31 Mar 2011

Author who escaped abuse in US polygamy cult explains why Canadian constitutional case is so important in both countries

Maclean's   -  Canada    March 30, 2011

On polygamy, child brides and why the stakes in B.C. are so high

Carolyn Jessop in conversation with Luiza Ch. Savage

by Luiza Ch. Savage

Carolyn Jessop, 43, was born in the U.S. into a radical polygamist cult, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS). At 18, she became the fourth wife of a 50-year-old man and bore eight children. She recounts the abuses she endured and her harrowing flight in a book, Escape. She recently testified before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which is considering whether polygamy laws violate religious freedom under the Charter and whether they can be used to prosecute FLDS leaders in Bountiful, B.C.

Q: Critics of anti-polygamy laws say that the state should not interfere with the religious beliefs or lifestyle decisions of consenting adults. Do you agree?

A: This is not about consenting adults. My position is it is sexual slavery. I was never asked. I was told what I was going to do. My husband Merril never asked me to marry him. The purpose of marriage is not to fall in love but to provide righteous children. They say it’s a victimless crime. I have not seen a polygamous situation that is not abusive to someone in the relationship.

Q: Ironically, you describe your husband, who had more than a dozen wives and 54 children, as emotionally monogamous.

A: If a man gets many wives, he’ll find one he has chemistry with. Once they fall in love, things get difficult for the other women. If he’s not having sex with you, your status in the family goes down. When he shuts you out, they know you are just a prime target for whatever abuse they want to throw at you because he won’t protect you or your kids.

Q: Did you witness child abuse?

A: Systematic abuse. There is a lot of violence toward kids. Merril did a lot of water torture on his babies.

Q: What is water torture?

A: The concept is that you have to break a child’s will before the age of 2. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to control them at the level that their salvation depends on. A baby may be crying because it is hungry. They would take the baby and spank it to really get it going. Then they hold the baby face-up under cold running water for 30 seconds, and as soon as it gets its breath and starts crying, they’d spank it again. A session like that could last an hour until the baby quits fighting from fatigue. That can happen frequently until the parent feels the baby is sufficiently broken.

Q: And you say the community was rife with child sexual abuse?

A: This isn’t a typical sexual assault of a minor. Parents are involved in this. That’s what makes it so egregious. Underage marriage is a conspiracy to have sex with minors. The parents are involved, the grandparents, the aunts and uncles. The options the girls have for help and relief from those crimes—they virtually have none.

Q: The RCMP are now investigating evidence that cult members were smuggling Canadian girls as young as 12 to marry men in the U.S. One of them ended up being given to your husband.

A: Back in 2008, when they did the raids at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas, three of the minors that had been sexually assaulted under the pretense of marriage and didn’t know where their parents were, were from Canada. They were brought into the States by the parents, given to [FLDS leader] Warren Jeffs on a silver platter and abandoned. The investigator in Texas, Angie Voss, sent a report to Canada, saying [they had] three girls who were trafficked [there] for the purposes of sex. That got lost in the system and nothing was ever done. As far as I know, they are still in the U.S. Merril married another Canadian girl who was 16 at the time.

Q: What happens to boys when all the girls are married off to the old men of the church?

A: Boys are disposable. It’s simple math. They excommunicate them. They dump a 13-year-old boy on the street, in a big city, and tell him they never want to see him again because he has been turned to the temptations of Satan. There are crimes committed against children in these groups that if committed in a regular household, the family would lose their children.

Q: Why not just leave?

A: Getting out of the community is a huge obstacle. You are not free to say, “Oh, I don’t want to do this anymore.” They hunt you down. They take you back and put you under 24-hour surveillance, take your kids away and tell you that you can’t see them again.

Q: What obstacles did you face?

A: The first was legal: how do you get legal custody of your kids? Merril hired an attorney who was paid around $1 million. Family attorneys would not touch my case because they would be taking on a cult, and they only did family law. I didn’t have any money. My attorney, Lisa Jones, said it was the most stressful case in her career. She did it as a favour to the state attorney general of Utah, who told her we cannot lose. If we lose, no other woman will ever come forward. I was the first one to ever leave the FLDS and get legal custody of all my children and get all of them out. Another problem a woman has is the fact that we are in an illegal lifestyle. When I went into court to fight for my kids, it was viewed as two criminals fighting over the kids. I didn’t get any advantages that women would get who are leaving an abusive situation.

Q: Why didn’t you have any money?

A: My husband had a home worth more than $1 million—it was 17,000 square feet for seven wives and 30-some kids. I had no claim, even though I worked as a teacher and all my money contributed to that home. But it was all in a Church-controlled trust. He had other assets such as construction equipment that he put in the name of other members. It was a fraudulent transfer and the state could have traced it back to him, but they didn’t want to do that. My case didn’t fit the simple system where he gets a paycheque and you garnish it for child support. He would have had to give support for eight kids and one with a severe disability and in critical condition with cancer. That’s one of the problems with polygamy. Women don’t have any protection from financial abuse. He was flying around in a private jet and I was in a homeless shelter.

Q: When you escaped, you discovered he had run up debts in your name.

