Do the Amish Really Sexually Abuse Children?
Updated: Jun 30, 2021
I’ve spent much of my life, both professionally and personally, working to reduce violence against others, especially women and children. I’ve volunteered with domestic violence and sexual assault agencies; I’ve done research on stalking, rape, and sexual harassment; I’ve taught courses that include these issues; however, I’ve never considered child sexual abuse within Amish communities, even though I live in a state with a large Amish community. The Amish have always seemed apart from my work…until I was contacted about an Amish man named Gideon L. Miller, Jr., who had confessed to sexually abusing his daughter. Since then, I’ve begun to research the Amish, and other Anabaptist or Plain communities, and child sexual abuse within their communities. First, I have to say that people are people…and the Amish are people, just like the rest of us. So, there is child sexual abuse among the Amish. Full. Stop. Period.
Second, when most of the “English” think of the Amish, they imagine a gentle group (the nickname for the Amish in one article). This group, they imagine, would never harm their children. The truth, though, is more complicated than that. Several Amish values, including obedience, conformity, and non-violence, actually make it more likely that children could be harmed – or, at least, that people would never report when a child was harmed. Amish separatism also means that children have little means of reporting abuse and that an abuser could harm several children, across generations. Our willingness to romanticize the Amish, and our willingness to allow them to live outside of U.S. laws, has created a situation in which Amish children can be abused repeatedly with no legal consequences for the abuser. Not all Amish abuse their children; not all Amish leaders or secular law enforcement turn the other way. But we must all come to face the truth: some Amish children are sexually abused and those that should protect them do not. That’s why I wanted to write this; I want to share information in one place to help others learn the things I have. As a researcher, I have access to specialized databases of research, and I will mention some of those as well. However, the majority of these sources are all publicly available through internet sources. Feel free to check my sources yourself by clicking on the available link. If the source is not available publicly, I’ll happily send it to you. Some are online magazine articles, whereas others are government and nonprofit reports. All of them indicate that childhood sexual abuse occurs in Plain communities, as well as other fundamental religious groups. The fact that child sexual abuse occurs among the Amish is inescapable. Some people are mentioned in several articles, such as Mary Byler’s story; others are mentioned as anonymous women who fear retaliation from the church. Although sharing the same story multiple times may seem redundant, I wanted to include all possible resources, and I wanted to give a voice to the survivors in as many ways as possible. However, I do focus on sources in which the survivors tell their own stories. Whether the person shares their name or is anonymous, these stories should be believed (something for another post). Their stories are so often hidden and silenced in an effort to protect the abuser or the church…or just because we don’t want to believe the victim. As a result, those who abuse children in these situations often have multiple victims, and outsiders have a role in that by refusing to stop the abuser the first time. They are protected by church leaders (or are leaders themselves) who want the abuse to be “handled” within the church. This handling often means either telling the child they must forgive and never mention the abuse again or moving the church leader to another church…where the abuse happens again. Although not every church leader tries to cover up the abuse, those that do create a never-ending cycle of abuse, with one person abusing children over and over again. That never-ending cycle is possible in part because we do not believe the child the first time; listening to children the first time could help stop future abuse. (More information on the likelihood of a person lying about sexual abuse is the subject of a future post.)
Annotated Bibliography of Childhood Sexual Abuse In Fundamental Religious Groups Sources
ABC News. (2006, January 6). Sexual abuse in the Amish community. ABC News Online. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=316371&page=1
Starts with Mary Byler’s story
Irene Garrett’s story
Bradbury, S., & Smith, P. (2019, June 3). Her husband sexually abused their children. McCall. Retrieved from https://www.mcall.com/news/pennsylvania/mc-nws-pa-amish-sex-abuse-20190602-tao4uhoelbd4xlkg4djtxosvdu-story.html
Tells Kay’s story of excommunication in 2007 for failing to “forgive” her husband for abusing her two children
According to the Amish, forgiveness must be absolute; the forgiven act must not be discussed again
Shirk (the husband) was told by other men that they had done similar things and were glad others did not know
While Shirk tried to reconcile, Kay wanted generational abuse (she was also abused) to stop
Caroline. (2010). The Dark Side of the Amish. Retrieved from https://amishdarkside.blogspot.com/
Blog by “Caroline” in 2010; has 7 entries
2 discuss cases of sexual and physical abuse; one is Mary Byler, and the other is David and Fran Yoder. They also (two of them) discuss animal abuse
Farmington man faces more sex charges. (2013, February 8). Tribune Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.tribtoday.com/news/local-news/2013/02/farmington-man-faces-more-sex-charges/
Discusses case of Daniel Miller, of Farmington, Ohio, who was arrested for sexual abuse and rape of several girls. Because of the girls’ age and the use of force, they charges carry a life sentence
At least three of the girls were family members
Survivors were interviewed for unrelated charges, but he had already been taken to Whispering Hope in Cumberland County, PA
Fontes, L. A., & Harder, J. (2019, May 18). Working with Amish families on child abuse and neglect. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/invisible-chains/201905/working-amish-families-child-abuse-and-neglect
Amish live in at least 31 states, four Canadian provinces, Bolivia, and Argentina
Gives Amish history and values
Humility, Obedience, and Acceptance – this trio of values encourages the Amish to go along with their authority (their bishop), regardless of their own wishes
Non-violence – this value encourages the Amish not to report crimes that have occurred, as non-violence means not interacting with the police at all.
Community – this value, along with conformity, combine to allow the church leaders to have absolute authority in life.
