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Amish and Mennonite Survivors of Sexual Abuse Fight for Reform

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Amish and Mennonite survivors of sexual abuse fight for reform at rally on the steps of the state capitol. For close to twenty years advocates, survivors, and lawmakers have been fighting for the opportunity to seek justice in the civil courts. Existing laws follow no real reasoning beyond the protection of predators and the institution who protect them at the cost of innocence. 

Over the years, multiple grand jury reports have all called for one legal reform, retroactive access to civil courts.  The state legislature has failed to deliver. Each year more and more survivors, policymakers, and allies join the fight. Yet, the Pennsylvania Senate continues to block these efforts with political gamesmanship and stall tactics. 

This year survivors from Mennonite and Amish communities came out and spoke about the sexual abuse they said has been silently spreading through their communities for years. A new documentary, “Sins of the Amish, is a two-part series that examines the plague of sex abuse in the Amish and Mennonite communities. It highlights the broken criminal justice system that has failed to protect the victims.  Former Amish and Mennonite traditionalist Christian community members allege a toxic pattern of sexual abuse.  The silencing of victims over the hundreds of years they’ve existed in America. Many of these survivors spoke out against Pennsylvania’s antiquated statute of limitations and joined the rallying cry for reform. 

What are Plain Communities?

Lancaster County, PA, is home to one of the largest Amish populations in the country. Boasting more than 25 different types of Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren church groups, each with slightly different traditions and interpretations of the Bible. The more traditional groups are called ‘old-order Amish. They do not permit electricity or telephones in their homes.

“Plain People” of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country are given that name because they dress plainly. They live very simply and separately from the rest of society. Their separation from the rest of society fascinates many, and Lancaster County, PA, has become a tourist destination for these reasons. Amish children attend one-room schoolhouses through the eighth grade. Amish worship services are held every other week in one of the members’ homes. Socializing is an important part of Amish life, and on Sundays, if you are driving in that area, you are bound to see many Amish families out and about on their horses and buggies visiting each other.

The Amish have a strong sense of community spirit and often aid those in need. They are devout Christians and rely solely on their land to survive. Amish believe the modern world separates people from god.  Restricting things like phones, electricity, televisions, and radios. In this way, they are insulated in ways other communities are not, providing a perfect breeding ground for childhood sexual abuse.

Child Sexual Abuse in Plain Communities.

There have been rumors and speculation for decades about the rampant sexual abuse in the Plain Communities. Determining the precise frequency of child sexual abuse within Amish or other Plain communities is challenging due to the limited available data. Sexual abuse in any community is hard to measure due to the shame, guilt, and silence surrounding these horrific acts. The Plain communities have a unique layer of this reality due to their separation from society and biblical views on forgiveness. Amish communities are close-knit and tightly bound by their religious and cultural values. They prioritize maintaining their internal order and minimizing involvement with the outside world. This insular nature can lead to a reluctance to involve external authorities, including law enforcement, in their internal matters.

Forgiveness Vs Accountibility

They believe wholeheartedly that forgiveness is a key factor in their belief system. In 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, took hostages, and shot ten girls (aged 6–13), killing five, before committing suicide in the schoolhouse. The national media widely discussed the emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation in the Amish community’s response. The Amish even attended his funeral and provided support to his family. 

This strong emphasis has led to mass coverups of sexual abuse in their community as victims are blamed and shamed into forgiving their abusers rather than coming forward and seeking support and help through the criminal justice system. Reporting child sexual abuse to legal authorities may be seen as contradictory to these beliefs, as it involves legal action, investigation, and potential consequences for the perpetrator. Amish communities often have their internal mechanisms for resolving conflicts and maintaining order. These mechanisms may involve church leaders or community elders responsible for handling disputes and addressing wrongdoing. In cases of child sexual abuse, the community may prefer to handle the matter internally through their disciplinary processes rather than involving external authorities.

When Victims Speak

Even when victims do come forward, they have been pressured to forgive the men involved in their cases and shamed into not participating in the criminal justice process. When they do, they are often shunned from their communities, which holds a very different impact than in most communities as they live so interdependent upon one another. Many courts have noted that victims will come and beg the courts not to incarcerate the men responsible for the abuse because of these very real realities they will face back in their insular communities. 

Amish communities often strive to maintain a positive image and reputation within their community and the larger society. Reporting child sexual abuse could bring shame or negative attention to the community. This fear of tarnishing their reputation may contribute to the reluctance to report such cases.