A: He was using my name to finance different things—credit cards, construction equipment. When I left, he stopped paying. I didn’t know what I owed. He legally got away without paying child support and pushed me into bankruptcy and it did not hurt him because we were not legally married. Harrison, my 11-year-old disabled son, at the time was 4. He needed 24-hour-a-day care. That forced me onto welfare.

Q: How are women prevented from physically leaving the community you were in, on the Arizona-Utah border?

A: The men work construction and are gone during the week. They are not there to watch their wives. They don’t want her taking her kids to go to town but it’s not practical to leave a woman with a lot of little kids with no transportation. So they leave her a clunker that’s unlicensed and uninsured to make sure that she cannot leave the community. The minute I start driving outside of the community, they know I’m leaving without permission. It’s like driving a marked car.

Q: Why not go to the police?

A: The cops are members of the cult. Merril would have called and said, ‘My wife is leaving and you’d better get over and stop her.’ I tried to call a cop outside of the community; they said we don’t have jurisdiction there.

Q: What made you finally decide to leave?

A: It was a combination of how critical things were becoming because Warren Jeffs had become the prophet and he was preaching the “lifting up.” I could see he was starting to program us for a mass suicide. I was also afraid for the safety of my daughter, who was turning 14 and I knew Warren wanted to marry her. The other factor was my disabled son. I was having hell on wheels getting him treatment, keeping him alive.

Q: What do you think would happen if courts strike down Canada’s anti-polygamy law?

A: It could have a devastating impact. It would push the legalization of polygamy into the U.S. It would help mainstream that lifestyle. We want to see specific legislation to go after specific crimes they are committing, such as educational neglect of children, medical neglect, in addition to sexual assault. If Canada says this is legal, there probably won’t be legislation to deal with these crimes.

Q: You tell U.S. audiences Canada represents “hope” because of the potential for prosecutions of leaders of a branch of the FLDS in Bountiful, who had many underage brides.

A: Canada presents a hope to me for two reasons. They are looking very seriously at crimes within the polygamous community. The other encouraging thing is because they are looking at a polygamist population of fewer than 2,000 people, dealing with the situation is more feasible. In Utah we have 80,000. If Canada prosecutes, it would put serious heat on Utah.

Q: What do you think the Canadian government should do?

A: They should pass specific legislation. If children are born into it you can’t take away all their Charter rights in the name of freedom of religion. Regardless of what you believe, you don’t have a right to deprive a child of all their other rights. You couldn’t just take girls over international lines and give them over to sexual abuse when they are 12. You can open the door to freedom for people who are trapped. It’s not about consenting adults. There are children there.

This article was found at:


News-Leader    -   Springfield, Missouri   March 29, 2011

Speaker opens eyes to suffering of women in polygamist cults

Written by Linda Leicht  | News-Leader

Carolyn Jessop's new book, "Triumph," is about her life after escaping her ex-husband and the FLDS. / Valerie Mosley / News-Leader

Carolyn Jessop is on a mission.

The 43-year-old mother of eight "escaped" from a polygamist compound eight years ago and is determined to open the public's eyes to the realities of a way of life that holds women powerless and children in peril.

"The crime is still happening, and children are still being hurt," she told a packed house at Missouri State University Tuesday night.

Jessop is the author of "Escape," which tells the story of her life in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and her escape from it, and "Triumph: Life After the Cult, a Survivor's Lessons."

After the petite, blonde woman with a quiet voice told the harrowing story of being forced at age 18 to become the fourth "wife" of a man of 50 and of ultimately escaping with her children, the crowd rose to their feet to applaud her.

"I thought it was phenomenal," said MSU senior Abby Barcomb of Springfield. Although Barcomb had been interested in the topic of polygamy and aware of some of the things Jessop reported, she said, "Everything was shocking."

Ethan Couch, a sophomore from Cassville, attended the talk as part of an assignment for his ethics class. He came away impressed. "(Polygamy) is not at all like I thought it would be," he said, admitting that his insights had only been from the television show "Sister Wives," a reality show focusing on one polygamist family. "It sounded horrible."

Jessop described a life that surpasses horrible in many ways. She came from six generations of FLDS polygamists, tracing her family back to the founder of the cult that broke away from the Mormon church in 1912.

She grew up knowing only a life that offered her no choices but to have children for the man the "prophet" of the group chose for her and face the possibility that those children could be taken from her at any moment.

"I was never allowed to experience anything else," she said. "The mind control is very severe."

Her own father had three wives and 38 children. She saw her brothers banished from the community when they were still teenagers -- a fate she estimates happens to about 80 percent of the boys born into the cult. Her father was later banished, too.

Jessop's decision to leave the cult and take her children with her came after the group made an even more extreme turn. Warren Jeffs, the new prophet, declared that the children would no longer receive an education, he began excommunicating men and reassigning their wives and children to different families, and began arranging marriages between girls as young as 14.

In her family, Jessop faced the possibility that her daughter, 14, would become one of Jeffs' wives and that her son, diagnosed with cancer, would not be allowed medical treatment.

