Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

About Amish
 

Saloma Miller Furlong's Blog

 

A Report Revealing Incest, Rape, Abuse, and Cover-Up in Amish Country

A recent article in Cosmopolitan Magazine by investigative reporter Sarah McClure, has given voice to those who have been sexually abused and silenced in Plain communities, and it has rocked the positions of “Amish defenders” as I call those who want to cling to the ideal image of the Amish. The article is graphic, which is necessary for the nature of the subject. Survivors of abuse need to tell their stories including the details, because the emotions are lodged within them. Those of us who have been abused and silenced for years seek safe places to tell our stories. By writing this article, Ms. McClure has opened the door to telling our stories in public, which is incredibly empowering. There is such a relief in shattering the silence that shrouds the abuse we endured. I am so grateful to her.

Here is a quote from the article:

Over the past year, I’ve interviewed nearly three dozen Amish people, in addition to law enforcement, judges, attorneys, outreach workers, and scholars. I’ve learned that sexual abuse in their communities is an open secret spanning generations. Victims told me stories of inappropriate touching, groping, fondling, exposure to genitals, digital penetration, coerced oral sex, anal sex, and rape, all at the hands of their own family members, neighbors, and church leaders.

I knew that I wasn’t the only one who endured abuse in my Amish childhood, but reading Ms. McClure’s article moved me to tears because it confirmed what I had suspected all along… that the abuse problem is much more widespread than anyone knew. And so is the system of covering up the abuse and silencing the victims. Ms. McClure wrote:

In my reporting, I identified 52 official cases of Amish child sexual assault in seven states over the past two decades. Chillingly, this number doesn’t begin to capture the full picture. Virtually every Amish victim I spoke to—mostly women but also several men—told me they were dissuaded by their family or church leaders from reporting their abuse to police or had been conditioned not to seek outside help (as Sadie put it, she knew she’d just be “mocked or blamed”). Some victims said they were intimidated and threatened with excommunication. Their stories describe a widespread, decentralized cover-up of child sexual abuse by Amish clergy.

I know from experience what she means by “widespread, decentralized cover-up.” Except that the Amish now have a new weapon in their arsenal to silence victims, most often women. Victims can find themselves in a “culturally appropriate mental health facility”, where they are drugged and kept against their will. I have known about these centers and I’ve even “toured” one of them. The concept of what they can and are used for chill me to the bone. Ms. McClure wrote:

Several years ago, Esther was sent to a facility for “counseling” after she tried to seek help for another Amish woman who was being sexually assaulted. When she protested, church leaders threatened to excommunicate her permanently.

No one would tell her why she was there. Instead, she was pressured to sign papers that would allow staff to communicate directly with her ministers, she says (she eventually gave in and signed). “From the first evening, they wanted to put me on medication,” she recalls. She said no, since “a lot of these people who get stuck in these facilities come home drugged and no longer have a life. They’re zombies.” (She’s aware of about 30 other Amish sexual assault victims, including two of her sisters, who have been sent away to such facilities.)

Eventually, Esther says she was told that refusing “sleep medication” would only prolong her stay. When she asked about side effects, a house parent told her, “It doesn’t matter— you have to take it.”

So she did. Except the drugs weren’t for sleep at all: According to her medical records, she was prescribed olanzapine, an antipsychotic medication that treats mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Every morning and night, she and other Amish patients lined up to receive their drugs. “We’d have to go and fill a small container with water and then go up to this pedestal; we’d all take turns,” she says. “It was gut-wrenching.”

Esther now says Amish leaders use lockup stays to silence women who are increasingly eager to go public with abuse allegations. “When a victim speaks out,” Esther explains, “they get sent to a facility and drugged so that they shut up.”

The use of these facilities takes the silencing of the oppressed and abused to a whole new level by robbing them of free agency. These facilities didn’t exist when I was in the community, but now they are cropping up in many Amish and Old Order Mennonite areas. They are run by Plain men who are not schooled in psychology and whose aim it is to preserve the culture. In Plain communities when there is a conflict between the good of an individual and what the leaders perceive to be the good of the community, they will almost invariably err on the side of the community. I have heard of individuals being “detained” in these facilities when it is discovered that they are planning to leave the Amish. That could have been me, had these facilities existed when I left at 20 and again at 23.

I have always said that the silencing of abuse is nearly as traumatizing as the abuse itself. I would venture to say, this level of silencing is worse.

I am glad to see that there has been high-profile publicity around this article. Ms. McClure was interviewed by Michel Martin on NPR two days ago, and she was interviewed by Kate Couric in her publication Wake Up Call.

LancasterOnline published an article. Politico mentioned and linked to the article in Women Rule, as did Real Clear Investigations.

I was surprised to read Erik Wesner’s post on Amish America, and even more surprised to read his responses in the comments section. I will be going there next to respond to some of the comments.

There is a lot to read and absorb here. I welcome your comments about the issues raised here.

Subscribe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Website traffic statistics for salomafurlong.com
Website by Jason Woofenden