Jessop, whose memoir Escape detailed her experiences in and departure from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, visited the Schleicher County Civic Center Sunday to explain the group’s culture to authorities working with women and children taken from the YFZ Ranch this weekend.
Also in Texas: Elissa Wall, the young woman whose testimony sent sect leader Warren S. Jeffs to prison in Utah on convictions for rape as an accomplice, and Shannon Price of the Utah-based Diversity Foundation, which helps teens leaving the sect.
Jessop said that she thought she had seen one of her four stepdaughters on a school bus as it left Eldorado earlier in the day. “It would be monumental if I could see those girls after five years,” she said.
Born and raised in the faith, Jessop became the fourth wife of Merrill Jessop when she was 18; he was 50. They had eight children together in Utah before she left him in 2003.
Betty, Jessop’s oldest daughter, returned to the sect after she turned 18. Jessop said Betty, whom she speaks with regularly, does not live at the ranch. Merrill Jessop has been in charge of the YFZ Ranch for several years.
When news broke of the Texas raid on the sect, Jessop said she felt a mixture of grief and concern, but mostly relief, because “the people I believe have been victimized are going to receive help,” she said.
At the moment, Jessop said, the women and children are probably terrified because of the sect’s teachings that mainstream society is evil and is intent on taking children from their parents.
Jessop and Price argue the Texas action is unlike a 1953 raid on FLDS families in Arizona, when officials “were ripping families apart.” Texas authorities are giving ranch residents “numerous options” and making sure they have everything they need, the women said.
Jessop said she initially feared the Texas investigation would backfire and that the FLDS would use it to portray themselves as martyrs. Now, she said, she is confident the raid will reveal the truth about the group’s abusive practices.
Price said she was in Texas to educate law officers and social workers “how to be appropriate” in the FLDS culture, such as “verbage that would be appropriate to use with these young ladies” in interviews about whether they’ve been sexually abused.
She said many of the young women taken from the ranch have cell phones and have been able to contact family members who remain there. They also were able to bring out some belongings.
The MJ Fund, set up by Wall and her attorney Roger Hoole, is preparing care packages that are “culturally appropriate.” The sect shuns much of the modern world – such as its books, music and television shows.
On Hoole’s list: musical instruments and sewing machines. “For the girls, that makes a lot of sense,” he said.
Price said the Texas action was necessary given the isolation and control that has surrounded the sect’s ranch. “There is something wrong when you have a secretive community,” she said.