With the help of a sister still on the compound and two brothers who were living in Salt Lake City, she managed to get all eight of her children into a van and drive out of Colorado City, Ariz., a city
completely dominated by FLDS, she said.

Although she had no money, a critically ill son, children who were panicked that they were destined to hell for leaving, and little hope of succeeding, she managed to win full custody of her children and child support, something no other woman from the cult had accomplished.

Today, she is a successful author. Her son Harrison no longer has cancer but was left seriously disabled, and the other children went through counseling and continued in school. Her oldest daughter,returned to the
compound when she turned 18.

"I think the day that Betty went back was more terrible than learning my son had cancer," she said. "I couldn't do anything."

But Jessop is doing plenty to open the public's eyes to the realities of polygamy and cults like the FLDS. In addition to her best-selling books, Jessop has turned to the media, speaks at campuses, and testifies before courts in the U.S. and Canada.

Today, Jeffs sits in jail awaiting trial in Texas, and Canada's high court considers the constitutionality of its polygamy law and the case of two men who brought their 12-year-old daughters to the United States to
marry Jeffs, then about 50.

Jessop wants the government to do more. She wants states with polygamist communities to quit turning a blind eye to the abuse that comes with polygamy. And she wants laws that will protect women who
have no legal rights as a wife because their marriages were never legalized.

"Those women have no power," she says. "They are given like a slave."

Leaving that slavery meant giving up much more than her marriage. "I was willing to give up my religion, my home ... all I knew," she said.

It also meant finding a new power that gives her the strength to speak out for the women and children who continue to live in slavery and danger.

"I strongly believe there's a higher power," she said. "I believe in miracles."

This article was found at:


Another closing argument in Canadian polygamy case claims religious freedom for adults trumps children's rights

Author gives overview of history of marriage in context of the Canadian constitutional case on polygamy law

Legal expert tells Canadian court polygamy prohibitions and monogamy tradition pre-date Christianity

BC government has acted quicker to protect animals than the abused children of Mormon fundamentalists in Bountiful

Children's rights group tells court BC put rights of Mormon fundamentalist parents before rights of children

Teachers tell court BC government neglected children's educational rights in Mormon fundamentalist community

Court appointed lawyer says Canadian polygamy law criminalizes harmless behaviour, violates religious freedom of adults

Research from over 170 countries shows polygamy causes extreme violations of women and children's rights

Author who escaped abuse in US polygamy cult explains why Canadian constitutional case is so important in both countries

Evidence in Canadian polygamy case shows Mormon leader trafficked his daughters and other child brides to US

Stop Polygamy in Canada website has notes taken by observers in the courtroom as well as links to most of the affidavits and research the court is considering in this case.

Religious practice not above the law, polygamy consumes its young says Attorney General of BC in closing argument

Summary of positions in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy as court begins hearing final oral arguments

Lawyer fighting Canadian polygamy law says it violates religious freedom, need new law against forced marriage

BC Civil Liberties Association lawyer defends adult human rights in polygamy case, no mention of children's rights

BC Civil Liberties Association tells Canadian court law against polygamy violates personal freedoms, should be scrapped

BC government failed to act on evidence of child bride trafficking after 2008 Texas raid on polygamists

Final arguments in Canadian constitutional hearing on polygamy will be broadcast on TV and Web

Canadian polygamy case hears evidence on high rates of teen pregnancies in fundamentalist Mormon community

For Mormon polygamists in Canadian case religious freedom means enslaving women, sexualizing girls, exploiting boys

Two more plural wives testify in Canadian polygamy case, see no problem with forced marriage or trafficking child brides

Testimony of first FLDS witness in Canadian polygamy case reveals women in denial that their children are being abused

First anonymous FLDS witness in Canadian polygamy case paints cosy picture of plural marriage, seems oblivious to abuses

Affidavit in Canadian polygamy case reveals shocking statistics on child trafficking, child brides and teen mothers in Bountiful

Economics professor considers financial aspects of polygamy that create inequality

Two Mormon fundamentalist women from Utah tell Canadian court positive accounts of polygamy, no hint of abuse

Brother of FLDS bishop describes intellectual abuse, child labour, spiritual abuse and loveless religion in Canadian polygamy case

No freedom from religion for women and children in Mormon polygamist towns where men claim religious freedom to abuse

Mormon polygamist survivor tells court babies smothered to keep quiet, emotional and spiritual abuse worse than sex abuse

Video testimony by Mormon fundamentalist in Canadian court says polygamy provides happy life and harms no one

Survivor tells Canadian court extreme abuses including water torture of babies common in Mormon polygamist communities

FLDS bishop of Bountiful will not testify in Canadian polygamy case so his affidavit will not be read into record

Legal expert tells Canadian court polygamy prohibitions and monogamy tradition pre-date Christianity

The issue of women's rights in the Canadian constitutional review of the polygamy law

Before holiday break in constitutional case judge hears conflicting expert testimony on harms associated with polygamy

Expert in polygamy case says society should assume all members of sects have free choice, but what about children?

