sweet and heart warming. But recently I’ve been reading a lot about polygamy and cults and what I’ve learned is heart breaking. Do you think the women on that show are secretly miserable? Do you think it’s possible to have a healthy plural marriage? I know it’s just reality TV, and I know that pretending like everything is okay even when it’s not is probably a huge part of being seen as a good wife, but they’re so convincing. Would you support any of your daughters if they made the choice to enter into a plural marriage?
My other question is, there are so many stories about cults taking advantage of young girls. Is that still happening? Can I help? Can anyone help? Maybe it’s strange but the more I learn about this sort of thing the more horrifying but somehow interesting it is...are there organizations that would help girls in more violent cults escape if they wanted to? Or even just help these women with clothes and places to stay, childcare while they look for work, etc? I can’t imagine the strength it takes to walk away. I’m absolutely inspired by it and if there’s anything I could do to make it easier on you and these people I would.
Hello [Name Withheld],
I never watched Sister Wives except for a few minutes of one episode. It was too familiar to be entertaining. We had many reporters come and do stories on us when we were in Manti and we said the same kinds of things. “We are living a higher law,” “God wants his Elect to prove themselves worthy of the higher kingdom in the afterlife,” “It’s a natural way of living, many animals have one male and many females,” “It’s in the Bible,” “We are being strengthened and overcoming jealousy,” etc. We believed our own message and loved the media attention.
Now that I’m divorced from a husband that would put me in that situation, I realize how unfair and demeaning it is. I do not need a husband to help me get to heaven, support me financially, make babies, tell me what is right and wrong, and speak for God. My daughters and I do not believe in the superstitions of religion any more. We have lived it and seen for ourselves that the whole thing is a way for men to control and have power.
There are organizations that have tried to help girls in polygamy but few have enough money to really do anything. Your ideas on how to help are great. Keep looking for an organization to work with. Women face the prospect of divorce and supporting themselves if they leave husbands that want that lifestyle. I am going back to school to become a Physician Assistant. It will take me several years and lots of loans, but it’s the only way I can make it financially.
I’m fortunate in that my parents are supporting me in this. Many women in smaller cults have family on the outside that would love to help them. The larger groups are so dumbed down and brainwashed over generations that they do not have the perspective to see other possibilities, and often do not have outside family to turn to for help. Lack of education and knowledge of current events keeps them from thinking for themselves.
I am trying so hard to get my book noticed and read by as many people as possible. We really want the story to reach millions. We hope it will help in some way to keep people from falling for the extreme religious beliefs that are so prevalent in our country, and maybe even help a few who are stuck in these cults to find their way out. In many cases, I think it takes a non-religious psychologist to really help indoctrinated people clear their minds.
Thanks for the letter!