Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press
Flora Jessop, at 5th District Court in St. George in 2006, fled the FLDS Church in 1996.

An anti-polygamy activist who has been a lightning rod of controversy when it comes to the Fundamentalist LDS Church will publish her autobiography next year.

Flora Jessop's "Church of Lies: The True Story of Escaping Slavery and Polygamy, and Rescuing Women and Children from the Notorious Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints" will hit bookstore shelves in February 2009. It's being published by Jossey-Bass, a division of Wiley Publishing.

"It's a book about my life, about what I come from and why I do what I do," Jessop told the Deseret News on Thursday. "I think that it's important to know why I do what I do, and for people to know why I'm fighting for these children."

In the book's preface, Jessop said she was one of 28 children born to her father and his three wives. At 8, she said she began being sexually abused and tried to run away throughout her teenage years. She finally left the church about 20 years ago, enduring a rough life until she became an advocate for abused children in polygamy.

Jessop now heads the Phoenix-based Child Protection Project, where she has helped women and children seeking to leave the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. She once proclaimed she'd be willing to go to jail for harboring runaways, if it meant protecting children from abuse.

A fixture on cable-TV shows, Jessop has been highly critical of the FLDS Church, but she also targets government agencies — particularly child protective services — which she has accused of doing nothing about abuse within polygamy.

"We're proud to be publishing Flora Jessop's incredible story, because this brave and articulate lady not only escaped from the sexual abuse and slavery of Warren Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, but she's been the only woman to go back time after time in the dark of the night, at great personal risk, to rescue women and children from this dangerous and notorious sect," publisher Paul Foster said in an e-mail.

Jessop's former faith, and even members of her own family, have accused her of repeatedly lying.

"The stories she tells have no credence and are fabricated," Martha Barlow Jessop, Flora's former guardian, wrote on the FLDS Web site truthwillprevail.org, questioning many of her claims.

"I forgive her, but her lies and deceit should not be allowed to continue on as fact. Her experiences have nothing to do with our religion or way of life. Her story is not typical and should not be used as a template to judge others."

Jessop ignores the criticism, accusing the group of attacking victims who speak out.

"I want people to understand that we don't do this because we hate them," she said. "You don't fight for somebody that you hate. We don't fight the people. We fight the practice of abuse that's inherent."

Jessop has been intertwined with the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas. In 2004, she exposed the property as an FLDS compound. Members of the polygamous sect had originally told Texas officials it was a "corporate hunting retreat." Leading up to and during the raid on the compound earlier this year, Jessop fielded phone calls from someone claiming to be a pregnant, abused girl who wanted to flee. Jessop cooperated with law enforcement, who declared Rozita Swinton, 33, a "person of interest" in the hoax call that prompted the raid.

Hundreds of children were taken from the YFZ Ranch and ultimately returned to their parents after a pair of Texas court rulings. A grand jury in Eldorado has indicted six men, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, on abuse-related charges.


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com