B.C. government expert in polygamy case sets out long list of social harms, societies that abandon polygamy do better

Court views video affidavits from Mormon fundamentalist survivors detailing pedophilia, incest, child trafficking and forced marriage

Polygamy expert tells court in constitutional case that it reduces women's freedom and equality and leads to forced marriage

Affidavits from survivors and psychologist's testimony in constitutional case show abusive nature of polygamous lifestyle

Expert witness in constitutional case on polygamy claims Bountiful women freely choose their own religious oppression

Judge allows controversial expert witness to testify in Canadian polygamy case, no decision yet on publication of video affidavits

Pro-polygamy intervenor groups make opening statements as first week of Canadian constitutional case ends

FLDS lawyer in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy claims members freely consent to plural marriage, abuse survivors disagree

Lawyer appointed to argue for striking down Canada's anti-polygamy law in constitutional case makes opening arguments

Canadian constitutional case on polygamy begins with BC government's opening statement

Unique Canadian constitutional case on polygamy set to begin November 22, 2010

Timeline of events leading up to Canadian constitutional case on polygamy which is set to begin

Survivor of abuse by Mormon polygamists documents accounts of sex crimes in the FLDS and other fundamentalist groups

Mormon fundamentalist leader asks court to exclude evidence against him in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy

Fundamentalist Mormon spokeswoman says polygamy doesn't hurt anyone

Mormon fundamentalist claims of religious persecution in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy not supported by the facts

Polygamist leader says BC attorney general guilty of religious persecution

Polygamist leader calls charges religious persecution

More persecution than prosecution

Second Mormon polygamist found guilty of child sex assault, jury doesn't buy defense claim of religious persecution

Claims of persecution ridiculous in societies where Christians have special privileges to indoctrinate children

More pro-polygamy affidavits by Mormon fundamentalists filed in Canadian constitutional case set to begin in November

Judge will allow anonymous testimony from Mormon polygamists in Canadian constitutional case on polygamy

Mormon polygamists seek immunity from future prosecution before giving evidence in Canadian constitutional case

Canadian constitutional case on polygamy triggered by Mormon fundamentalists, but will also examine Muslim communities

Utah law professor uses Mormon polygamists as example of how religious extremism leads to deliberate child abuse

Polygyny and Canada’s Obligations under International Human Rights Law (pdf)

Research paper submitted to B.C. court in constitutional case documents harms associated with polygamy

Man from Bountiful says girls in Mormon polygamist communities "treated like poison snakes", taught to obey men and have many children

Bountiful evidence that polygamy harms women and children - constitutional case likely to reach Canadian Supreme Court

Review of the positions 12 intervener groups are expected to take in upcoming Canadian constitutional case on polygamy

Some religious practices, such as polygamy, are inherently harmful and should not be tolerated in modern society 

Women's adovcates: polygamy is an “oppressive institution” that abuses and enslaves women and children

Prosecuting Polygamy in El Dorado by Marci Hamilton

Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearings on Polygamy Crimes: What Needs to Be Done at the Federal Level to Protect Children from Abuse and Neglect

Senate hearing: "Crimes Associated with Polygamy: The Need for a Coordinated State and Federal Response."

Texas Will Attempt to Show That Polygamist Culture Itself Harms Children

FLDS defendants complain their religious freedom violated, while denying religious freedom to their children

Children in Bountiful have religious rights too, but are denied them by parents claiming religious freedom 

Some Canadian children are protected from religion-related abuse, while others are not

Polygamy is not freedom

Israeli politicians and women's advocates call for immediate change to polygamy law to protect rights of women and children

New study on polygamy in Malaysia finds evidence of harm to everyone involved

Indonesian Women's Association divided on whether polygamy, which is legal in Indonesia, is harmful to women and children


  1. New documentary Prophets Prey reveals how fundamentalist Mormon church survives despite its cult status

    by ROHAN SMITH news.com.au SEPTEMBER 23, 2015

    IN the hills between Utah and Colorado City, a man named Warren Jeffs was going about his business quietly. He wasn’t disturbing anybody, he didn’t appear to outsiders to be doing anything wrong.

    A closer look revealed the opposite. For years, Jeffs, a fundamentalist Mormon, was accruing wives — some as young as 12 years old — and forming a cult like no other.

    Inside the walls of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), Jeffs was preaching love and patience and the word of God. But his intentions were not pure.

    Sam Brower, a private investigator who got close enough to Jeffs to write a book about what he witnessed, said the 59-year-old was “committing the most vile crimes imaginable”.

    “Kidnapping, tax fraud, child molestation, human trafficking, blackmail,” Brower said.

    Jeffs would eventually answer for his crimes, despite trying t run. He was briefly a fugitive and briefly owned second position on the FBI’s most wanted list.
    When he was tracked down he had with him 16 mobile phones, three wigs and one of his wives.

    Brower’s evidence led to Jeffs’ conviction and a 20-year sentence for child sexual assault. He was additionally charged with incest and sexual conduct with minors.

    Four years after he was put behind bars, a new documentary reveals the church continues to operate without him. Outside his jail cell there are 10,000 loyal followers waiting for his release, convinced he is their saviour.


