Former child bride takes on cult
ELISSA Wall can still vividly remember when she was forced to marry her 19-year-old first cousin Allen Steed at the age of 14 by a false religious prophet.
The former child bride has come forward with her story as part of American cable channel A & E's documentary Warren Jeffs: Prophet of Evil, according to the New York Post.
The special explores how the now-imprisoned cult leader ruled over an estimated 15,000 followers of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).
The 62-year-old is said to have had 78 wives, more than 50 children and controlled millions of dollars of the church before he was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for sexually assaulting his 12-year-old and 15-year-old child brides.
Ms Wall later became the lead witness in the trial that ultimately put Jeffs in prison.
A 2014 Lifetime movie titled Outlaw Prophet starring Tony Goldwyn attempted to shed light on a community ruled by a man who was determined to feed his demands and desires.
Ms Wall, now 31, says she is determined to pull back the curtain on the secretive community.
"I really think at the time it was about submission," she told Fox News about the illegal marriage.
"I could have become a really big problem for the community and for Warren. I was a little more outspoken than the average girl. But I really think it was about pounding me into submission … I was just the next player he wanted to eliminate and to quickly get control over."
Wall, who was born into the FLDS church in Utah, was raised by her mother, a "multigenerational member" whose parents were also part of the sect, as well as her father, a convert from the outside world.
Despite her upbringing, Ms Wall described herself as a naturally curious child who felt there was something strange about her community.
"We led a very secret lifestyle," she described. "We didn't interact with the outside world. We didn't go to public school. We were educated, cultivated and bred to be products of the church and the religion."
"I have this one vivid memory being at a beach in northern Utah. I was watching this family play about 500 yards away from us. They looked loving, kind and caring. The mother was hugging and holding her children. They were laughing and they didn't look like these evil disciples of the devil like I have been told they were. So I think my questions really started early on."
Wall described how Jeffs, or "Uncle Warren," was an ever-present figure looming over her childhood. Jeffs was the son of the beloved figure Rulon Jeffs. The patriarch died in 2002 at age 92 and it didn't take long for his son to take over.
"[Warren] was in charge of church history," said Ms Wall. "So for a lot of us children who were born into this, our days would be forever listening to these tapes of Warren's voice playing over and over of him teaching us church history. It became the backdrop of our childhood."
Still, Ms Wall couldn't ignore what she was seeing. She claimed to have witnessed families be torn apart, her father being sent away and her mother given to another man as a wife.
"There just had to be a better way," she said.
It did not take long for Jeffs to force Ms Wall into marrying Mr Steed in 2001, despite her tearful pleas. Ms Wall insisted she was tortured with various forms of abuse.
"Mentally, it was immediate," she said. "I was now the property of my cousin. And no matter how resistant I was to him, his job was to get me into submission as quickly as possible … Then the sexual abuse came later as he started to force himself on me and force that my role as a wife was to be at his beck and call and to have his children."
"And when I became resistant to that, then the physical abuse started to take over. And I think the frustration of my cousin, his frustration of being judged for not being a good man because his wife wasn't submissive and she wasn't good - that all compounded the problem."
Ms Wall said she reached out to Jeffs multiple times, but her cries for help went on deaf ears.
"I felt like something was going terribly wrong," she admitted. "And so, I would describe these occurrences in detail in hopes that he would validate these deep concerns that I had.'
"But he reprimanded me over and over for not being submissive. Reminding me of my teachings. Reminding me that I was the property of this man and he could do whatever he wanted to me."
Ms Wall endured several miscarriages and a stillbirth during the nearly-four-year arranged marriage. In 2005, she ran away from the church at age 18. However, something was holding her back.
"I had two young sisters that I loved with every fibre of my soul that I couldn't protect because there was this giant canyon between us," said Ms Wall. "It took me meeting a very important prosecutor and investigators that were kind and trustworthy that I could come forward and begin to tell my story … [But] I had no idea I would end up testifying against Warren. My goal wasn't to take Warren down. My goal was to protect my sisters."
In 2006, NPR reported Jeffs was arrested and charged with facilitating polygamous marriages involving underage girls. He had been on the run from criminal charges for more than four months. Ms Wall would face him again in 2007.
"I remember locking eyes with him for the first time [in court]," said Ms Wall. "I felt this overwhelming power that consumed my very soul and I refused to drop eyes. That was my stand. If I can keep contact with him, I can prove to myself that he didn't control me … I was liberating myself from his control. I was beginning to free myself from the anger I had towards him."
In 2017, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Jeffs was ordered to pay Wall $16 million in damages.
Today, Ms Wall is a single mother to a 13-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter living in Utah. She has since started a children's clothing company. And three years ago, she was finally able to reconnect with her sisters. However, she is not completely in touch with all of her family. Her mother is still in the church.
Ms Wall insisted her work is far from over. She's still eager to help people safely leave behind the FLDS and similar organisations. And she's hoping her participation in the A & E special will further raise awareness.
"It's painful sometimes to be out in the open and be vocal about these memories," said Ms Wall. "And as painful as it is to be an advocate, to be vocal, to be out there, I see it as a necessary role in bringing about education and awareness … There is a sense of bittersweet sadness that we still have work to do."
This article first appeared in the New York Post and is republished with permission.