Former Polygamous Sect Member Confronts Past

As a member of an isolated polygamous sect in Arizona, Laurene Jessop says she was sexually abused by her father, who had four wives and 56 children, and mistreated by her husband, who was already married to Laurene's sister.

After enduring a lifetime of desperation, she fled her home in Colorado City, Ariz., a town dominated by the group, called the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.

But a year after she left, the 47-year-old returned to confront her past. She felt she had to prove to herself the group no longer had power over her.

As she drove into the city with "Primetime" co-anchor John QuiƱones, she said, "It's like coming into a nightmare, another life."

From a very young age, everyone in Colorado City is taught that outsiders are evil. They wear old-fashioned clothes, and they fervently submit to the rules of Warren Jeffs, a man they call "The Prophet."

Young girls are destined to be married off in their teen years to older men, who keep several wives. The girls are expected to bear many children and obey the sect's strict patriarchal rules. The FLDS split from the mainstream Mormon church in 1890 when it disavowed polygamy.

Laurene returned to Colorado City to reconcile with not only the damage caused to her life by polygamy -- but her lost childhood.

A Bad Marriage

As a teen, Laurene was married to an older man chosen by the sect named Val Jessop. He had already married Laurene's sister, so Laurene says she knew him "a bit." But she adds, "I always felt like I was an intruder."

Laurene says Marie was bitterly jealous from day one, and was even present when she and her husband consummated the marriage.

"He invited her into our bed," Laurene said. "She just hugged his back -- hugged him all the way through."

Laurene says Marie soon began mistreating her children. She adds that Val did nothing to stop it, so she began acting out -- and he called the cops.

She was taken to a mental institution in Flagstaff, Ariz., more than 200 miles away. The police were not interested in her side of the story, Laurene said.

When she returned home, she says she still found it impossible to be the perfect servant to her husband's every whim. She was sent to the institution three more times.

"I was trapped. I felt like I had done my very best in trying to live my religion," she said. "I was taught that, the only rights a woman has is to be obedient to her husband."

Laurene was desperate for a way out. Even though she had not lived with her children for some years, she feared abandoning them to the community. But then she met Flora Jessop, a former FLDS member who has devoted her life to helping girls and women escape the sect.

(As a small community with a lot of intermarriage, Colorado City has many people with the surname Jessop, related to one another in some way.)

With Flora's help, Laurene was able to run with her three girls, Jennifer, Valene and Luanne, to a safe home in Phoenix. She eventually won full custody of her five children. The court decided it would be best for them to live away from their father who remained near the polygamous community.

Val told QuiƱones he wants the kids back -- and denied he is a polygamist. Even though he has two wives, he says it's "plural marriage."

"I was born Mormon," he said. "I'm not going to go be something else. I'm who I am."

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