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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?


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