TODAY   |  September 14, 2013

Woman who escaped cult: ‘I could no longer silence that voice'

In “The Witness Wore Red," Rebecca Musser tells the story of how she was able to break free of the oppressive Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headed by Warren Jeffs. Musser told TODAY’s Erica Hill she knew she had to escape, calling it a “do or die” situation.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in that case is telling her story. warren jeffs was once one of the fbi's ten most wanted for crimes he committed while leading the fundamentalalist group of. he forced women into young marriages as young as age 12. one woman who was once part of that church fought back and became one of the faces of the resistance and testifying against her former leader and opening the public's eyes to the plight of these women. today, rebecca is speaking out. her book is "the witness wore red." the 19th wife who brought polygamist cult leader to justice. nice to have you with us.

>> nice to be here.

>> the 19th wife, the title, when you were 19 years old, you were the 19th wife of the 85-year-old leader.

>> yes.

>> of that sect in which you were raised.

>> yes.

>> when you were told you had to marry that man, what was your reaction?

>> you know, in a society like this, what is normal, what is taught to the girls is one day they will grow up and be found worthy to marry a priested man regardless of the age. polygamy is taught and it's taught holy. on the one hand, i knew it was my duty but, on the other hand, i was overwhelmed and horrified at what relate was facing.

>> and you were very young, too. i mean, this isn't -- you grew up knowing that this was what you wanted to strive for and, yet, there was so much about what a marriage entails, especially aspects of the wedding night you knew nothing about that young girls were not educated about. all throughout this, though, you had your reservations, it seems, in reading your book. where did some of that doubt come from for you?

>> i think for as long as i can remember, there was some voice inside that just different things would come up saying something is not right here. i think everybody has that voice as, you know, my life, the details are different, but everybody has dealt with that. and so as time went on and i got older and more and more things happened, that voice just got louder and louder for me. it came to the point where i could no longer silence that voice within it was either do or die.

>> you made the edition decision to leave. this man was known as the prophet. he dies. essentially your step-son kind of wants to marry you and tell you, "i will break you." at that point you decide to run. that is dangerous for someone in your position.

>> it was a terrifying decision for me because everything i had ever known was on the line, besides my eternal salvation or my eternal damnnation. i think everybody is faced with overwhelming circumstances that we have to take action. i thought my world was ending at that point but, yet, it was the threshold to the freedom that i enjoy. i think that is something that everyone can relate to.

>> you testified against him twice.

>> yes.

>> was it frightening for you?

>> it was frightening?

>> was it frightening at all?

>> it was, in some regard, but there was also a part of me that knew that there were a number of young people that could not speak up for themselves and -- but i could. and so it was gentlemen important to do what i could to stop what was going on.

>> and do you believe you made a difference?

>> i do. i do.

>> it's a fascinating read. thanks for being with us this morning.

>> thank you so much for having me.

>> rebecca musser.