Reporting Leads to Change

However, some reports have shed light on the issue. In recent years, there have been increasing efforts to raise awareness about child sexual abuse within Amish and Plain communities.  To encourage reporting. Various organizations and agencies have been working to provide education, support, and resources to these communities. All aiming to improve child safety and address the issue of child sexual abuse more effectively. The veil of secrecy and silence on the epidemic of child sexual abuse in the Plain communities is lifting. Survivor-led podcasts.  “Sins of the Amish” documentary.  Investigative reports in Cosmopolitical Magazine. These are making a difference.

After a very public prosecution of a child sexual abuse case in Lancaster, PA, the sentencing judge Judge Dennis Reinaker of the two men involved felt compelled to do more for victims in the Plain communities. In 2011, he formed a Plain community task force, which now meets to address concerns about sexual abuse within Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities. It directly bridges our various social work and justice systems into these historically private communities.

Survivors taking to the Pennsylvania State Capitol steps to join the chorus of advocates demanding policy change put a new focus on exposing these predators of child sexual abuse.  And to hold these churches who conceal and enable predators legally accountable.

Civil Lawsuits Against Churches in the Plain Communities

Case after case has proven that the church elders and leadership not only knew of the child sexual abuse. They actively played a role in silencing victims and coverup the cases within their communities. These practices have led to negligence on their part and have left the door open for predators to continue to abuse children and have empowered them with the comfort of the sanctuary the churches have provided them. The one key method of exposing these predators and holding the churches accountable is to allow survivors to file civil lawsuits against these churches.

Over recent years there have been many successful litigations against the churches within the Plain communities.  Exposure and justice for many survivors in states where their respective legislatures have passed statute-of-limitations reforms on child sexual abuse cases is happening. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is a holdout state on passing such reform.  Civil lawsuits give access to vital records. By deposing church leaders victims are believed and heard. Change happens in these cases. Civil lawsuits aren’t just about compensation. They are about shattering the silence and culture that enables institutions to negate their responsibility and put children’s lives at risk. 

How do Civil Suits Impact Survivors?

Confronting the church with lawsuits gives victims access to justice. Pursuing legal action against the church is a deeply personal and complex decision for survivors. It can provide necessary healing and knowledge for the victims. 

Legal action helps survivors to hold the church accountable for any negligence, cover-ups, or failures to address sexual abuse. Survivors can seek justice and ensure that those responsible for the abuse are held accountable for their actions. Going through the legal process can validate the experiences of survivors and empower them to assert their rights. Lawsuits give a platform for survivors to tell their stories, be heard, and access a sense of justice. It can also challenge the culture of silence and denial that sometimes surrounds cases of abuse within religious organizations.

By initiating legal action, survivors aim to shed light on the issue of sexual abuse within the Mormon community.  To raise public awareness about the prevalence of such abuse. This increased awareness can contribute to the prevention of future incidents.  It can encourage other survivors to come forward.

What Options Do Abuse Victims Of The Mormon Church Have? 

Survivors of sexual abuse must consult with legal professionals, therapists, and support networks who can provide individualized guidance based on their specific circumstances. They can help survivors navigate the legal process, understand their rights, and make informed decisions about coming forward and pursuing legal action against the church or other entities involved. If you are within your current statute of limitation, you may file a claim today. If your abuse occured outside the Statute of Limitation in PA, you will need to wait for PA to pass legilsation allowing for a window to file claims.

Under current law, survivors of child molestation have until their 30th birthday to file civil lawsuits. The criminal statute of limitations is a victim’s 50th birthday. The civil time limit applies to acts of child sex abuse after the date the law became effective, August 27, 2002.

How Can We Help?

Andreozzi & Foote have the experience, skills, and success in taking these unique and challenging cases.  We get great results for clients. Every survivor’s story is different, and their goals are very personal to them. Andreozzi + Foote puts the survivor in the driver’s seat.  Allowing them to navigate their course of action throughout the process. For us, this is about more than money. It’s about giving a voice to the silence and harm. Our practice in Pennsylvania gives us an understanding and appreciation of the nuances associated with Plain communities. We know the laws in and out.  We can help survivors create a course of action. Leading them to feel heard, validated, and empowered. 

Our core focus is creating life-changing results for victims and their families. Many law firms are vying for these child sexual abuse cases because of the national media coverage. But they do not have the experience, knowledge, or legal skills we have. We believe that a jack of all trades is a master of none.  Therefore, we narrowly focus our practice to provide our clients the best possible service and results. 

  • Trust
  • Dedication
  • Compassion
  • Results

We can start with a free case evaluation and take it from there.

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