How Prevalent is Sexual Abuse Among the Amish?

The question in my title today has been asked of me ever since I published my first book, Why I Left the Amish. Because my story was one of the first to expose both sexual and physical abuse in an Amish community, the answer was elusive. I would answer this question by saying that because each family keeps these abuses hidden, even from other Amish families, it is impossible for me to know.

Now there are many reports of others who write or speak of the abuses they have endured among the Plain People. (This includes other Anabaptist groups who wear plain dress.) It is no longer a secret that abuse is indeed a widespread problem. Today I found a report on the blog of White House and true crime reporter, Kate Sullivan titled Child Sexual Abuse in the Amish Community: A Hidden Epidemic. She summarizes many of the other reports that have emerged in recent years to credibly establish that this is indeed an epidemic. A friend, Linda Crockett, who is diligently working on helping the Amish deal with this problem in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is mentioned in the article for her work. There are other groups who are also advocating for the abused among the Plain People.

Reports like Kate Sullivan’s are sobering, but this article also gives me hope that with reports like these, those who are enduring abuse in Plain communities will know that if they reach out for help someone will take their hand. I hope they know that there are advocates who will help them through their trauma.

Those who have not lived in Plain communities may be asking how the abused among the Amish will know about others who have sought help since they have limited or no access to the internet. Let me tell you, the Amish mouth-to-mouth reports are faster and a lot more effective than online reports. They influence one another greatly. The thoughts go along the lines of, ‘If that person can do it, so can I.’ It takes a great deal of courage to step outside of their insulated culture, but I know that when I was at my wits end I reached out to someone for help. Back then there were only a few I knew of who had left our community. This community has grown a great deal since then, as have the number of those who have left. The Amish are growing faster than any other segment of the American population, so I believe this is true in most, if not all Amish communities.

I’ve been reading of court cases of Amish men who are most often let off with a light sentence because they are Amish. I wish there was a way to get the message across to social workers, law enforcement officers, lawyers, and judges that Amish abusers should be held to the same accountability as anyone in the mainstream culture. Some of the recent reports of sexual abuse by Amish men are gruesome.

One aspect of sexual abuse in Amish country that has not yet been addressed by these reports is the role of the women in the abuse. I, for one, was physically abused by my mother, and she made her children available to abusers. In one case she actively participated in molestation when I was twelve years old and sick with a high fever. Now my question is no longer, how prevalent is abuse among the Amish, but also what role do women play in these cases? It will likely take years before the answer to this question becomes known just as it has taken nearly twelve years since my first book was published to have the former question answered.

Most reports about Amish country have to do with either sexual abuse or motor vehicle-buggy accidents. To combat the latter problem, a new law has been passed in Ohio that all Amish buggies will need to have yellow blinking lights installed on the backs of their buggies. Several of the more conservative Amish groups are being non-compliant by refusing to install the lights and if they get caught, they also refuse to pay the fines even when so ordered by a judge.

These issues at the intersection between Amish and the mainstream culture are going to continue to grow as the Amish communities grow. The question is what is the best way to resolve them? I will have more about this in my next post.

I invite your thoughts and reactions to the content of this blog post.


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5 thoughts on “How Prevalent is Sexual Abuse Among the Amish?”

  1. I can’t help but think that men who made the rule (?) that women use straight pins to hold their clothes together instead of snaps or hooks, see women and children in such a fashion that sexually abusing them follows naturally. Entitled ownership that belittles women and demands submission. Women who enable (or commit) such abuse have internalized that worthlessness. Are there reports of boys being abused? Or is it pretty much focused on women and girls?

  2. Johanna, that is an interesting theory. Who knows how far back the pins go? One person uncovered the fact that the plain dress goes back to the time when Anabaptists lived in the Canton Bern of Switzerland when there were laws that determined dress codes according to rank in society. The Anabaptists were largely a peasant culture, so their dress code was of the most modest. They embraced it and became model citizens. Who knows whether their belief in humility as a virtue came because of this dress code or if they already thought of themselves as humble and therefore embraced the plain dress.

    It is a sobering thought that the problem of sexual abuse was handed down with Amish traditions from as far back as that!

    Yes, there are numerous accounts of boys being sexually abused among the Amish.

    1. While reading about the straight pins to fasten women’s dresses,I had a vision of those pins being put to good use by women/girls who are abused or attacked.. Maybe those that dictate women’s clothing will get the point!
      There is a movie ,about to be released,called Women Talking.It’s about women and children, in a very conservative Mennonite community in Bolivia.The women are frequently attacked by men in the community .They must decide if they should stay and do nothing,,stay and fight, or leave and face living in a world they no nothing about. Based on true story……..

  3. Saloma, for some reason I am not getting notifications of your latest blogs. I’m not sure why because I was at the beginning ( with this new updated sight).
    So, I’m a bit late in responding!!!!! Sorry!!!!
    The Amish have for a long time been mainly seen in the public eye as quaint, religious, people of the soil. Because we knew nothing of the dark secrets that have also been a part of these people (I’m not saying all) I think it was hard for this to be taken seriously. As you have stated that law enforcement was lax in taking steps in filling charges against these men.
    My prayer is that more and more brave people like yourself step forward, press charges, tell their story, get the help they need to find some healing from the abuse.
    I remember the story you wrote in your latest book about when you had the high fever. I so wanted to save that little girl. Heartbreaking!!!!!!!
    You bring up a very interesting question about the role of women in the abuse. Sadly, It happens within the “English “ world so I’m sure it does within the Amish community as well. After all you experienced it firsthand.

  4. Saloma, I had commented on this post this morning but for some reason it didn’t go through.
    First I wanted to apologize for being so late in writing- for some reason I stopped getting notifications of your blog.
    Second, it is unsettling how much abuse has and is taking place as more and more people, like yourself, come forward with their own terrible experience’s. How brave you all are.
    I thought a lot about the women who could be involved in this. When I read in your latest book about when you had the high fever and what your mom participated in my heart just hurt for that little girl.
    We read about these kind of things happen daily within the English world. But the Amish have successfully hidden this from the world by their way of living and their show of having strong religious beliefs. We see them as people after Gods own heart. Of living in the world but not of it. We have forgotten they are human also and many hide dark and sinful secrets.
    I hope that more people like you will continue to bring these crimes against children out into the light and those who abuse and those who are abused can get they help they need.

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