PHOENIX – Since escaping the polygamous community of Colorado City, Flora Jessop has dedicated her life to raising awareness and advocating for abused children, helping others escape the community.
She was in court when a west Texas jury convicted self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints Warren Jeffs of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl. It took the jury less than four hours to reach their decision. Jeffs could be sentenced to life in prison.
Jessop sat down with Scott Pasmore early Friday morning, after driving 14 hours, to discuss Jeffs’ conviction.
“This has been a long time coming,” she said. “It’s a great victory for all the victims of the FLDS.
“I’ll tell you, we couldn’t have done it without Mike Watkiss and Channel 3, giving us a voice for 20 years,” she continued. “He’s a rock star.”
One of the key pieces of evidence for the prosecution was an audio tape on which Jeffs was heard sexually abusing a young girl. It was difficult for everyone to listen to, but none more than Jessop, who grew up in a polygamous family.
“When I heard the language Warren Jeffs used to these young girls while he was raping them and molesting them, it took be backwards in time to when my dad used to molest me. He used the same language my dad used to use and I realized the 'systemicness' of the abuses in the FLDS. …
“The cycle has to be broken,” she continued. “The women have to be prosecuted. … If we can’t go after these parents, no victim is going to be safe.”
Jessop says society has to stand up if there’s going to be any real change, pointing out that Texas is the only state to prosecute a member of the FLDS church with the possibility of a significant sentence.
She also pointed out that polygamy is not limited to the FLDS.
“There are numerous polygamous cults out there,” she said. “You cannot live polygamy without abusing women and children because of you have to take away the rights of women to have their emotions.”
Jeffs has a history of trying to preach and run the FLDS from behind bars. While that might happen once he is sentenced in Texas, Jessop has another hope for him.
“He had a quorum of little girls that he called his ‘comfort wives.’ I’m hoping he gets a quorum of husbands while he’s in prison,” she said. “I think that would be a fitting punishment for him.”
Jurors will tackle the issue of sentencing on Friday. The minimum sentence is five years is prison; the maximum is life. It could take them a couple of days for the jury to decide Jeffs' fate.