SANDPOINT — Rachel Jeffs’ inspiring tale of escaping a polygamist cult and rebuilding her life drew a capacity crowd at the 7B Women luncheon on Tuesday.
Jeffs, the third daughter of imprisoned Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints President Warren Jeffs, was an apt choice for the luncheon, said 7B organizer Patty Hutchens.
“This is a woman who embodies everything that 7B’s image is, and that’s empowering women to succeed. Her story is amazing,” said Hutchens.
A soft-spoken and pregnant Jeffs, who has remarried and now resides in the region, spoke candidly about her upbringing in the notorious cult known for its secrecy, arranged marriages and her father’s sex crimes.
Rachel Jeffs recalled feeling that she had a normal life as she grew up with numerous brothers and sisters, but recognized that they were different than the world at large.
Their days were strictly regimented and dictated by the church’s patriarch and prophet.
Warren Jeffs, who is serving a lifelong prison sentence after being convicted of child sex assault, began sexually abusing Rachel at the age of 8 and she disclosed the abuse to her mother at the age of 10. Rachel Jeffs said her mother was angry at her husband and confronted him, but she ultimately stayed silent.
“She never said anything about it again. She never protected me from him. I feel like he silenced her somehow,” Jeffs recalled.
At the age of 16, Rachel Jeffs said she finally confronted her father about the abuse and he begged for her forgiveness, but never apologized for his misconduct. The abuse stopped and two years later she was placed in an arranged marriage with a 24-year-old who already had two wives and three kids.
Life in the isolated communities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, had become increasingly restrictive under her father’s leadership. So did the casual cruelty.
Rachel Jeffs said she her father separated her from her newborn son, who was still nursing. He also separated his own children from his wife despite being diagnosed with breast cancer, which Rachel Jeffs suspects hastened her demise.
“After she got separated from her kids, she went downhill really fast. She didn’t get to see them until right before she died,” Rachel Jeffs said.
Rachel Jeffs said her love of family and friends kept her in the cult, knowing that she would lose both if she turned against her father.
However, when Rachel Jeffs found herself separated from her children for having the temerity to take her children on walks outside the group’s compound, she resolved to escape with her five children and her sister under the cover of darkness.
Two years after her escape, Rachel Jeffs secured a book deal with HarperCollins for “Breaking Free: How I Escaped Polygamy, the FLDS Cult and My Father, Warren Jeffs.”
Rachel Jeffs originally began sharing her story with other church members who had left the fold, which segued into a broader message of empowerment.
“My main message to women in general is you can be anything you want and nobody can control you. There is strength no matter how hard an experience you’ve gone through,” she said.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.