Cult leader's daughter opens up about child sexual abuse
Jeff Lagerquist, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, November 15, 2017 2:07PM EST
Warning: This story may contain details that some readers may find disturbing
Rachel Jeffs finds it hard to watch family videos of the life she left behind inside the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) compound in Utah.
The reclusive breakaway polygamist sect of the Mormon Church from which she escaped in 2015 is totally isolated from the outside world, hidden behind six-foot concrete walls. Women are often married to men twice their age while still in their teens. Most husbands take several wives.
Jeffs’ trauma started much earlier. Her abuser was her father Warren, the church’s self-proclaimed prophet and leader, now serving a life sentence plus 20 years for child sexual abuse. He’s run the cult from his cell since 2011.
Jeffs is one of 53 children born to her father’s 78 wives.
In her vivid new memoir, Breaking Free, Jeffs details her years of sexual abuse at the hands of her cult-leader father and explains how she found the strength to escape with her five children to start a new, happier life.
“I always had that feeling every time he would abuse me that he was wrong,” Jeffs told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. “It was behind everyone’s backs. They didn’t know what was happening. He didn’t want them to know.”
Warren Jeffs instructed his FLDS devotees to follow a litany of strict rules that governed most aspects of daily life. They ranged from lists of banned foods, to which sleeve should be entered first when putting on a shirt. (He favoured the right.)
Outside medical help was forbidden without permission, even for serious injuries. Nobody had access to television or radio. Even wearing deodorant was against the rules due to its pleasant smell.
Jeffs’ book describes edicts from her father that restricted husbands and wives from hugging, and outright bans on marital sexual relations. She said these prudish rules contradicted his sexual gluttony, as well as the rules of the church. Jeffs’ father even went so far as to cut a hole in his pocket so she could fondle his genitals without others knowing.
That sense of hypocrisy prompted a 16-year-old Jeffs to lay a confrontational letter at her father’s bedroom door.
“I told him I hated him for what he did to me when he abused me. I didn’t know words like molest or sexual abuse. I just knew he knew what I was talking about. Surprisingly, he was defeated. He said he was sorry. That shocked me. I never saw that side of him.”
At 18, Jeffs married 25-year-old Richard Allred, a man selected by her father. They met the day before the wedding and were given three hours to get to know one another. She said the abrupt ceremony was nerve-wracking, but Allred proved kinder than expected.
“I loved him. He was a kind Dad to his kids,” Jeffs said.
Allred doted on Jeffs, and she suspects that was partly due to her father’s role in the church. But she said her husband’s other wives were endlessly hostile.
“They didn’t want me there, I’m sure, which is a natural feeling in polygamy. You really don’t want another wife to come and share your husband, because that means less time for you,” she explained. “If just makes you feel betrayed by your husband when he goes and sleeps with another wife.”
Jeffs said the whole community was going in a “sad direction” by the time she fled in 2015.
When she discovered her sister had also been abused by their father, she knew what she had to do to guarantee a better life for her children.
“I felt like I could leave,” she said. “I just needed one person to stand by me and know I was telling the truth.”
Jeffs met her current husband Brandon, who left the FLDS in 2012, later that year. They live in Idaho with her five children and two dogs.