Guest post by Misty Griffin
One of the only photos taken of the Author during her teenage years. Here she is seventeen years old.
“People would smile reverently as we walked by, never did they suspect the horrific sexual, physical and mental torture that my sister and I suffered on a daily basis. To the outside world we were the epitome of chasteness, sobriety and down to earth values. In reality my life was a living nightmare straight from the depths of hell.”
– Misty Griffin
If you are a rape victim among the Amish it is in every case a very harsh and scary reality. You have no allies, no one to talk to about what happened and no one who will hold your hand as you cry. You the victim are hushed from the very moment word gets out and are told by church leaders that you must have done something to welcome such an attack. In addition you are told that if you speak of the matter you are unforgiving and will go to hell if you do not repent. If the victim is a church member she will be shunned if she refuses to forgive and live as if nothing had happened. Even the victim’s family will not allow her to talk for fear of being caught and punished by the church.
Children are not taken out of the home. If the rapist is the father they must continue to live in his household until they marry.
This is the most horrifying reality of all. Being Ex- Amish myself I can recall more than one family who got sideways glances from other church members during social gatherings; however the truth still remains that abused children are not taken out of the home and will usually continue to be raped their entire childhoods.
In most cases the perpetrator is a male relative, and even if the victim marries and gets out of the home she must still continue to be around her rapist at church, family gatherings, social gatherings etc. For many Amish rape victims it is more than they can bear, and they either commit suicide or develop a mental illness. The pain of never being able to talk about what happened to you or may still be happening is such a heavy burden.
One of my good friends who was a rape victim ended up dying after she starved herself for a year. It was so sad and unnecessary; she had been harshly reprimanded by the church after being raped at the tender age of fourteen. She was told not to talk about what happened to her and after a few years she quit talking completely. Laura died a year later after she went into a massive seizure. She had been looked upon as odd after her rape and the funeral was very minimal.
Unfortunately there are many children like my friend Laura and they suffer in silence while they are continually raped with full knowledge of the church. In my own Amish community the bishop’s wife was my best friend, and after a few years she risked a shunning by confiding in me that she and all of her siblings had been raped by her father. He had been reported many times to the church leaders by her mother. He was in turn placed in a six week shunning each time. However since he was a deacon in the church, after his six week sentence was up he was back to preaching and attending church matters. He was a serial rapist who had ruined the lives of all 11 of his children, yet each time he confessed in the church he was given nods of approval and was taken back as a good man who had confessed his sins before God and man.
After I became aware of her plight it made me physically sick when I saw her father get up to preach while his children sat on the church benches with children of their own. I would feel physically sick and had to look away while the tears rolled down my cheeks. It was so unfair and worst of all each time he stood up to preach it was a slap in the face of his victims. I could not understand how people could be so cruel and more than once I sat with my fist clenched under my stiff white apron.
Amish rape victims are forced to suffer in silence as they continue to be raped.
The Amish are a closed society and do not allow any outside interference when dealing with church matters. The Amish are in essence their own country, government and judicial system, and if a church member is found talking to a non-church member about church matters they will face a shunning; this shunning may even last longer than it would for a rape crime. A person who is caught talking to non-Amish about the dealings of the church will be watched for a long time since involving the outside world is one of the greatest offences in the Amish church.
Since the Amish have their own judicial system they are also ill equipped to deal with such serious cases as child abuse and rape.There are no jail cells in which to confine a member who is posing a threat to the community and since calling the “wordly” outside authorities is not allowed, the only way of punishing a member is to shun them.
If one is willing to confess their sins (which most offenders readily do) you are only shunned for 3-6 weeks, no matter the severity of the crime. The only consequence to this very short form of shunning is that you will not go to church or social gatherings, and you must sit at a different table than other church members. Most of the time rape victims continue to be raped during this time and usually do not report it again.
The Amish believe that once a person confesses they should be automatically forgiven even if that man is confessing to his tenth rape. Everyone must forgive and forget, even the rape victim. If the victim shows any hostility towards the offender or openly refuses to stop talking about the matter, they themselves will be shunned. In this case the shunning would last much longer since the victim will have a hard time going before the church and admitting she was wrong to harbor such ill feelings.
Why don’t people just leave the Amish?
Being Amish is something that is ingrained in an individual from birth. One is taught that the outside world is evil and to leave the Amish would mean that you will never go to heaven, ever. You are brought up to believe that you must follow all rules without question. If you do start to question or have a problem with a certain rule you are told that you are prideful and that you must humble yourself because God only receives the humble into his kingdom.
Even if you are a sexual abuse victim you do not dare leave the Amish for fear of going to hell. Besides the fear of going to hell, there is the fear of being shunned. I myself am currently a shunned Ex- Amish and fully am aware of its sting. Any young person who is shunned by the Amish goes out into the world completely on their own. They have very little if any money, no family, few friends and no ID, drivers license or social security card. For me I often explained it as being teleported from the 1600s into the 21st century. It is a daunting and scary experience and it would have been much easier to remain Amish and I most likely would have, had my conscience allowed it. Below is an excerpt from my memoir that gives some perspective into just how a young Amish woman may feel.
