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.