Reality horror tv

There’s a new tv series on the risibly-named “Learning Channel”: Escaping the Prophet. It’s surprisingly grim and real for TLC – home of the endless Duggar show, in which the role of fundamentalist hyper-patriarchal religion is drastically downplayed while a woman’s persistence in attempting life-threatening pregnancies is presented as heroic, and of a show about a Mormon guy with four wives, presented as a kind of cuddly soap opera.

Escaping the Prophet is what it sounds like – it’s about escaping that horrible little town on the Arizona-Utah border which is a miniature theocracy which people are not allowed to leave. Jon Krakauer wrote a brilliant book on Colorado City and the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, Under the Banner of Heaven. Its “prophet” – the one who needs to be escaped – is Warren Jeffs, who is in prison doing time for raping two underage girls.

It’s creepy and stressful to watch, so much so that I decided to stop and watch the rest later. It’s creepy and stressful because these people are being held captive and I don’t see why it can be on tv instead of dealt with by the cops.

Part of the reason is that Colorado City is physically very isolated. Part of it is probably the fact that things went so badly when the authorities intervened at the Yearning for Zion Ranch. But still – it’s quite blood-chilling to see this unfolding as just another bit of reality tv when it’s such a stark case of unlawful confinement.

Escaping the Prophet follows Flora Jessop on her mission to take down one of the most reportedly dangerous polygamist cults in America. Flora, a social activist, an advocate for abused children, and the author of the 2009 book Church of Lies, endured extreme physical, mental, and sexual abuse during her life in the church, until she escaped at the age of 16. Now, she works closely with law enforcement, the Attorney General of Arizona, and a network of inside informants to help rescue runaways and extract victims within the community, as well as to help empower families who chose to stay and fight. Using her difficult memories and her passion to help others, she works to deliver justice to the very people that she feels wronged her.

The FLDS religion remains one of the most secretive communities in America, a world of unquestioned authority, arranged marriage, and little contact to the outside world. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints continues to be led by its president – and self-described prophet – Warren Jeffs, despite his 2011 conviction on two felony counts of child sexual assault.

In each episode, Flora, along with partner Brandon (a former member of the FLDS and one of Warren Jeffs’ nephews) offers aid and attempts to extract a number of families from the FLDS community.

I don’t get it. I don’t get why it’s a matter of attempting. I don’t get why a bunch of cops don’t go with them.


  1. chigau (違う) says

    Any cops they took with them would have to be from far away.
    All the cops in the vicinity belong to the same cult.

  2. says

    Oh I know that. Obviously not local cops. I meant the theocracy thing literally – there are no non-FLDS people in that town (except closeted “apostates”). But Flora Jessop travels to get there. I don’t know why she can’t bring cops with her. Maybe it’s because the people she’s trying to “extract” are too spooked, and wouldn’t go if cops were involved. But then…they don’t mind the tv cameras? That seems unlikely.

    I’m hoping they’re not staging it this way for greater tv drama. But I also doubt that they are, because the FLDS really is that coercive and scary.

    It’s just creepy. Creepy creepy creepy.

  3. geekgirlsrule says

    No, but we do have state police, so AZ or UT should be able to send people. And the FBI certainly can get involved in cases involving sex predation, and transportation of underage children for sexual exploitation. I honestly don’t know why they don’t.

  4. angharad says

    It’s an attempt because often people who are brought up that way are so thoroughly convinced that it’s the right way to live that they don’t want to leave. I read a book called Escape a couple of years ago by a woman called Carolyn Jessop (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she has the same surname as the woman in this story). She was the first woman to gain full custody of her children after leaving the FLDS. Her eldest daughter was 13 when Carolyn took her children and ran away, and this daughter both a) had to be forced to leave and b) went back as soon as she turned 18.

  5. says

    The name Jessop is absolutely not a coincidence. It’s a literal patriarchy. Boys are driven out as teenagers, and a few men own and impregnate all the women (and girls). There are many many Jessops and many many Jeffs-s.

  6. HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

    A while back, I watched the documentary Sons of Perdition ( ), about (mostly) boys who were thrown out of the FLDS sect, or left on their own. They have no actual real life skills when they leave, and spent their entire lives believing that everyone outside of their sect is literally Satanic, and because of the massive trauma of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, they tend to fall to addictions. There is some network of people who left and help others escape as well, which is heartening, but it should not fall on assorted citizens to save children from a murderous rape cult and the authorities that uphold it! There are a few heartbreaking scenes where some of the boys try to help their sisters and mothers leave. Most went back because of pressure. It’s almost impossible to get out of if you’re a girl or woman.

  7. Anna Y says

    I think you are underestimating the fiasco at the Yearning For Zion ranch. Aside from everything else that went wrong with it, it was a complete PR disaster. “Child-abusing brain-washing cult” narrative very quickly changed to “Big Government’s assault on First Amendment and Family Values”. The children that were taken away got returned (because depriving them of adequate education to make it anywhere but inside the YFZ Ranch and grooming boys to grow up to be rapists and girls compliant victims doesn’t constitute “immediate danger”) and, after a token agreement not to sanction underage marriage, things went right back to business as usual.

    After that, any large organized raid of FLDS is a non-starter. And as far as showing up with a few cops… Where are these cops to come from and how is their presence to be justified (to their superiors for example)? If they can’t be local cops (because FLDS owns those), then they have to come from somewhere else and go outside of their jurisdiction. Even if they are all in the same state, there are districts and jurisdictions, you don’t just show up in another town to enforce laws without having some kind of justification for why you are sticking your nose into the local department’s business. And if your justification goes something like “the local cops won’t do their jobs because FLDS owns them” (which might fly on a blog, but not with your chain of command) and you propose going up against another FLDS cult in front of TV cameras to “liberate abuse victims”, you will be lucky to keep your job, and you can forget about getting permission.

    At least if it’s a private person showing up as part of a small grass-roots effort to help people who specifically asked for it, there’s a lot less chance of a giant law suit that returns victims to their abusers and makes any further help to those (or similar) victims all but impossible. Also, I hate to point this out, but if you whittle away a few people at a time, and you do it with the support of a social network, you have a much better chance of finding places to “plug these people in”: provide them with housing, training, employment opportunities, and people to help show them the ropes and provide moral support, which is a far cry from uprooting a large number of people, dumping them into cramped temporary shelters while you are trying to figure out what to do for them and providing them with some temporary handouts that are far from sufficient and will dry up before they get a chance to get on their feet and set up some kind of sustainable livelihood for themselves.

  8. says

    Oh, I know – I remember the PR disaster. And the raid on Colorado City itself in the early 50s was an even worse PR disaster, and is why FLDS have such a free rein now.

    I didn’t think of the jurisdiction problem though, you’re right. Oy.

    I’m not (specifically) advocating a giant raid on the whole town though. I was just wondering why Flora and Brandon have to go in by themselves. Jurisdiction would explain that; I take your point.

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