Daughter tells of sick abuse by cult leader father
WARNING: Graphic content
RACHEL Jeffs was just eight years old when her father summoned her into his office and put her on his lap, before sliding her on to the floor to kneel in front of his exposed penis.
She was appalled. She had been taught by every adult in her life, including him, that bodies were sacred and showing them to others was a sin.
Her father, the criminal cult leader Warren Jeffs, placed her hand on his penis and started moving it up and down as she tried to snatch it away.
When she turned her head, he grabbed her chin and forced her to watch. "Rachel, look," he said. "This is what a man looks like ... See how a man goes hard when you touch him?"
It was just the beginning of years of secret, sickening abuse by the self-proclaimed prophet against his daughter. And she was by no means his only victim. The polygamist leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was jailed for life plus 20 years in 2011 on two counts of child sexual assault against a 12 and a 14-year-old, and is now facing another lawsuit over child abuse.
'I DON'T KNOW WHAT FATHER WOULD DO THAT'
"It was just really confusing," Rachel told news.com.au. "He taught me against what he was doing.
"I didn't know how to put it together or what to think ... It took me years to really sort it out in my mind.
"I don't know what father would do that to a child, I can't even fathom what he was thinking."
The young woman, now 34, finally found the courage to escape the radical Mormon splinter sect in 2015 after years in a polygamous marriage. Her five children were the motivation she needed. "I didn't want them to look to my father, Warren Jeffs, as a person next to God," she said, speaking over the phone from her new home in Idaho. "I didn't want them to believe that way, and I felt I had to leave for their sake."
The relentless abuse she describes in her searing memoir was almost like a game to Jeffs, who eventually had 74 wives and 53 children. On one occasion, he made her walk around the grounds of the church in Hildale, Utah, while he held her hand on his erect penis through a hole in his pocket. Another day, he put her hand in his pants during an evening car journey with her mother and siblings. On another, he took the scared little girl to the library and forced her to look at pornography with him.
Jeffs usually called Rachel into his office to carry out the abuse she feared and hated, endlessly insisting she take a more active role. The domineering leader was desperate for her to touch him of her own accord and undress herself, offering her rewards including a pet dog if she did. One day, he made her lie on the ground naked while he lay on top of her. But he stopped short of penetrative sex. For that, he would go to his wives, some of whom were as young as 12.
'HE DIDN'T LET OTHER MEN INDULGE'
By 2006, Jeffs was on the FBI's top ten most-wanted list. The ultraconservative leader was tried and finally imprisoned five years later after a shocking case.
Rachel is close to other church members who left, and some of her siblings have revealed they too were abused. Others, including his underage wives, remain in the cult are not permitted to speak to her.
"I haven't talked to many people that were actually victims at his hand," she said. "I feel for them, I wish they would see the light and leave."
But she doesn't believe recent claims the controlling cult leader, now 62, took young girls to secret locations for ritualistic sexual abuse with other men from the FLDS.
"I know how he works, he's very secretive, he didn't let people know what he was doing, he didn't let other men indulge in those things he was indulging in," she said. "I know, I was there.
"I saw what was really happening. I think that a lot of people come out and they feel like, well, he's already accused of this, we can accuse him and people will believe us. I feel like people do that just for attention or money or whatever.
"I think any of the victims would be in his family ... his young wives and his children. I was with my sisters when it happened [to them].
"They all followed the same pattern of secrecy, don't let anybody know, you know, that's just how it is."
But she says the psychological abuse was even more destructive than the physical. Jeffs convinced his daughter she was worthless, and must never reveal his sordid secret.
To everyone else in the family, she was the favourite, and her siblings envied her. When Rachel was 10, she cracked and told her mother about the sexual abuse. Her mum confronted Jeffs, but afterwards, nothing more was said - and it continued.
Her mother later died, after she was diagnosed with cancer but banned for two years by Jeffs from accessing treatment.
'HE ACCUSED ME OF KILLING MY BABY'
The sexual abuse eventually ended when Rachel was 16, after she confronted her father in an angry letter. But the mind games never ended.
When she later had a miscarriage, Jeffs accused her of killing her baby by having sex while pregnant - something she hadn't done - and banned her from seeing her young children for months. It was part of what persuaded her to leave. "He'd accuse us of all kinds of things that were against the church, things that he had done: adultery, killing our babies if we had a miscarriage," she said. "I know he accused so many people of murder when they hadn't done anything.
"I think he very much loves power and enjoyed putting other people down and making them feel like they're a nobody.
"It just felt like because of the physical abuse he did, he had to accuse me of all kinds of things to make me feel like my self-worth was nothing.
"I think it was to make him feel better and he's done that to so many people, just psychologically tore them down."
Jeffs regularly arranged marriages between middle-aged or elderly church members and young or underage girls. When Rachel was 19, he married her to Rich, a man kinder than her father but who failed to do anything about the bitter jealousy of his first two wives towards her.
Instead, Rich kept his liking of her secret from the others, doing nothing when one of the "sister wives" forced Rachel to eat vomit. He later married two more women.
When the young woman told her husband what had happened with her father, there was a meeting between the three of them. Jeffs apologised for becoming "too close" to Rachel while trying to educate her, and they all shook hands.
'I DO DREAM ABOUT HOW IT WAS'
Rachel is now married to another former church member, Brandon, who had to leave behind a wife and their children because he no longer believed in the cult. They rarely talk about FLDS, but they understanding each other.
They are focused on bringing up Rachel's children and making sure they enjoy their freedom and the education she had to give up after eighth grade.
Last year, she took the kids, aged six to 15, to see the ocean for the first time. "They loved it," she said.
"I'm just happy to be in a situation where I can have my family around me and have no one control them or remove them from me," she said. "I want to make a home for my kids to grow up in and a way they can get all the education they want to succeed.
"It's hard to say 'disband the church' because there's good in religion but people should be educated so they know more.
"If they have an education they won't be in the dark against the church, that wont be the only thing they know.
"I think that all children should be educated so they know can have that choice with intelligence, whether they want to follow or not."
Life in Hildale looked idyllic. The large, churchgoing community busied themselves sewing, making music and hiking in beautiful countryside. The young girls wore pastel homemade dresses that came down to the floor, with puffed long sleeves and their hair swept into high waves on one side. A huge wall kept them shut off from the outside world.
In fact, the horror was inside those walls, one the mother of five tries not to think about. "I do dream about how it was," she said. "It's harder when I have dreams.
"I feel like if I dwell on him and be angry at him then he wins, that's what he wants. I want to move on and show him I can be strong and become a different person with my children, and I don't really care."
Now at last her father can only hurt her in her nightmares.
Breaking Free by Rachel Jeffs, published by Allen & Unwin, is available now at $29.99.