    Brower told an audience in 2013 that he believed Jeffs was the leader of more than a church.

    “Most people think of them as a church, but I think of them as an organised crime syndicate,” he said.

    In his book, Prophet’s Prey — the same title used in the new documentary by director Amy Berg — Brower recounts how, over seven years, he witnessed horrendous crimes under the veil of religion.

    In an interview in 2011 he explained how he first gained the church’s trust.

    “The community itself is very distrustful, very isolated, very insular,” he said. “It literally took years, baby steps, little bits at a time, getting to know somebody and then them having a brother or some other contact that would slowly begin talking to me. It was a very cumbersome process.”

    He said the FLDS community were “more insidious” than the mafia with one subtle but important difference.

    “The mafia threatens you with your life, but the FLDS threatens you with your family and your eternal salvation, and people that lose their family are without hope, and that’s worse than death.”

    continued below

  2. Brower said he knew he was likely to come across polygamy — traditionally one man with multiple wives — but he didn’t expect it to involve pre-teens.

    “I’d heard of polygamy and what was happening to these young girls, but I had no idea how young they really were. His one victim in Texas was barely 12 years old.”

    A review of Brower’s book by Variety concluded “spiritual and psychological bondage does not end simply by putting a monster behind bars”.

    That’s the premise of Berg’s documentary, one that revisits the cult years after Jeffs’ conviction and finds little if anything has changed.


    Author John Krakauer features heavily in the documentary. Having previously written about fundamentalist Mormonism, he explains how the FLDS came to hold such strong beliefs about women and enabled people like Jeffs to demand multiple brides.

    In an interview ahead of the Sundance Film Festival where the documentary was premiering, Krakauer said polygamy was “everywhere” in Utah in the 1800s but the government soon tried to ban it.

    “The fundamentalists, the true believers, said ‘bullsh*t, what the f***’,” he said. “This is (the religion’s) most holy principle and so they broke away from the mainstream church.”

    He said Brigham Young, one of the church’s leaders, had “70 or 80 wives” and that wives equalled power.

    “Literally, in this religion, women are like animals, they’re treated so badly,” Krakauer said.

    Polygamy is not the only crime being committed by the church. Prophet’s Preyportrays a culture of child labour, rape and misogyny.

    Berg said “manipulation and brainwashing starts at a very young age” in America’s largest polygamous community.

    Krakauer said even Jeffs was brainwashed as a child. He said he was born three months premature and believed he was “special” as a result.


    “He grew up with this sense of entitlement and he was a really kinky, f***ed up kid,” Krakauer said.

    That kid grew into an adult who channelled his sense of entitlement into molesting children. He’s behind bars but the cult marches on.

    The Daily Mail reported this year that through letters and phone calls Jeffs is still running the show but the community on the Arizona-Utah border is divided between loyalists and defectors.

    Willie Jessop, who left the cult in 2011, said many refuse to believe their leader did anything wrong.

    “That’s why you see such a fractured situation,” Jessop told the Mail.

    “People try to come to grips with what he’s in prison for (and) it’s easier for people to put it under religious persecution than the reality of why he’s there.”

    Salon recently compared it to ISIS, and the similarities are hard to argue with.

    “Both groups have sought to pursue prophetic religious teachings to their ultimate extreme, and both have constructed a throwback social order based on male domination, female subjugation, forced marriage and the rape and sexual enslavement of children. If Warren Jeffs had the guns, the territory and the freedom that ISIS possesses, how far would he go?”

    Thank God he doesn’t.

    Prophet’s Prey opens in the US on September 25.


  3. Former Jeffs wife talks about escaping polygamy

    by Ed Kociela, St George News November 21, 2015

    Foreground: Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs. Jeffs is imprisoned in Texas for a 2011 convictions for sexual assault of two children. | Composite image, St. George News

    OPINION – Without choice, there is no freedom.

    And, without freedom, life becomes nothing more than simply finding a way to survive.

    That is the essence of life as a woman chained to polygamy, at least in the mind of Lynette Warner, who was one of nearly 80 wives claimed by Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot sect of the mainstream LDS church.

    Warner, now 30, was a spiritual wife to Jeffs, who is serving a life-plus 20 years sentence in a Texas prison after his 2011 conviction on two counts of sexual assault of a child for his spiritual marriage to two underage girls – one 12 and the other 15.

    She was placed in marriage at the age of 18 and soon realized she wanted out of a culture and community that she no longer understood. It took eight years of repeated attempts to escape before she finally was able to break away from the sect 3 ½ years ago.

    Warner said she was punished for her escape attempts by having her privileges taken away, was locked up in solitary confinement to force her to conform to church guidelines and was threatened with blood atonement.

    “It can get so bad they tell you that you won’t live another day,” she said.

    As a result, she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. It took several trips to the hospital and a series of misdiagnoses over the years before she was finally put on a regimen of effective treatment and medication.

    “It’s like what soldiers get when they come out of the army,” she said. “I start to disassociate. I start to go through a stage with severe nightmares that are very real to me. Now, I fight through it, I’m getting better. But, there are triggers that cause that. They would not allow me to talk to a psychologist. They kept me heavily medicated. There was another lady who, by the time she got to a real medical doctor on the outside, the doctors said she would have died from what was in her system.”

