Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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Sexual Abuse in Amish Country

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There have been a series of stories about incidences of sexual abuse in Amish communities in the past months. The following are the ones I know about. I am providing these as a point of reference because if you are like me, you cannot bear to read these all at once.

Yesterday there was a report about an Amish man in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania who was sentenced to prison for molesting four girls.

Last week, there was a report about three Amish men confessing to molesting girls over several decades in Lafayette County, Wisconsin.

A local news outlet in Illinois reported a story on June 28 about an Amish man who was accused of sexually molesting his elderly mother.

A series of six reports were published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in late May and early June 2019 about abuse among Plain People (Amish and Conservative Mennonites).

Today Erik Wesner, who writes the blog Amish America, posted a story about the man in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. I responded in his comments section, and I want to post it here as well:

Erik, I want to thank you for addressing this issue. There have been many news stories about sexual abuse in Amish country these past months. I find it odd that King “was sentenced to prison Thursday by a Dauphin County judge” and yet later in the report it states, “King, now 33 and a Lebanon County resident, is to serve his sentence in the county work-release center, then spend another 5 years on probation and perform 500 hours of community service.” The second statement makes it sound like he isn’t going to prison.

I also found it odd that he was given an exemption to attend Amish church services. Anyone who has attended an Amish church service knows that is a setting in which a perpetrator has access to innocent children.

In my view, it is time for Amish perpetrators to be treated like any others. This would include counseling from secular counselors not affiliated with the “culturally appropriate” Amish-run mental health centers.

That most perpetrators were themselves abused is well-known in the field of psychology. In a culture that doesn’t encourage self-reflection, it is hard to break the unhealthy patterns that exist in the Amish culture. When Amish folks aren’t taught how to discern unhealthy patterns from the cultural traditions that they accept without question, there is little chance of correcting their own behavior so as not to pass it down to the next generation. You heard me talking about this at the Amish conference in June.

Silence always shrouds abuse. Once it has been brought into the light, it is impossible for the perpetrators to hide their abuse in the shadows.

Very often Amish abusers do admit to their “sins.” What they are admitting to is a different understanding than what most people think. In their understanding, they have committed the sin of adultery, same as if they had sexual relations with a consenting adult outside of marriage. They don’t see this as a crime that harms the children they abused. This is an important distinction to be made.

Thank you again for addressing this important issue, Erik. I know you have cautioned against overestimating the number of abuses that happen in Amish communities in the past. There is an even greater danger of underestimating the number, which can tend to minimize the experiences of the abused. The more they feel they’re not alone, the more they will be willing to come forward and tell their truth. Releasing ourselves of the agony of our untold stories is always the first step towards breaking the cycle of abuse — and it is our first step towards healing.

I will be back to post about other issues that have been cropping up in the news about issues at the junction between the Amish and the mainstream cultures. For now, I need to get back to writing my book proposal. I plan to return to more frequent posts soon.

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