Sexual Abuse among the Amish


I have been enjoying writing the fun posts about my stay in Germany. However, today I turn to a more serious topic. On September 2, 2010, there was a report in the New York Times about sexual abuse within an Amish community in Missouri. I commend Malcolm Gay for reporting on this little known problem among the Amish. Even though I was born and raised in an Amish community and endured sexual abuse myself, it is hard for me to say just how prevalent sexual abuse is among the Amish in general. But what I do know is that Amish men are dominate in the culture and that girls are taught they should be submissive to the men (and boys) from the time they can understand the concept. Most Amish do not educate their children about sex, so girls can easily fall prey to sexual abuse. They often have no reference to know what is happening to them, even as the abuse takes place. And to make matters worse, the usual avenues for getting help are not available to Amish children. Very often abuses are first noticed and reported by schoolteachers in mainstream society, but even that avenue is blocked for most Amish children who attend their own parochial schools.
 
When sexual abuse is uncovered among the Amish, they focus mainly on the perpetrator’s repentance, rather than on the welfare of the children, which allows pedophiles to walk freely among innocents. They are simply not equipped to deal with these issues, and their isolation from mainstream society means that public services are largely out of reach, especially for children. Even if people in the community know of abuse, they will usually not intervene on behalf of the children, because they do not want to be seen as meddling in other families’ everyday lives. This leaves those Amish children who are being abused with few or no advocates, just when they need them the most.
 
What is unusual about this particular case of Chester Mast is that the Amish actually sought help from law enforcement. Normally the Amish deal with a perpetrator by expelling him for from the church for several weeks (the time period varies by community), having him make a public confession, and then forgiving him. They believe in “forgiving and forgetting,” which means the slate is wiped clean and people are asked to treat that person as if he hadn't transgressed at all. Once the confession has been made, no one is allowed to speak of it again. While the perpetrator is being forgiven, the Amish children, who just lost their innocence, are often being overlooked. 
 
The case related in the New York Times, is no different in this regard — the Amish are concerned about Chester Mast pleading not guilty when he has already admitted the wrongs in a public confession in his church. They are quoted as saying that his lying is worse than the abuse. I found myself saying, “Not so! With the abuse, there were children involved! There is more involved here than this man’s redemption — what about the children?!”
 
The article in the New York Times barely mentions the known victims — six girls between the ages of five and fifteen, and that there are possibly more victims. There is no mention of whether authorities are continuing their investigations into abuse in this community or an Amish reaction on behalf of these children. Nor is there mention of whether the children are receiving treatment and counseling by social services. I am hoping there will be a follow-up story that focuses on the fate of the victims.
 
I agree with the sociologist Dr. Donald Kraybill’s assessment that the Amish believe these types of behaviors are spiritual failings and therefore don’t recognize a psychological basis for deviant behavior. In my experience, they look inside their communities for a spiritual solution, when the more appropriate solution would be to seek help from professionals who are trained to deal with psychological problems. People (including the Amish) need help from psychologists, social workers, and law enforcement officials. That is why we have them.
 
I once had a conversation with an Amish woman who had endured physical abuse from her husband until she finally sought outside help. Several professionals who stepped in to help said to her, “We don’t know how to deal with abuse among the Amish.” Her response was, “Deal with it just like you would with anyone else.” I thought that was aptly put.
 
To the counselors, social workers, and law enforcement officials who are involved in this case, or any other abuse cases among the Amish I would say, “Please, speak up on behalf of these children — you may be their only advocates.” 
 
 
Photo by Sarah Weaver
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25 thoughts on “Sexual Abuse among the Amish”

  1. A while ago there was a situation like that in a neighboring community to the one I go to. The man was a minister and had been accused (by the victim) of sexually abusing a girl that had been staying with his family to get away from her own family problems (a new step mother). I was so sad for her when the church did nothing…I don’t even know if he was asked for a confession or anything. Now I am not sure if this is actually true as the girl had had previous social issues but still it should have been investigated. That drew me away from the Amish for a little while as I was afraid basically. Now I realize that not all men are like that, Amish or English, and there are awful people everywhere and good people..but I wish that the Amish children (and women) were taught to get help in those situations. It’s so sad.

