(OPRAH.com) — At first glance, Jeanne, Amy, Nikki and Desiree don’t seem to have much in common.
Jeanne is a 31-year-old hotel clerk, and Amy is a 26-year-old working mom. Desiree is an 18-year-old who dreams of becoming an FBI agent, and Nikki is a 26-year-old bartender.
Despite their differences, these women are bonded by the horrors they say they experienced as children. Jeanne, Amy, Desiree and Nikki were all born into the Tony Alamo Christian Ministry, which, some say, is a cult.
In the 1980s, Alamo, a self-proclaimed prophet of God, had thousands of devoted followers in the United States, including the parents of Jeanne, Amy, Desiree and Nikki. “When Tony would say that God spoke to him, everyone believed it,” Jeanne says.
At the height of the ministry’s popularity, many followers lived in compounds, including one in Fouke, Arkansas. Outsiders had no idea what was going on beyond the barred windows, but these four women know all too well.
Ex-followers say that by the late 1990s Alamo was living in this sprawling compound with more than a dozen women, some of whom he called his “spiritual wives.” Though no legal documents were ever signed, Jeanne, Amy and Desiree say they were three of Alamo’s “wives.” But when they said their vows, they hardly qualified as women — they were still girls.
Jeanne says that when she was 15 years old Alamo, who was 59 years old and her pastor at the time, forced her to become his spiritual wife and have sex with him. Amy says Alamo made her say vows and submit to his sexual desires when she was 14.
Then, Alamo reportedly did something that reportedly shocked even his most devoted followers. Desiree says Alamo made her his youngest spiritual wife when she was just 8 years old. Desiree says Alamo then forced her to have sex with him.
Nikki says she was 15 years old when she realized Alamo planned to make her his next “wife.” Nikki escaped the compound and fled before Alamo had the chance to act.
Jeanne, Amy and Desiree say they lived as Alamo’s “wives” for years and endured abuse before they were able to leave. They eventually fled the compound and left the church that once ruled their lives.
Then, in July 2009, these four young women came face-to-face with Alamo once again. This time, in federal court. Despite pressure from family members and friends who still belong to Alamo’s church, they testified against their former leader.
Alamo’s attorneys are planning to appeal the case.
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