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Are Amish Girls Are Expected to Forgive Rape?

Think the Amish are gentle, peace-loving folk? Or haven't you given the faith much thought since Amish in the City? If your experience with this quiet faith stops with Witness, here's another look.

Torah Bontrager escaped her Amish community at 15 after coming close to committing suicide. Now, at 27, the Columbia grad is speaking out about common misconceptions about the Amish and her escape.

In an interview with author Tim Ferriss, she lists the pros and cons of her Amish childhood. Here are some high- (and low-) lights:

Pros of Growing Up Amish

  • The emphasis on the solidarity of the extended family unit
  • The emphasis on being hospitable to strangers, helping those in need, whether Amish or “English” (anyone who’s not Amish is “English")
  • Building your own houses, growing your own food, sewing your own clothes

Cons of Growing Up Amish

  • The rape, incest, and other sexual abuse that run rampant in the community
  • Physical and verbal abuse in the name of discipline
  • Women (and children) have no rights

For people with a peaceful, forgive-and-forget creed, I wondered how so much violence could be possible. To find out how,


Forgiveness is a virtue for the Amish — not forgiving is worse than the sin— so it's actually quite easy: you forgive and then you forget. You forget.

Mary Byler is all too familiar with Torah's story. She left her Amish family at 20 when her brother began molesting her 4-year-old sister. After enduring beatings, sexual abuse, and rape since age 6 herself, she called outside authorities and moved out of the community.

Growing up, she regularly told her mother that her brother and cousins were "being bad" to her (she didn't know what else to call it). Her mother responded unsympathetically, saying, "you don't fight hard enough and you don't pray hard enough." The boys had already confessed in church so complaining about it was just being unforgiving.

"If you don't forgive, you won't be forgiven" were Jesus's words but the Amish live by them. While they generally create a pacifist culture, the words can also be twisted to justify abuse. "It's like any other society. You have great families, very well-balanced, but you also have dysfunctional ones," Mary said, "Take the Amish off the pedestal. They're just like everybody else."

While the Amish are not exempt from the law, the government rarely interferes (although they did this week!) because they are peaceful, law-abiding people. Considering that it is not acceptable to take an accusation, like Mary did, outside the Amish community — it's a sign of resentment — should the government take them off their homemade pedestal so they can see in?


Join The Conversation
Rose-Cullen Rose-Cullen 8 years
Sorry if no one can understand what I'm saying, but that just makes me so mad!
Rose-Cullen Rose-Cullen 8 years
that's just sick I don't care of it's part of their religion to forgive and forget, but if girls are expected to forgive RAPE! NO just NO :RANT:
rabidmoon rabidmoon 8 years
Its sad, and my own näivete shows here, I thought maybe the Amish were devoid of this behaviour. I always admired so many things about them, in a sort of "dewy eyed, if-the-modern-world-died-they-would-do-fine" sort of way. In a way, perhaps I have been guilty of that same pedestal, though "shoebox" might be a better description of the actual object. :P Although crimes like rape, abuse and incest can be found in almost any segment or slice of society, however you cut it, the difference lies in the ability or options that the victim has to make it stop, control it, get away from it, report it, or otherwise have some sort of voice about the mistreatment. It is not an issue of religion, but of human rights. If people are victims without voices, be it down to religion, cultural sexism, or any other system of belief, then it must be addressed, a voice MUST be given to them.
True-Song True-Song 8 years
I agree. Though I'm sure someone will want to twist what you're saying into "OMG if you believe in Jesus you probably want to do your sister!"
stephley stephley 8 years
It seems a huge generalization, but my only criticism of the question is the narrowing it down to incest. I do think perversions are more likely the more intensely a person aheres to religious fundamentalism.
Jude-C Jude-C 8 years
"Are there any religious fundamentalists who AREN"T into incest?!" That's a pretty huge generalization...
snowysakurasky snowysakurasky 8 years
Um yes they should be taken off a pedastal! Are there any religious fundamentalists who AREN"T into incest?! These men are so sick.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
Hunter I saw it and it left out all the scenes of the girl going to visit her brother and meeting the father of the baby.
True-Song True-Song 8 years
I remember the shooting in the Amish school a few years back. That was so sad.
Lady-Boleyn Lady-Boleyn 8 years
I am really curious how the casting will play out in the movie. I don't really like any of the castings since I didn't picture Campbell being anything like Alec Baldwin. Has anyone seen the Lifetime movie of "Plain Truth"? I know it stars Mariska Hargitay, but I have yet to ever catch it.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult is my favorite of hers. its about a school shooting, but so much more than that. its amazing
kastarte2 kastarte2 8 years
hunter, I read "My Sister's Keeper" in one day and cired like a baby the whole time. You know they are making a movie right? With Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin? Not so sure how it will turn out but I will still go see it. I haven't read any picoult books since then. I found Sister's Keeper emotionally draining but I think it only hit me so hard because my brother is still recovering from leukemia. Do you have any suggestions on other Picoult books?
Lady-Boleyn Lady-Boleyn 8 years
I agree that every culture has it's dark side. I believe that when it is the Amish, it is blown out of portion more (for lack of a better term). When something occurs less often, it makes it a bigger story when it does (i.e. school shootings over other shootings). Kris- Isn't it so good?! If you read that though, you have to have read "My Sister's Keeper" which is even better!
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
I have to agree with other posters about this kind of stuff happening in every culture every religion, its just news because the amish are so isolated from the rest of society.
KrisSugar KrisSugar 8 years
i've read that book hunterme! very interesting! I don't want to say I learned all the information I know from an Amish themed novel, but I hope it was accurate.
Silverlining10 Silverlining10 8 years
Gosh, I certainly idealized the Amish. I even considered running off and joining it. Despite the brain-washing religion and abuse, they still learn some good values. I mean, learning how to take care of yourself, being nice to those in need, and embracing forgiveness are very good things. However, now I know the Amish aren't that wonderful, either. Children in Amish communities should be educated about their options...Calling authorities, learning police stations are safe places, etc. They should at least know they have more to live for.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 8 years
Blondie- I don't think in this highly patriachal community, that the main concern when it comes to sexual abuse of CHILDREN and rape, that the main concern is how the victim will feel most at peace. This is so sad, on so many levels, because I really feel like we do idealize the Amish and the Quakers, like stephley said.
stephley stephley 8 years
It's interesting how we idealize communities like the Amish and Quakers, for a simplicity that would drive most of us nuts and we somehow assume that they aren't afflicted with the dark drives or craziness that the rest of us have. It's got to be incredibly hard to repress so much - even the Dalai Lama says he has struggles sometimes and he's allowed a little more leeway in the world.
True-Song True-Song 8 years
I wonder, too, if the rate of assault is the same lower or higher in these communities. It would be difficult to get an accurate read, I would guess.
stephley stephley 8 years
Actually, it kind of works as a 'this is an aside' indicator.
Lady-Boleyn Lady-Boleyn 8 years
haha I figured it was a good try with a book title. However, I think it was too big of a risk for me at this time ;)
stephley stephley 8 years
I'm afraid to try italics or bold - took me forever to risk smileys, so you're still way ahead of me.
Lady-Boleyn Lady-Boleyn 8 years
I meant to just make the book title italicized, however I put the wrong back slash... I need more practice to become such a skilled poster :)
stephley stephley 8 years
I haven't seen any statistics and I wonder if there really are any trustworthy numbers because how would anyone get them? To be statistically valid, sexual assaults or incest would have to be verified if not actually reported to police. Hunter, how did your post fail?
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