    Although painful, the trauma helped Warner succeed in her desire to leave the FLDS community.

    “I tried for like five years to get out,” she said during an exclusive interview with St. George News. “My main problem was that I didn’t know about the organizations on the outside (that offer assistance to those trying to escape polygamy). I had a brother that was out, but I knew that was the first place they would look for me.”

    Finally, she was able to escape through a window of a house where she was being held.

    “They had turned around the doorknob and put two screws in the window so it wouldn’t open,” she said. “I broke one of the screws and undid the other and got out, crossed the yard and was gone.”

    With help from the Shield and Refuge Ministry, which describes itself as “a loving, Christ-centered outreach to those seeking freedom from Mormon Fundamentalism and Polygamy,” Warner was able to make her way to Tennessee where she lived for two years, changed her name and was adopted by author Kristyn Decker, who had escaped from polygamy many years earlier.

    Warner was raised in the FLDS faith and was a student at Alta Academy, a church school at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake City where Jeffs served as principal for 22 years.

    “They taught you from a young age that it was a privilege to have more than one mother, that it was a blessing,” she said. “One will make the meals, one will tend the children, one would do the yard work.

    continued below

  4. When you are children, you just want to fit in, but when you get big is when you start to realize ‘Is this something I really want?’ You have to really want something to get out and face the differences (in lifestyles) and say ‘I want this.’ I wanted freedom. I wanted to live. I wanted to help the children.”

    As most born into the faith, Warner was taught from the cradle that her eternal salvation depended on her living the word of her church and prophet.

    “It was always part of everything to work toward salvation,” she said. “Salvation is all he (Jeffs) talks about.”

    Warner said Jeffs would often coerce people into following his will by telling them they would “only be qualified to be a servant in heaven” if they didn’t obey and that small children were a part of FLDS indoctrination.

    “I got to a point where I thought if that’s what we have to do to children in heaven, I don’t want to be in heaven. It’s psychological abuse. They withhold toys, their childhood, and the child labor is also abuse.”

    Warner said her attempts at escape led to her often being remanded to what the FLDS call “houses in hiding” where she would be sent with, usually, a handful of other women who were deemed rebellious or unworthy.

    The women, she said, were placed under the watchful eye of a male caretaker whose job was to urge repentance.

    “I lived in several (houses of hiding). You live there until you pray hard enough (to be returned to the community).”

    Warner said things became so desperate while she was living in one of the houses of hiding in Wyoming that she threatened to take her own life.

    “They speak a kind of code,” she said of FLDS followers. “They wanted me to teach the children the symbols and the code. It was hard enough on me; I couldn’t think of doing it to a child. If they learn it, they can’t communicate in the world.”

    She refused and was sent to do her penance at the home in Wyoming where she became so despondent she thought of suicide.

    “The caretaker said if I killed myself they would cover it up as an accident,” she said. “There was a reservoir close by. I said, ‘What if I jump in the reservoir?’”

    She said her caretaker basically shrugged it off.

    “I went in up to my neck,” Warner said, “and I sat there long enough to see if they would come after me or let me drown.”

    Nobody came to her rescue.

    “That, to me, was telling me they really do stage things to look like an accident,” she said.

    Afterwards, she was sent back to Colorado City, Arizona.

    Warner said she didn’t want to marry Jeffs, but she believed if she didn’t, she would never marry.

    “So I felt I had to say yes and that I might get by with trying, but it wasn’t easy. He’s very mean. I was scared of him. I resisted from the very start. A lot of my harassment was a result of that. He wasn’t physically violent himself but very much in control. There was no compassion, no mercy. He told us ‘The time of compassion is over, there’s no love.’”

    Christine Marie Katas understands the life Warner lived,although she was once a member of another polygamist sect.

    Katas said she hopes people listen to Warner’s story and offer support.

    “My situation? I believed in a false prophet,” Katas said, continuing:

    I experienced the power of psychological change and the traumatic fear of consequences for disobedience. When my experience was over, people did not have compassion for me because of this misconception that I should have known better. They did not understand the power of religion, my background.Religion is such a powerful force that people become suicide bombers. It’s more powerful than a gun held to their head.When people go public with their story as people who have experienced psychological manipulation/violence, they are trying to make something good come from something bad. They have a life narrative. Our identity is the stories they’ve been through. continued below

  5. Survivors are terrified to share their stories because of the media and its insensitivity. The public needs to realize that what she’s (Warner) telling is probably one 100th of what she actually experienced.
    Katas, who is now working towards her doctorate in media psychology at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California, said it is difficult for people to understand how difficult it is to escape from a religious cult.

    “A pet peeve I have is when people come out of a community and outsiders say ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’”

    She said for some people it is all they know, but quickly added that there are also those who convert to religious cults.

    “The fact is, the media never seems to cover the psychological process of cult mind control,” she said. “They show the horrors of religious abuse, but not what’s behind it. These people (who join cults) are not stupid. They are more idealistic and educated. It’s a misconception that these are only young people searching for things.

