Jessica Christensen wants people to understand, polygamists are everywhere.
The 28-year-old was raised by a polygamist family in Salt Lake City, Utah, and she grew up with 12 biological siblings and nearly 200 half siblings.
At the age of 15, Christensen and her sister made the decision to run away from their family. Christensen was adopted at the age of 18 by non-polygamous parents, and one of her other sisters ran away too.
The three sisters are the stars of LMN’s new reality series, “Escaping Polygamy,” which follows them as they assist people who want to get away from polygamous households.
“I was raised in polygamy. I was born to Heidi and John Daniel. Heidi is John Daniel’s sixth wife out of 14 wives. My lifestyle growing up was kind of like she was just a single mom. My dad was the disciplinarian,” Christensen told FOX411. “It was a pretty abusive environment, primarily physical abuse from my dad, and then there was also sexual abuse within the group from children to children—the older children to younger children.”
Christensen said though she broke away from the polygamous group years ago, she can still easily spot the families that are part of it.
“I can still identify people in the group, even though it’s been 10 years, because they all look the same because they are all related.”
She emphasized that polygamist families are everywhere, and where there are polygamous groups, there may be people who want to break away, she said.
“I want people to realize there are polygamous groups all over the country… I want people to care and do something about it. I want people in Salt Lake to reach out to the families that they think are polygamous and do something,” she said passionately. “They are not just in Utah. There may be somebody in the group that doesn’t want to live that way.”
And that’s why she and her sisters, Andrea and Shanell, have dedicated a lot of their time to helping people who want to leave their polygamous families. In each of the six hour-long episodes of “Escaping Polygamy,” the sisters are shown providing support for someone who wants to leave polygamy.
“Getting out is a [multi-]step process. You physically move your stuff out, but you also need to emotionally get out and mentally [you need to] stop thinking the way they have trained you to think,” she said. “For some people, that’s the part where they can’t stay out… they can’t make decisions for themselves. They can’t think for themselves.”
Laura Fleury, the head of programming and development at LMN, explained the subject matter of the series at times proved challenging for the crew.
“It’s not an easy project to film. It’s not an easy endeavor to film because what the sisters are doing is filled with jeopardy,” she said. “They don’t know how it’s going to go, if someone is going to show up from one of the families… it’s not an easy thing to capture but it's one that we thought was very important and we were really lucky [to have cooperation from the people involved].”
Fleury said at first producers were uncertain that people who had been in polygamous groups would be willing to be on camera, but the production team spent time getting to know the community and was able to break in to the notoriously secretive and tight-knit group.
“We really took a big risk-- as did the production company-- and we proceeded with caution… and fortunately it went very well,” Fleury said.
Christensen said she and her siblings weren’t too concerned with filming the show when they began helping others separate from the polygamous community.
“It wasn’t like we sought this out, thinking ‘oh we’re going to do a show.’ We were unsure this was going to be a TV show,” she said.
And she added that viewers who tune in for “Escaping Polygamy” shouldn’t expect the show to be anything like another series about polygamy, the hugely popular “Sister Wives.”
She said of the stars of the hit TLC show, “They act like they are all happy at family dinners… but then they separate and they are all gossiping… I don’t know any families— I didn’t grow up with any families— that look like that.”
Unlike “Sister Wives,” she said “Escaping Polygamy” won’t be showing the happy side of polygamous relationships.
“Our show, we want to be raw,” she enthused. “I want people to see the good and the bad. This is where polygamy deviates, and this where polygamy is crazy.”
“Escaping Polygamy” premieres on LMN on July 14.