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'I don’t have anything to hide': Rachel Jeffs opens up about life after escaping a religious cult

In a new memoir, Jeffs discusses sexual abuse and being victimized by her father before deciding to leave her family and the strict sect of the Mormon Church.

Rachel Jeffs appears with her father Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints

Contributed/harpercollins

Rachel Jeffs appears with her father Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints

As a young girl, Rachel Jeffs and her sister Becky took violin lessons. They’d ride their bikes, play with dolls and, on hot days, go swimming in their uncle’s pool. A small forest in their backyard nicknamed “the woods” served as inspiration for imaginary worlds.

While these wholesome activities sound like the foundation of an idyllic childhood, reality of life at the Jeffs’ suburban Salt Lake City home was much more sinister. Beyond their house, and its plentiful rose bushes and vegetable gardens, was a six-foot-tall cement wall, designed not to keep intruders out, but as a symbol to ensure no members of the massive Jeffs family would consider leaving.  

Jeffs grew up in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, a cripplingly strict sect of the Mormon Church whose members still practise polygamy. Her now infamous father, Warren, is their self-proclaimed Prophet, a position he inherited from Jeffs’ grandfather (along with his many wives). Although Warren, who counts more than 70 wives and 50 children, was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for the sexual assault of two teenage girls, he continues to this day to rule the FLDS with increasingly erratic and punishing rules. Jeffs left in 2015 with her five kids in tow after Warren ordered her into isolation for supposedly having sex with her husband while pregnant.

In Jeffs’ new memoir, Breaking Free: How I Escaped Polygamy, the FLDS Cult, and My Father, Warren Jeffs, she describes in bracing, unadorned language the sexual abuse she endured from Warren from the age of eight to 16, before being married off to an older man with two wives.

Jeffs kept the secret for years, but has now found freedom in sharing her story with strangers.

“I don’t have anything to hide, so I think that’s why it’s easy for me to open up,” Jeffs says. “All my life I’ve felt like I couldn’t talk about it, but to actually have people support me, and tell me that isn’t not OK what he did, has been really healing.”

While polygamists in pioneer dresses are a reality-TV mainstay, details about the FLDS have always been sketchy. Jeffs dispels sensational media coverage that suggest they participate in murderous rituals, and despite the fact that she was excommunicated for being “wicked,” she remains motivated to set the record straight.

“The child and sexual abuse was against the church’s teachings; it was more of the leaders doing this behind the followers’ backs,” says Jeffs. “We lived a very strict moral law — except the leaders.”

Outside of a handful of siblings who have also left, Jeffs — who has happily settled into her new life and freedom — has no contact with the FLDS, or her ex-husband. She knows its members are told not to speak to her, let alone read her book, but she hopes a few of them will stealthily pick it up in Costco or Walmart and read a few passages. “I wish my family was free,” she says. “I love them and miss them, but I don’t miss anything about the way we lived at all.”

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