    “Nobody joins a cult, they join something they think will make the world a better place. When they start seeing the hypocrisy, it helps them realize this isn’t what they thought it was.

    “There are films and TV shows about all of this, but we need more discussion on the psychology of the brain, about how predators work, what a psychopath is, about people with no conscience. We also forget that there is a good part, that there is a certain happiness, a certain love, a certain sweetness; that the evil world does not flourish without this artificial good side. My hope is that people have compassion on the people who come out of this situation. Nobody signs up to become a zombie. This is a manipulation strategy.”

    As a result of her experience in a fundamentalist cult, Katas, too, has been diagnosed with PTSD. She said:

    I was being abused and exploited and I was in so much psychological agony that I thought about ending my life every single hour. But the reason I stayed is because my critical thinking wasn’t working. There are techniques that predators can use to cause women to live in fear.Even if it’s just the fear of eternal damnation, when the emotional part of your brain is activated, the rational thinking part is not activated. So if a prophet keeps his people in a state of worrying about their eternal survival they are living in a state of fear so even when they see red flags and inconsistency that would make a person question if they were being told the truth, they can’t act on all these red flags, inconsistencies and questions of why would God do this to me?When cult leaders continually put people in a state of being tested then their critical thinking is a handicap. So what happened with me is I saw inconsistencies and things happening that I did not deserve. It caused me to be uncomfortable so I ignored them. I said it must be me. The problem must be me because I wasn’t righteous enough. I ignored how my prophet put me in harm’s way. There was the religious me battling the real me all the time. My critical thinking was turned off because I was in a state of trying to survive and not kill myself.I remember that my brain, after I got out, could not make sense of the world for years. There were certain things I just had to stop asking questions about. (My brain) was spaghetti that I couldn’t untangle, the world did not seem real to me. I would have waves of mourning with each new realization that what I had believed wasn’t true.When they have this healing and wakeup, invariably the women who left polygamy realize, ‘Really, I didn’t have another choice. Going to hell was no option.’ continued below

  6. Choosing to survive is not a free choice, it’s your only choice. When in a placement marriage or arranged marriage, you’re not given a healthy set of options from which to choose. The choice is do this or be damnedThe way we take responsibility for our lives is by not blaming ourselves for what was done to us.
    Warner assessed life within the FLDS church in similar terms.

    “It’s women and children that are trapped against their will,” she said.

    It’s a regimented lifestyle, with few, if any, choices.

    “It’s all controlled – the food you eat, the house you live in, the clothes you wear, the way you comb your hair. If you don’t do what they say, things get taken away, one thing after another. At one point I just wanted to stay in my room. I didn’t even want to go to the kitchen because it was too dangerous, so I’d stay in my room.”

    She said nobody tried to help her, that they wouldn’t even bring her food.

    But, Warner said, that was typical of her life in the FLDS community.

    “I wasn’t allowed to listen to music on the radio, all I heard were hymns. We weren’t allowed to watch movies. We had only specific books we could read. Now, it’s even more strict on books. TVs got outlawed.”

    The control extended deeply into the community members’ day-to-day lives.

    “The ladies, the mothers, are taught to sew, cook. They would get assigned to do cooking every single day for awhile, then they would rotate it. I was told my mission was to be an upholstery seamstress. I said I didn’t like sewing. They told me I wasn’t listening to God.

    “The men actually worked either for money like in outside jobs or on the land, to build houses. Some men would work three days and two nights without rest. They were told ‘God reveals that you need to have this done by this day at this time, if not, there will be punishment from God.”

    Warner said that even when he was on the run, Jeffs held a strong hold on his following, to the extent of holding church meetings in a remote canyon near Hildale.

    “He would call us to the woods in a canyon and he would have us drive there to meet him and listen to his sermons while he was running from the law,” she said. “He would be out there for a few hours then he was gone.”

    Warner confirmed that even after his capture, Jeffs continued to exert his power.

    “He said it was the people’s fault that he was caught because he’s perfect, he can’t do anything wrong,” Warner said. “It just got stricter and stricter since he was caught. A lot of people have been sent away from Colorado City. He split up a lot of the families and told all the parents they were no longer married to each other, that they shouldn’t even desire to be together. And he assigned 15 guys to continue reproduction. He called them seed bearers. If the ladies don’t get pregnant they get kicked out, if they do get pregnant the baby is given to a caretaker.”

    Warner said she plans to help the children of polygamy in the future.

    “I want to become a psychologist and help the children, teach them how to communicate,” she said. “I understand the programming. I want to see a path in their lives, something at the end of the tunnel for them to cling to. Every little step makes a difference. I want to go into shelters and help people.”

    And, while she is appreciative of the support she has received, she still remains driven.

    “People tell me I’m strong and that is encouraging,” she said. “Personally? I want to be stronger.”

    Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.


  7. Opera Dark Sisters puts spotlight on women in polygamous Mormon sect

    by MARSHA LEDERMAN, The Globe and Mail November 24, 2015

    In its final year as a traditional year-round opera company, Vancouver Opera – which will mount an annual festival after this season – is continuing with its commitment to present contemporary work along with traditional repertoire.

