Rebecca describes a childhood of growing up in hiding, living in the lower levels of the family home so the Gentiles will not know that her father is breaking the law with a second wife and family. It is a tense time, with her fathers first wife and children from his first wife making it difficult for them to all exist in the same home. There are moments of true happiness, and their mother is loving, but it is not enough to protect them from moments of great violence and manipulation from their "other mother". When Rebecca and her siblings move to attend the Alta Academy their becomes even stricter and even more controlled - and it brings Rebecca even closer to the Prophets son Warren - a man who seems determined to control every aspect of Rebecca's life, eager to bring her under his control. Things changed for the better, and for the worse, when Rebecca became a teenage bride for the Prophet - the 19th wife and the latest of the younger wives the Prophet has taken.
Eventually Rebecca escapes from the FLDS, but it will not be a clean break and it will not be an easy break. Rebecca is not prepared for the world of the Gentiles, she has trouble breaking the habits of a lifetime, and there is a language barrier with words she has known all her life having a completely different meaning in the world of the Gentiles. To make matters worse it is even more difficult to leave behind her old life than she thought - firstly because Warren and the FLDS community are not happy she left, but also because she feels the need to support her relatives when some of them reach out to her for help. Driven to help she is drawn into a legal battle against the FLDS community that pits the community against the laws and courts of the Gentiles - a battle that will last for years and cause conflict in her life.
The witness wore red is the account of one woman who left behind the FLDS "lifestyle" but could not leave behind the relatives and friends still living within the community. This is a very personal story, one that at times is more than a little harrowing to read, knowing what Rebecca and other young girls in the community went through. Even if you are sceptical about Rebecca's story - there are two sides to every story after all - even if only half of what she says and remembers is the truth, this is still a mind blowing story about the FLDS community. Freedom of religion is protected in many cultures and countries, but should freedom of religion override basic human rights - the right to freedom from pain, from fear, the right to choose who you marry and where you live, the right to an education and the ability to make your own way as an adult in your own society?
I am not passing judgement on the FLDS community, and as you read the story of Rebecca you quickly come to realise that her passion is not the destruction of a religion or community, her passion is the young people and women still living in her former community. While the contents of the book themselves are damning towards the FLDS, they are not damning because they are an attack on the community, they are damning because they are one woman sharing her own story and the story of her family. This is not an easy read, and it took a couple of days for me to finish the book because at times it was exhausting to read about Rebecca's life and what she went through - both in the FLDS community and once she had left.
If you are interested in reading more stories from people who have been raised in extreme religious groups or cults then try some of these stories. Some of the stories are disturbing because of their references to sexual and physical violence towards women and children, so reader beware that there will be some unpleasant (but not gratuitous) reading ahead. If you would like to read more then try:
- Stolen innocence by Elissa Wall
- Parents who kill by Carol Anne Davis
- The little prisoner: A memoir by Jane Eliott
- Behind closed doors by Ngaire Thomas
- Beyond belief: My secret life inside Scientology and my harrowing escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill
- Banished: Surviving my years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain
- I fired god by Jocelyn R. Zichterman
- Behind the Exclusive Brethren by Michael Bachelard
- Shackles broken, bound by love (Bound by love) by Hannah Hales
Reviewed by Brilla