Lyndonville, Vermont - Lyndon State College Professor Janet Bennion knows a thing or two about polygamy. As the country's leading expert on the subject, she has spent the last 19 years researching and living with polygamous sects in Montana, Utah, and Mexico, and that's why she's disturbed by what's taking place in Texas.
"This is absolutely the wrong way to go about it. This is a group of people that are already against the government and the outside world, and then you get raided by state troops, kidnapping the children," said Bennion.
More than 400 children were removed from the sect's compound in Texas three weeks ago after allegations of forced marriage and sexual abuse began to surface. Professor Bennion agrees those crimes should not be tolerated- but says Texas authorities should have intervened more cautiously, using a liaison to identify the children at risk.
"If you can establish abuse, of course intervention must be made, but use an intervention that doesn't break the constitution and that doesn't violate all these civil rights laws," argues Bennion.
Some believe it's polygamy- not the alleged child abuse- that's truly on trial. Professor Bennion has written three books about her experiences living with polygamous sects. After interacting with families that included more than 50 children and as many as 6 wives, she says she doesn't know if rates of abuse are higher among polygamists, but she says the church should raise the marriage age to 18, and should allow kids to attend public school where abuse could more easily be detected.
"You won't get everyone, but it's a more effective and safer way instead of rushing in with a shoot-from-the-hip mentality operating now," said Bennion.
In the meantime, a Texas judge has ruled that all of those children will remain in state custody until authorities conduct DNA testing. Individual hearings for the children will be held in the next couple of weeks.