    This week a new production of Dark Sisters has its Canadian premiere. It’s an American opera – co-commissioned by three U.S. companies, with an American composer and librettist and telling an American story, but it’s also a story that has resonance in Canada, particularly in British Columbia.

    Dark Sisters, which had its world premiere four years ago, focuses on a polygamous family operating as part of a renegade Mormon sect in the U.S. southwest. Five sister wives, all married to a man called the Prophet, are fighting to get their children back after they are removed by the state. One of the women, Eliza (Melanie Krueger), wants to leave the life, feeling it’s the only way she can save her daughter from a similar, dark fate.

    The opera focuses on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (which split from mainstream Mormonism in the early 20th century) in the southern United States – the community of Short Creek and the infamous 2008 raid at the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) ranch near Eldorado, Tex. The resulting media coverage figures in the opera; an interview with Larry King (“We revisit their side of this shattering story,” King said) has been turned into a set piece for the opera.

    “Polygamy, as it is practised in North America, exists at the intersection of a lot of anxiety about the role of the government in the bedroom, about the involvement of children in the practices of their parents, about the right to statehood – all of this,” explains composer Nico Muhly in an e-mail exchange. “That was one thing that drew me – and Stephen Karam, the librettist – to this story. The other thing that interested me is the necessary gender imbalance in polygamy – you have to have more women than men or the whole thing falls apart. Just musically, the sound of such a household fascinated me – the voices of children, multiple women, and one man.”

    In researching the opera, both Muhly and Karam travelled to Colorado City, Ariz., and read whatever they could about the origins of the Mormon faith, its leaders and the FLDS movement.

    “Stephen Karam and I discovered something interesting which was when we started research – which was in 2009 or so – there was a markedly finite number of books written about this particular sect, the FLDS. There were a few memoirs written by escapees, a few blogs – but, rather like North Korea, there is precious little information in the outside world,” explains Muhly, an in-demand U.S. composer who has also worked in film – including writing the Oscar-nominated score for The Reader.

    “Many outside of the Mormon faith still only know the male icons, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young; I wanted to fashion a story that put the women front and centre,” adds Karam, also in an e-mail. “One rarely hears of Joseph and Brigham’s wives, despite the fact that there were over 80.

    “These real women and their journal entries inspired the modern fictional women in our story.”

    continued below

  8. While the production is inspired by the communities in the southern U.S., Karam (a playwright whose work includes Speech & Debate and Sons of the Prophet) and Muhly both looked into the practice of polygamy by fundamentalist Mormons in Bountiful, B.C. – which will also, no doubt, be top of mind for Vancouver audiences who have been exposed to years of news coverage about Bountiful.

    The VO production is the opera’s third, and another theatre guy, Amiel Gladstone, is directing. A few years ago, Gladstone, who is based in Vancouver, was one of the beneficiaries (Kim Collier was another) of a VO program aimed at training mid-career theatre directors in opera.

    Contemporary opera is a good fit for a theatre director, Gladstone says. Because a lot of work in opera involves standard, familiar repertoire, the lesser-known material can be challenging. But for Gladstone, who directs a lot of contemporary theatre, it’s his comfort zone.

    “We have our Shakespeare … but not everyone is doing Shakespeare in theatre; whereas in opera everybody’s doing the same 100 operas … so everybody knows the repertoire,” he says. “So when you do something like Dark Sisters, which is new, it’s completely different for them in a way that a new play is not completely different for theatre. So in a way it’s much scarier because you can’t go back and listen to a bunch of recordings or watch a bunch of things and see what people have done before … and depending on your mindset it’s either terrifying or exhilarating.

    “The conversations in the rehearsal room are so different than if we were working on the standard repertoire and I think that also translates to the audience’s take on it,” Gladstone adds. “We’re going to be talking about things that are happening right now in that world as opposed to how beautifully she sang that aria.”

    When Gladstone took on the project, he did so with the intention of presenting a balanced view of the FLDS, but as he researched the community, his opinion shifted. It became impossible to show the men in a positive light.

    “The women are doing what they can within that world,” he says. “They’re not all saints but the women are doing what they can as the victims in a really odd power struggle. The men are, to me, completely unredeemable. These men are doing horrible things.”

    The more mainstream Mormon church has been in the news recently, with Mormons involved in same-sex marriages to be considered apostates, and children of same-sex couples barred from being baptized until they’re 18.

    Gladstone calls that “a great way to rule yourself into irrelevance.”

    Karam, who is gay, says the Mormons he knows are good people – and have always been accepting of him and his sexuality. “But I’m not surprised,” he adds. “I mean, this is an institution that didn’t lift certain racial bans until 1978. I’m just disappointed they haven’t learned from their past mistakes. Personally, I can think of nothing more Christ-like than a church that opens its doors to people of all walks of life. Can you imagine what Jesus would say about a church that turned away Mary Magdalene and the company she kept? Personally, I think Jesus would be having dinner with the gay Mormon families this week in solidarity.”

    Dark Sisters is at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Nov. 26-Dec. 12.