It had long been my experience that even if the predator was placed in the six week Bann, they would still continue to rape and often go on to be a serial rapist, some of whom have been known to rape all of their children with full knowledge of the church. In each case, never has anyone hugged the child or asked them if they were okay. The only thing the church members were concerned with was silencing them.
And so that morning as I struggled, I was not only fighting for myself but also for my potential offspring. I so despised this ancient tradition of silencing victims and could not understand how everyone else could simply stand by and look the other way. I could not, and at times I had felt physically sick from the things I had heard and witnessed.
But I was Amish, and that in and of itself was my world, my life and my government. To leave the Amish would most certainly mean I would go to hell, as well as be banished from everyone that I held dear. To leave the Amish was truly the ultimate sin… ( Excerpt from my memoir Tears of the silenced)
Rape happens in every culture
As callous as this may sound I have actually been in a debate with more than one Amish fan and have heard them make this very comment. It is true that rape does happen in every culture, the only problem is that in the Amish there is absolutely no justice for the victim and the most heartbreaking reality is that the victim will most likely go on to be raped for many years because the Amish church is unable and unwilling to stop the rapist.
Although I am sure this article will get many comments saying that the Amish are kind and gentle people who abide by the law, have strong family ties and good morals etc. My question to you would in turn be. If you know the Amish are a closed and secretive society why would you dear reader pretend to know anything about them. I can answer this for you by informing you that if you have never been Amish you will never truly know what it is like.
I was always curious why the outside world viewed us with such reverence and respect, that is until I left and saw that the outside world was filled with Amish romance novels and a dangerously charming view of our culture.
One spring morning nine years ago I stumbled into a small police station in rural Minnesota, I had been attacked by the Bishop of my church and he had threatened to kill me. As I talked to the policemen that morning I was met with raised eyebrows, He just could not believe what he was hearing about his God fearing, quiet, gentle Amish neighbors. I became frustrated when I saw he was having a hard time believing me. I had risked everything to come to him, I knew that when I returned home I would be shunned for several months and would more than likely be refused the right to marry, ever. No family would ever allow their son to marry such a trouble maker, going to the police was the worst sin I could commit. And without marring I was destined to become an old maid, in the Amish a woman who does not marry remains under the authority of her father and brothers and has no more rights than a teenager. The below excerpt is what I said to the policeman when he just sat there staring at me.
I was furious now, and I spun around, slammed both my palms down on the table and leaned toward him.
“Why is it so hard for you people to believe the Amish are just as capable of crime as any other human beings? The only difference is that they don’t have to pay for those crimes. And, ironically, these very people you hold in such high regard think you are going to hell because you are of the world.”
“Well, I am sure that is probably true,” Officer Jensen nodded his head. “They are people, but they are raised with a strict doctrine they have to follow.”
“Or what?” I snapped. “You tell me the Amish policy on rape and murder.”
“Well, I never thought of them like that,” he nodded his head again as if finally he might be getting my point.
“Exactly,” I said, straightening up. “I am so tired of you English putting cameras in our faces and taking our picture like we are cute little puppies or something. We are people with all the faults the human race has to offer.” I looked him straight in the eyes. “Do you really think you would even so much as hear if I died tonight? No,” I said, shaking my head. “You would never know. I would simply be buried in an Amish cemetery, thought to have died from some unknown cause.”
“I find that a little hard to believe,” Officer Jensen looked at me skeptically.
“Oh, really?” I asked with raised eyebrows. “How many Amish autopsies have you heard of? How many Amish do you have walking in and out of your office every day? Don’t you find it strange that the rest of the world traffics through here, and no Amish do?”
“I have to admit you are the first I’ve interviewed,” He said. He leaned back in his chair.
( From my memoir Tears of the Silenced)
First of all everyone can start by keeping their ears and eyes open. My mission is not to only talk about the Amish but also to touch on the subject of child abuse. I myself was not born Amish but I was raised like them on a lonely mountain top. Here I was beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted on a daily basis.. I was taken to the Amish community at the age of eighteen and due to my horrific childhood was readily accepted by them because I had been raised with stricter rules than they themselves practiced.
During the first twenty two years of my life ( Before my escape from the Amish) I saw many times when an outsider noticed something was amiss but no one ever bothered to do something about it. Many times I know it was because of our religious appearance but I firmly believe that just because someone is religious they should never get away with abuse. Many times in this world a horrific abuse could have been prevented if someone had not looked the other way or told themselves it was not their problem.
In cases of child abuse I believe that it is everyone’s problem. Our children are the future leaders of the world and how they are treated today will affect how they rule the world tomorrow.
In the case of girls that are raped in these strict religious communities, my hope is that if you ever come across such a girl you will encourage her to prosecute the offender. No matter the cost. This is the only way these men will ever see that there are consequences for their actions. My plea to everyone around the world is that you never go through life and miss the opportunity to save someone. My childhood and young adulthood was a living nightmare, I was unable to help myself because I did not know how, and I was also to scared to try. I was in serious need of a hero, for someone you could be that hero.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
7 mo after leaving the Amish. Misty is in the Spokane WA bus station. She is traveling from Seattle to Lacrosse WI to try and get her younger sister out of the Amish
A year and a half after leaving the Amish. Misty joined a missionary group. Here she is at a mission in Sao Pualo Brazil with fellow missionary friends.