Former FLDS member to describe polygamy, abuse

Abilene Reporter, Texas/June 8, 2009

Growing up in a polygamist household, said Flora Jessop, was "chaos and pain and abuse."

"When the children get to the point where they want to leave or have to leave, they have reached the point where they are willing to damn themselves for eternity," she said. "You're taught that you go to hell if you leave the group."

But eventually, Jessop, who will speak Wednesday in Abilene at Hastings Books, Music & Video and is a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, did leave the sect's Colorado City, Ariz., location.

She escaped in 1986, long before Warren Jeffs -- the group's most recent president, prophet, seer and revelator -- came to power in 2002. But the group is the same one that made Texas headlines when its Yearning For Zion Ranch outside of Eldorado was raided in April 2008.

The FLDS, which believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago, according to The Associated Press.

Speaking via telephone from her Arizona home, Jessop said her entire childhood was spent in training to be servile.

"As a female, you are trained to be a good wife -- to know how to cook, to know how to sew, to know how to take care of babies," she said. "I was raising my brothers and sisters from the time I was eight years old. Everything in your life is geared toward becoming a mother."

That is also the time her father began sexually abusing her, she said, something she recalls being common.

"While the mother was training her daughter in the aspects I've already mentioned, it is the father's responsibility to round out her education in how to be a submissive wife."

She tried to report the abuse then, and was instead returned, leading to a period of "solitary confinement" for three years.

Friendship with those outside of the group was not allowed, she said, except among fellow "sister"-wives. Privacy was nonexistent, she said, and she describes her home as "never finished." Jessop said she has 27 siblings, and her father was married to her mother and her mother's younger sister.

"There's just this chaos all the time," she said. "You share a bedroom with up to six other kids most of the time."

Education was in a "public" school, but vast sections of textbooks were edited out, she said.

"Science was pretty much nonexistent," she said. "The health books were very edited."

She said that she was taught the four food groups and that the human body was "the most wicked, evil thing you've ever seen."

Jessop said that she has been helping children and women escape from the group for 10 years. For a time after her own escape, she was content to simply "build something out of the ashes" of her life, she said, until her little sister, Ruby, then 14, was married to her own stepbrother. Her sister had the courage to run, but was returned to the group and sent into the same form of isolation.

She has not had recent contact with her, though she knows her sister is now 21 and has six children.

In town to promote a book, "Church of Lies" co-written with Paul T. Brown, she expresses disappointment and anger with the aftermath of the law enforcement raid on Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado.

According to The Associated Press, someone claiming to be a 16-year-old mother and wife said she was being physically abused there. But later, it turned out that "Sarah Barlow," as the caller was identified, didn't exist.

In May 2008, Texas' Supreme Court ruled that the removal of children from the YFZ Ranch had been unwarranted and that they should be returned to their homes.

But Jessop hopes that her own story, and those of others, may yet help children within the group.

"I still am harboring hope that people in Texas will stand up and demand justice," she said.

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