  2. Hi Saloma –

    I think people over-romanticize the Amish. They are people like everyone else, and the same problems exist among them that plague the non-Amish.

    I hope as these problems become public, the young victims will get the help they need.

    Blessings,
    Susan

  3. Right on. It was surprising to see this in the NY Times, but the publicity betrays a horrifying side effect of sexual abuse in closed communities, and that side effect is silence. Shining the light on these situations forces people to acknowledge it and deal with it.

  4. To anyone who cares to know, I am Amish and I know there are cases like the post says. But in all reality, the Amish have come a long way and most of us would go for help. We do know that we don’t have to take such abuse and I was taught not to let someone touch me. My children were also taught. I like your concern, but feel the Amish are put to much on a pedestal, as if we aren’t people with failings like anyone else. The children who are abused do get treatment and we do forgive and forget, what does the Bible teach on this?

  5. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for your response. I don’t know which community you are from, but I am so glad to know there are communities that do accept outside help.

    The part about Amish forgiveness that I find detrimental is the “forget” part. As Monica pointed out, silence allows the abuse to continue. And I know from having grown up Amish, that talking about an offense that someone has already confessed is punished the same way as the abuse itself was.

    I will never forget what it was like to sit in church and give the only answer (yes) to agreeing to accept my father’s confession for yet another violent outburst in which he hurt someone. I had to “forget” his violence as if it hadn’t happened. I was literally being asked to trust him, even though I knew the cycle of abuse would continue. That protected the abuser, not the abused.

    Thank you again for your response.

    Cordially,
    Saloma

  6. John Coblentz, a well respected minister in Mennonite circles, and a counselor (Check out some of his books on Amazon.com such as “Beauty for Ashes” etc.) teaches that part of repentence is realizing and accepting that YOU WILL FACE CONSEQUENCES for your sins. John teaches that “safe-guards” need to be set up WITH the person to protect those he has victimized and to protect any future possible victims. For instance, a truly repentant child abuser would willingly set up a safe-guard such as, “I commit to never being alone with a child again.” A truly repentant person will WANT to be held accountable. The doctrine of “forgive” does NOT include “forget and pretend it never happened” except in terms of getting to heaven because God does not “hold it against us” any more. I worked with a ministry to Amish and Mennonite women for 10 years and know that there is a great, great need for support and help for sexual abuse victims.

  7. Dear Saloma, It’s so sad to think of this kind of abuse being found in every religion, race, or culture. I grew up in the very deep south where we too were taught men were dominate and women and children were to be submissive. The first time I was sexually abused (around 3 or 4 yrs. old) was by our music minister and then later by my grandfather until I was old enough to say, No, I would not go to my grandparents house. Although that was over 35 years ago, I never told my family and would hate for my dad to find out what his dad did so I’m not going to sign my name. I do wish there had been some kind of support for me back then even if only a relative that I felt would have stood by me.

  8. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of the public. Amish, southern, northern, adult or child…abuse to anyone is wrong!! Help in some form should be available to everyone who needs it…the abuser and the abused. This is so sad.
    I had done some Amish reading and was drawn here by that.

    A blessed southern gal from Alabama!
    Cora

  9. I hope this blog goes on ,this is a very deep subject and girls need to know that they can go to law officers if no body else takes action .Im the husband of a woman that was hurt very very deep by being raped by her brothers ,we were married amish and lived that way for 12 years till we left the amish and about ayear after we left the amishshe came to me crying uncontrolable when she finally could talk she told me about the abuse and right away I could see all the effects of it and yet never suspected it before

  10. I find it very sicking to think that all you have to do is be Amish to rape are moleste a kid and get away with it, by throughing the bible and God in every other sentences. GOD FORGIVES when you ask to be forgiven and stop! not when you play games with him and think you can do whatever you want then repent over and over again for the same thing.

