Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs- Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer
Warren Jeffs sits today behind bars for the rest of his life after being convicted in several states of several charges including rape and sexual assault. He will never again walk the streets a free man and has even announced to his followers that he is not the prophet he portrayed himself during his reign as the leader of the FLDS church following the death of his father Rulon. His victims however, still carry those scars and will live them for the rest of their lives. Over the years there have been a number of individuals who have defected from the church having become disillusioned with the teachings within the congregation. They have told their stories to news anchors and written books about their ordeals. This is the story of Elissa Wall and what it was like to grow up in a polygamous sect and become a teenage bride. Her story is similar to hundreds of other young men, some of whom are struggling to find their own path to freedom from the clutches of the FLDS, the most extreme faction of the Mormon faith. Its notoriety has earned it a place on the United States Government’s list of hate organizations and has been under investigation by the Utah Attorney General’s office.
This New York Times Bestseller was compiled with the help of journalist Lisa Pulitzer, formerly of the New York Times. The cover alone is enough to shock the reader at first glance. But what is in the book is even more shocking and will leave the reader both angry and bewildered that such an organization continues to exist even today in 2016. For Elissa, life begins as a normal young woman growing up in a Mormon household. She has two parents and loving siblings. But everything changes when she is ordered to marry her cousin under orders. It is at this point that her order begins and her life takes her down a path that finally ended with her freedom. Her liberation however, did not come without costs and the price she has paid for her freedom is as significant as her new life with a husband and children.
Her marriage though short lived, took on the classic nature of an abusive relationship. Considering that she was under 16 years of age, it is mind boggling that the marriage had even taken place. The sadistic Jeffs did not see age as a barrier and had been accused of assaulting girls even younger than Elissa. Forced marriages are commonplace in the church and the members have constructed a wall of silence to insulate their lives from the prying eyes of law enforcement and social welfare officials. Through Elissa, we go deep inside the FLDS and see how other young women are mistreated and their lives controlled in every aspect. Her path to freedom did not happen overnight and through several people who take on the form of guardian angels, she is able to finally break free of Jeffs and the FLDS. In 2007 she and her older sisters gave testimony in a criminal proceeding resulting in the conviction of Jeffs on several counts of rape. Her sister Rebecca Musser is famously known as the lady in red and wrote her own book about her life that was published with the same title. The title is significant for red is a color that was never allowed by the FLDS.
The story in this book forces us to ask ourselves many questions particularly how adults can do such things to children. Stolen innocence is the appropriate title for the book for that very thing is taken from children in the act of exploitation. It also deprives them of a childhood which they can never get back at any point in their lives. Many of them like Elissa, will struggle to put their lives back together and forget the horrors they once endured. Their voices give inspiration to others who are seeking to escape the encompassing religious environment in which they live. And as they tell their own stories like Elissa we will learn more about the FLDS and what courage and perseverance really mean.