'Brainwashed Brides'

'Brainwashed Brides'
Two teens tells about their escape from a polygamist cult.
Journalist Mike Watkiss of KTVK-TV, Phoenix, spent years documenting polygamy and alleged abuse in a fundamentalist religious society in Colorado City, Arizona. The cult believes that each man should have more than one wife, and each wife should bear as many children as physically possible. Women are instructed to wear modest clothes from another era, and are expected to be subordinate to men.

Marriages are arranged by religious leader Warren Jeffs, a man whom followers believe is a prophet of God. Jeffs is rumored to have up to 80 spiritual wives. A few years ago, he ordered children in his sect to stop attending public schools. Now they are taught in church-run charter schools. When group members try to flee, they are often pursued by Colorado City police officers, some of whom are alleged polygamists and loyal to Jeffs.

Activist Flora Jessups sheds light on escaping the cult. "By the time they're old enough to make this decision that they don't want to be here, they've got three or four kids. And in order for them to leave, they've got to run with children," she says. "I thought the authorities were supposed to protect the kids, and they don't. They're protecting the criminals. They're protecting the abusers."
Fawn H. (right) and Fawn B. (below), both 17, escaped a year ago. They now live with Fawn's brother, Carl, and his wife, Joni.

Fawn B. explains, "It's like someone programmed your mind. My mom even admits it. She says, 'Man, I wish I could just open your brain and brainwash you like I have been.' ... They teach that men are higher than women. Women should bow to them. Girls came to earth for one reason: to have children for their husband. I never learned any science. I was taught that there has never been a man on the moon ... I was taught that colored people were the devil."

Fawn H. adds,"I was taught that people from outside were not to be trusted and not to talk to them."

Both girls ran away because they were being pressured into marriage. "If I would have stayed there for a couple more months, I would have been married to someone that I didn't want to marry, to someone that could have been old enough to be my own father," Fawn B. says. "Pretty much my life would end. I would physically be alive, but inside I'd be dead."

In tears, she continues, "One of the reasons I left is because I was afraid that Warren Jeffs would command the people to kill themselves, and I wouldn't be able to watch that, especially my family."

Both girls wrestle with shame and guilt, and think about going back. "Sometimes, I still feel that I'm going to burn in hell for leaving," says Fawn H. "I think about going back because I think about my future out here ... I don't really fit in."

Fawn B. is homesick. "I stay up at night and cry. I think, 'Will I ever see my brothers and sisters again?' ... I think about going back for my mom, I know she needs my help. She told me that she might have breast cancer."

 

Carl, who ran away from the group when he was 17, understands the girls' plight. "It's really hard to go against your family. They use the psyche that they put inside you to make you feel like you're dirt," he says. "After you leave the cult, you feel like you have this dark cloud on you and you're not going to have any enlightenment in your life. You're out of their world completely. It's like you're dead."

Carl says he was abused in the society. "I would get punishments for sneaking out and going roller-skating with my friends. I would get beatings or thumpings for doing things like that," he says. "I attempted to kill my father. I tried to make his car blow up. I hated him that much. I am very convinced today that I would be in prison had I not met my wife."
Activist Flora Jessups helped Fawn H. and Fawn B. escape in the middle of the night. "It absolutely is a cult. They use brainwashing. They use terror to control these kids," Flora declares. "I don't care what religion you are, it does not give you the right to rape children. Using the guise of religion to cover up the child abuse and the child rapes, no."

Although the girls are grateful that Flora came to their rescue, they're conflicted.

"I have a real big fear that they're considering going back because things get really stressful for them," says Joni. "If they go back, it's a failure."

The family turns to Dr. Phil for help.