A shocking sexual abuse scandal in the Amish community has recently come to light. The Amish community, despite its seemingly religious and devout nature, has been fraught with sexual abuse and assault of women and children by the men of the community. As media coverage, including a recent report by CBS 19 News, continues to spread across various major networks, more and more people are looking to understand this ongoing crisis and how it can be handled effectively by concerned parties in both the Amish community and outside of it.
The exhibit on display in Leola, PA helps us to understand the extent of current sexual abuse within the Amish community. It began in April 2022, as part of a conference raising awareness about sexual abuse. Lancaster County, where the exhibit is being held, is home to the nation's largest Amish community. On display are thirteen garments, which were donated by survivors of sexual assault, hung on a clothesline with a description of each survivor's age and religious affiliation.
WITF shared some of the modest outfits worn that represented the trauma suffered by the members of the Plain religious groups. One labeled "Survivor Age: 4 years old" consisted of a long-sleeve, blue Amish dress with a simple stand collar. Another outfit included a long green dress, a heavy coat, and black shoes. Attached was a note from a 5-year-old stating "I was never safe...No one helped me when I told them he hurt me."
The exhibit displays more than how the simple clothing styles worn by the children and women failed to prevent the abuse. It revealed an ongoing dilemma that is too easily hidden from outside authorities. While laws in Pennsylvania protect sexual abuse victims, they do not explicitly apply to victims within a religious community.
The Amish have created an interesting set of rules for themselves known as Ordnung, which is essentially a set of guidelines for living within a community based on biblical principles. While some might consider these rules restrictive (for example, no cars), others might see them as necessary and important guidelines for living life according to God’s will. One such rule is known as shunning, which requires members of an Amish community to cut off all contact with excommunicated members—including family members. However, this practice has not worked to prevent further abuse from occurring. Too often members of the Amish community turn a blind eye to reports of abuse. They don’t want to be ostracized from their communities, so they keep quiet about what happened to them.
According to a WITF, dozens of members of Plain church associations have been convicted of sexually abusing children in the last two decades. Several religious leaders, including an Amish bishop in Lancaster County in 2020, have been found guilty of neglecting to report abuse. However, advocates argue that more needs to be done and that some state leaders continue to regard incidents of abuse as problems of church discipline rather than crimes that should be reported to civil authorities.
Attorney contributor Brian Kent has been advocating for sexual abuse survivors in Pennsylvania for years. Brian has helped numerous victims of sexual abuse seek the justice they deserve. During a recent interview, he shared his knowledge of the ongoing sexual abuse within the Amish community.
"It has been extremely difficult for victims of child sexual abuse in the Amish community to receive assistance until recently. Instead of reporting abuse and other misconduct to law authorities, the Amish prefer to handle things themselves. Sexual abuse is frequently hidden from the outside communities as religious laws have offered them protection. Too often child sexual abuse victims in the Amish community feel alone and helpless. However, it is critical to share your experience in order for your abuser to be held accountable. This may also lead to other potential victims being spared further abuse. While forgiveness is an important part of the Amish religion, it may not reach the justice victims rightfully deserve."
"Many times abuse is ignored by the elders of the community. Turning a blind eye or simply shunning the perpetrator for a short period of time does not prevent them from continuing the abuse. Victims can seek compassionate and discreet legal guidance from an experienced Amish sexual abuse attorney. These attorneys understand how the Amish community works and can assist you with the legal process. By filing a lawsuit, victims may be able to recover compensation for expenses to cover necessary therapy and relocation."