Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was convicted in 2011 of the sexual assault of two "child brides," and was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. But though their father is spending his life behind bars, Warren Jeffs' children, who were born from his many wives, must grapple with his legacy to this day — especially given the release of the A&E docuseries Warren Jeffs: Prophet of Evil.
One of them, Rachel Jeffs, has recently begun speaking out about her life and the aftermath of her father's imprisonment. She claims that her father was sexually assaulting her as early as age 8, and that it made her question the way the world outside the FLDS operated. “I told my mother when I was about 10, after it was getting so bad I felt like I couldn’t handle it anymore,” Rachel told Dateline of her father’s sexual abuse, according to People magazine. "And I remember thinking, if my father is doing this and the world is wickeder, are the world’s fathers even worse than this? I remember thinking that I should be grateful that it is only this bad."
She's also written a book about her experiences — Breaking Free: How I Escaped Polygamy, the FLDS Cult and My Father, Warren Jeffs — and manages a blog in which she answers questions and shares her thoughts about how her life was affected by the FLDS. She said in a post from last month that many people ask her why she stayed for so long before leaving, but she asserts that, for a long time, it was the way she thought her life was meant to be.
"When a person is born into a cult, that is the only way of life they know. The world seems foreign and as outlandish as the cult seems to the general population," she wrote. "Inborn cult members are taught from childbirth that their way of life is the only right way, that the rest of the people in the world are lost to God, or the correct way of living. They are taught to scorn the people of the world and their traditions."
She also said that even people who have no experience with cults themselves may still be able to understand if they apply the same logic to the adults they grew up idolizing and the values that were instilled in them from a young age. "If someone living a normal life was told, 'Everything your parents taught you and everything you learned as a child is a lie,' would they believe the person telling them so? Probably not. The same goes for a cult member. They believe their parents and leaders," she continued in the same post.
Rachel isn't the only child of Jeffs who has left the church. Though Jeffs fathered more than 60 children with his many wives, according to CNN, only Rachel and two other siblings, Roy and Becky, have spoken publicly about leaving the church. Roy claimed in a 2016 interview with CNN that he was also sexually abused by Jeffs, and said he had to escape the FLDS largely due to the isolation that he felt thanks to his father.
"In there, I wanted to be able to have a life and to talk to family, and that just would never happen," Roy said. "The harder I tried, the further away they pushed me from contact with anybody." Becky also spoke to CNN and said she was a victim of her father's abuse. "He realized he had so much power," she said. "'What should I do with all this power? I can do anything I want.' And he did — and it went the wrong way."
Though Jeffs apparently maintains some power over his followers from prison, at least some of his children are moving on and are attempting to lead normal lives. As they speak out, perhaps they can continue to shed light on how groups like these continue to affect their members.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.