After experiencing unimaginable trauma and pain, some survivors do whatever they can to avoid triggers that might remind them of what they were forced to endure.
For years, the women of Short Creek suffered under the reign of a controlling and cruel predator prophet. Despite enduring assault, manipulation, and crippling isolation, those very women have decided to return in spite of the pain it causes them in order to rebuild their home.
Living In The Fringes
For decades, Hildale, Utah has been the home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS. The group is an extremist polygamous sect within the Mormon religion. Almost all the residents in Hildale and Short Creek belonged to FLDS. As a result, the community lived on the fringes of society since polygamous Mormons took control of the area in the 1930s. For those who lived and raised families within the community, men were taught to take multiple wives in the extreme patriarchal society.
A Woman’s Only Purpose
Women, on the other hand, were taught they were inferior to men in every way. Almost every family in Short Creek taught their daughters that they had only two missions in life. Those missions included just caring for their husbands and bearing as many children as possible.
A Happy Existence
Despite the unusual and extreme culture that persist within the extremist sect, many residents, including the women, claimed that they lived mostly happy lives there for a long time. According to Leona Bateman, a mother of 12 in her 50s who had been born into a polygamist family, she remembers her childhood with fondness.
Rampant Domestic Abuse
While Short Creek has always been an extremely religious and conservative area, Bateman explained that when she was growing up with her 31 siblings, there was a real sense of community. Everyone knew and cared for everyone within the town. According to Bateman, people socialized all the time and were supportive of each other during hard times. However, not everything about the FLDS was so idyllic and wholesome. As many remember, domestic abuse was rampant in the rural community.
A Shift In The Community
“It was common for the women to get beat,” Leona told the New Statesman. “It was common for the kids to get beat.” For decades, it was considered normal and acceptable for men to beat their wives and kids if they were disobedient or did something that was considered sinful. In 2002, however, things started to change within the community and attitudes toward domestic abuse started to gradually shift. That shift came from Warren Jeffs, whose father, Rulon, was previously the prophet and leader of the Short Creek FLDS community.
A New Profit
In 2002, Rulon passed away and Jeffs slowly started taking control of the Short Creek FLDS cult. According to Bateman, many of the wives welcomed the change in leadership because Jeffs condemned domestic abuse. However, they didn’t realize Jeffs was initiating a much more traumatizing way of life.
A Welcomed Change
“When he came, he banned that [domestic abuse], and he said if anyone hits their families again, they’re going to get kicked out. For the first time ever, women had a little tiny bit of power over their husbands,” Bateman explained. Because of this new policy, Jeffs quickly won favor from the community.
A New Form Of Punishment
According to Leona, the women in the town quickly realized that there were worse things than being beaten by your husband. For the wives, Jeffs’ form of punishment to keep women in line was even more brutal. Instead of physical punishment for disobedience, Jeffs’ suggested a punishment that hit mothers where it hurt most.
Worse Than Being Beaten
“After a while, if you didn’t obey your husband, then he would go tell Warren Jeffs,” Bateman said. “Warren would say, ‘take her kids from her, and move her to the trailer court, or put her in complete isolation from the family. Ban her from the church.’”
In Complete Control
“What they would do is mind manipulation, which is far worse than a spanking or a beating,” Bateman added about the cruel and unusual punishment Jeffs instigated. “I know many women who got their babies taken from them … just by applying social pressure, he got complete control.”
A Controlling Tyrant
Through a process of manipulation, isolation, and mind control, Jeffs ended up gaining complete control of the town. During his tyrannical rule, Jeffs set up security cameras inside almost every single home in Short Creek. The footage went to a control room full of monitors in Jeffs compound so he could carefully monitor the behavior and lives of every FLDS member and make sure they weren’t disobeying him in any way.
Jeffs’ Extreme Rules
Jeffs banned the word ‘fun’, forbade FLDA members from even talking to outsiders, and even outlawed members from socializing with each other. Jeffs would expel any member of the community for breaking any of his laws. Nearly all the money that anyone earned within the community was also required to be given to Jeffs, who would then distribute the fortune as he saw fit.
A Reign Of Terror
During his rule as the prophet, Jeffs took 80 wives, having multiple children with each – some of which had upwards of 10 children. He also began a gathering called a ‘Witnessing,’ which involved inviting followers to watch him rape girls as young as 12 years old in a large domed structure built specifically for the assault.
However, Jeffs reign of terror came to an end in August of 2006 after being on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. It was in 2011 that he was convicted of sexually assaulting countless women and minors. For his crimes, he was sentenced to life in prison. He is currently serving that sentence in Texas. In the wake of Jeffs’ arrest and conviction, however, his followers, even some of his victims, were so brainwashed that they truly believed he was innocent.
A Difficult Process
In the months and years after Jeffs’ conviction, members of the FLDS have slowly gone through what they call ‘process,’ which involves realizing what Jeffs did to them, officially leaving FLDS, and joining modern society. While some families still maintain Jeffs is God’s incarnation on Earth, many others have left both FLDS and Short Creek.
Rebuilding The Town
Many families and expelled members, however, have returned to Short Creek to rebuild and modernize the town while also healing from the traumas they experienced their entire lives. The Batemans are one of those families, and Leona Bateman had made it her job to help women cope and adjust with their new lives.
A Vital Job
Bateman has started several groups to help both men and women. She also started a “Brave Woman Camp” for women to come forward with their sexual abuse experiences. “We had 12 rape cases come out of that camp,” Bateman said. “When you’re going through transition and leaving a cult, and you’re used to [having] no power, and you have no education, you’re very vulnerable. A few of the cases that came out were happening in the church, because stuff like that still happened and just was secret. The more I do this work, the more I realize how needed it really is.”
A New Mayor In Town
In 2017, Donia Jessop, a former member of FLDS who left the cult in 2012, was elected as the first female mayor of Hildale. According to Jessop, she and her family left Short Creek after leaving FLDS but decided to come back to rebuild their home. “This place was so depressed when I came back,” Jessop told the New Statesman. “I realized the thing that was missing; I always said it was hope. There was no hope left. There was no heartbeat here. It was like the heart had been ripped out of Hildale. And I realized I had the heartbeat and I could bring it back. And it took all of us; it’s not just me. But it needed somebody that would stand up and say, ‘I’m going to do this.’”
No Time To Lick Old Wounds
In the wake of her election, Jessop explained that 10 male town council members resigned because they refused to work under and be lead by a woman. However, Jessop hasn’t let the opposition hold her back. “Even though we’re hurt, beaten, and bruised, it’s the women who have to stand up and continue to get out of bed every morning and take care of our kids and earn money and make sure we’re supported,” she said. “The men could sit back and lick their wounds. But it’s that way in the world. It’s been that way ever since we were created. We are so freaking strong, and we go through hell every day, and we get up and we get our kids to school every day, and we make meals, and we clean our house and go to work.”
The Dirt Calls You Back
“We came from the dirt here,” Jessop said. “When you’re from the dirt, that’s why you’re called back. You can’t help it. People leave, and they’re like, ‘I’m never going back to that place.’ But the dirt calls your soul back. The dirt will not be unheard. The dirt is shouting out for us to come back here and rescue our town.”