  11. JoHanna, to my knowledge no Amish ministers have ever gotten in trouble with the law for not reporting abuse, even when they did know about it. There are many laws that are not enforced for the Amish — most people do not want to be perceived as beating up on the Amish — the symbol of goodness and innocence to many.

  12. Isn’t that part of the problem Saloma? That no one wants to be perceived as ganging up on the Amish so they take a light handed approach, if any, to justice with them.
    I know of one case where a judge ruled that Amish ministers were mandated to report abuse just like any other mandated reporter. http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.com/2010/11/missouri-court-rules-amish-elders-are.html

    If more Amish elders and people who knew about abuse and didn’t report it, were held accountable just as much as the perpetrator, maybe it would stop

  13. Deborah, you are absolutely right. I found myself immersed in reading about the Johnny Schwartz case — thanks for the link. It really makes me wonder two things: is he the same Johnny Schwartz who was accused by his sister of molesting her? And what ever happened in the Chester Mast case? I cannot find any information on it. Makes me wonder…

  14. I would like to share this about Restorative Justice, which is at the heart of Christ’s teachings: the offender and victim meet with facilitators. The goal of this meeting is to make amends, to repair the harm done to the victim, and gain understanding of both parties. The offender takes full accountability for his/her actions and tells what he/she will do to effect a change in behavior. Each describes how the wrong has affected them. There might be more than one meeting. This will (hopefully) bring restoration to both parties.

    Saloma, have you heard about https://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/ It would be interesting to know how high the ACEs scores get in an Amish community.

    1. My comment about Restorative Justice was given to point out that the Amish was of “forgive and forget” is not at the heart of Christ’s teachings. I did not mean that this would be appropriate for childhood sexual abuse, nor for all crimes.

  15. For a long time, I idealised the Amish, believing that if I’d grown up Amish, I never would have been sold for sex by my father and the cult to which they belonged. I would have been protected by a strong community. Maybe in some of them, I would have been. Because of my health, we’ve been thinking of moving to florida. I wanted to be near Pinecraft until I found out that a violent Amish sexual predator was living right in the heart of the city. He did go to jail, but that doesn’t fix mental disease. I’m also disturbed to find out that women are expected to submit to men but men are not expected to treat women as instructed in the Bible, to love her as Christ loved the church, to lay down his very life for her. And to believe that all women must submit to all men is simply not biblical. Some of the abuse accounts I’ve seen make me so angry. A boy who thought it was normal to have sex with his sister because all of his friends were doing it, too. They talked about it. And how that boy, his two brothers, and various other family members were all abusing the girls of the family. That was the worst account but there were many others. I never would have survived the Amish. I’m too outspoken now. Oh, I learned to submit. I learned not to say no, and as time passed, I became very angry. At 10, I was such an angry child. At 4, I forced a little girl to pull down her pants, mimicking my own abuse. Forgiving is necessary. I forgave. But telling a victim to forget is an insult. It’s not possible. That abuse has rewritten our brains or never allowed it to form correctly. Would Jesus have allowed an abuser to stay around vulnerable children?

    I remember seeing you in The Amish documentary, and though I didn’t know you’d been sexually abused at the time of that viewing, when I learned of it, I said “Ahhhh!” Because we tend to recognize that in others who’ve gone through the same thing. At least I do. I’m so happy that you’ve spoken out and so enthused to find your blog. I’m so sorry for what you endured, but I’m glad you’re ministering to former Amish and writing about your experiences. God bless.

  16. Pingback: Child Sex Abuse in the Amish Community Helps Us to Better Understand the Duggars and Evangelical Churches. | The Wartburg Watch 2017

  17. Pingback: Michigan Amishman Gets 15-25 Years For Sexual Assault

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