Friday, January 26, 2007

sexual abuse amongst the Amish and conservative Mennonites

I began researching things early in my life. Whenever I didn’t understand something, I researched it to death and thought it to death until I did understand it. One of the topics I researched while I was a teen was sexual abuse. I had a suspicion that a peer and a friend from my conservative church, showed signs of being sexually abused. Since she was coming to me for “counseling” about a million other issues, I decided I should figure out what was at the root of all this trouble. So, I prayed and I researched. It was quite amazing that I even came to the conclusion I did about her root issue, since nobody talked about such things, counselors were unheard of and psychology was a bad word. I agonized in prayer over her pain and sensed that God was reassuring me that he would bring the secret out and she would be helped. Soon thereafter she attended a bible school and it was there that a pastor with some training in counseling, prayed and counseled with her and some of her friends. She came home a changed person and began telling everyone the story of her liberation, boldly. Interestingly, it was the catalyst that pulled a few other things out from under the carpet. Two other girls confessed to being molested and the reaction of two other women gave them away. Then, there were the male “perpetrators.” Most people weren’t quite as happy about her liberation as she was.

My brother also, once dated a girl who had been molested by her older brother. Other accounts get circulated. While I was at SMBI, quite a few years ago, I ran into a teacher and his wife who both who actually had a degree in counseling and psychology and had worked to integrate it into their conservative faith. They had done a good job of it. One of the issues he and his wife deal with is sexual abuse. He gauged, based on what he had encountered, that within the Amish-Mennonite communities, the prevalence of sexual abuse was as high if not higher than in mainstream culture. Some communities are riddled with incest.

A few years ago, when stories of Mary Byler came out everyone was shocked. She was the young woman who decided to take legal action against her brother in the state of Wisconsin, for molesting her. The media monster enjoyed the sensational news. But some people I know outright refused to believe the report.

Now, I don’t just write about this to add to the sensation. I write about this because these conservative communities are in quite a bind. They refuse to acknowledge the legal system and generally refuse to respect the psychological profession. When these stories come to light, the leaders of the communities truly try to use the tools they have—forgiveness and confession—which seem worthless to those who look in from the outside. They too need kinsmen redeemers who bring them new tools, integrating them with the important tenants of their life as a community.


graham old said...

Thanks for posting this. It's surprising that even today it is talked about so rarely.

The frustrating thing is that, ISTM, it is the good values themselves that lead to the abuse and the cover-ups. (E.g. nonviolence producing no viable expression of aggression, etc.)

espíritu paz said...

I think the values that instigate the cover-ups are a particular understanding of forgiveness and or something that doesn't even touch forgiveness--hiding from the reality because nobody knows how to deal with it.

In my grandparents' church, there was a scandal uncovered. The perpetrator confessed and was forgiven. Nobody mentioned the incident again until years later it was discovered that he wasn't entirely victorious. Not even the children of those who had dealt with the previous incident knew about it.

Forgiveness to them meant--never more remembering with their mouths. And trusting their own children into the hands of the perpetrator again.