Children have more social support, but likely have inadequate supervision, corporal punishment that may be abusive, sexual abuse, medical neglect, and failure to report abuse
Furlong, S. M. About Amish. Retrieved from https://salomafurlong.com/aboutamish/
Long running blog by Saloma Miller Furlong
Several posts on child sexual abuse among Amish communities and cases involving the perpetrators going to trial
Gregoire, S. W. (2017, May 30). Ten reasons we need to stop romanticizing the Amish. To Love, Honor, and Vacuum. Retrieved from https://tolovehonorandvacuum.com/2017/05/stop-romanticizing-the-amish/
based on reading Tears of the Silenced (by Misty Griffin) and Other Loves All Flee: One Family’s Journey from Legalism to Grace (by Leona Koehn Nichols)
Gives 10 reasons Christians should not romanticize Amish and Mennonite communities, including their lack of Christian faith and grace, but also that there is an epidemic of sexual and physical abuse. Claims abuse is at levels far higher than the general population, that Amish children cannot report abuse to authorities, and the community protects the abuser.
Speaks to the role that Christians romanticizing the Amish has helped allow this abuse to continue.
Griffin, M. (2019, March 23). I was sexually abused in the Amish community. Metro. Retrieved from https://metro.co.uk/2019/03/23/sexually-abused-amish-community-victims-fight-hard-get-justice-8883747/
Discusses her sexual abuse (as an adult by a bishop), as well as her concern about him molesting his daughter
He was only arrested 11 years later, when oldest child reported the molestation; her rape was ignored by law enforcement
Receiving email/letters/messages from many abused within fundamental religious groups
Labi, N. (2005, January/February). The Gentle People. BeliefNet. Reprinted from Legal Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.beliefnet.com/news/2005/02/the-gentle-people.aspx
Covers the story of several abuse survivors and perpetrators: Mary Byler (survivor), Anna Slabaugh, Kathryn Byler (survivor who knew husband abused children), Norman Byler (perpetrator), Levi Schwartz (perpetrator)
Makes comparison of number of Amish in the community and tourist dollars with the degree of punishment that offenders receive.
Meko, H. (2020, January 14). Cosmopolitan magazine investigation includes Lancaster County officials. Lancaster Online. Retrieved from https://lancasteronline.com/news/local/cosmopolitan-magazine-investigation-on-child-sex-abuse-among-amish-quotes-lancaster-county-officials/article_eff91e28-36fd-11ea-9c0c-f32bc58e010c.html
Focus on role of Lancaster law enforcement in McClure report
Mentions Pittsburgh Gazette series called Coverings in 2019
Mentions series in 2004 called Silenced by Shame
Specifically mentions Dennis Reinaker and Craig Stedman, as well as Amos Stoltzfoos, as part of a group that works to bridge gap between Amish and English
Martin, M. (2020, January 19). Investigation into child sex abuse in Amish communities. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2020/01/19/797804404/investigation-into-child-sex-abuse-in-amish-communities
Michel Martin interviewed Sarah McClure, reporting on a year of investigating finding 52 cases across 7 states over two decades
Interview is based on report, summarized later in this annotated bibliography.
McClure, S. (2020, January 14). The Amish keep to themselves and they’re hiding a secret. Type Investigations. Retrieved from https://www.typeinvestigations.org/investigation/2020/01/14/amish-sexual-abuse-assault/
Partnership between Cosmo and Type Investigations
Interview of nearly 3 dozen Amish people, in addition to law enforcement, judges, attorneys, outreach workers, and scholars.
Sexual abuse is an open secret spanning generations, with the community seeing it as partly the victim’s fault and that they must forgive – or they are committing a worse sin than the rape. Some victims are sent away to facilities and given anti-psychotic medications to silence them.
Mentions Safe Communities and Linda Crockett, as well as an increase of Amish women speaking up
Mentions Voices of Hope, formed by Lizzie and Dena Schrock
Mentions The Plain People’s podcast run by Jasper Hoffman
Shirey, J. (2019, April 11). Amish couple accused in sexual assault case. Gant News. Retrieved from https://gantnews.com/2019/04/11/amish-couple-accused-in-sexual-assault-case/
Case of Wallace J Schmucker and Sarah Schmucker who abused 6 of his children for years
Charged by Punxsutawney-based state police
Wallace is charged with the sexual conduct and endangering the welfare of a minor, but Sarah’s charges of endangering the welfare of a minor are due to not reporting the conduct (even though she knew about it)
Simms, M. (2017, October 4). Survivor speaks out against Amish rape culture ahead of sentencing. HuffPost. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/survivor-speaks-out-against-amish-rape-culture-ahead_b_581e7b02e4b0334571e09cfd
Discusses Torah Bontrager’s, author of An Amish Girl in Manhattan, story of parental physical and verbal abuse, then rape by uncle, and then rape by another uncle
Uncle Enos Bontrager was on trial (the first uncle), but her case is not part of trial because of statute of limitations
Torah describes patriarchal, hierarchical culture that grooms children, especially girls, to be victims
Simpson, L. (2020, January 15). Horrifying record of child sex abuse. Daily Mail. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7890719/Horrifying-record-child-sex-abuse-Amish-communities-50-cases-seven-states.html
Mentions Sarah McClure’s investigation and Jasper Hoffman (Plain People’s Podcast) receiving hundreds of messages
Punishment for child sexual abuse is public church confession and up to 6 weeks social exclusion and survivors are encouraged to ask for leniency against perpetrators
Details some information from McClure report
Describes task forces connecting Amish people to police and social services, but only Amish men have attended meetings in the Lancaster County area
Smith, S. (2018, December 14). Hundreds of sex abuse allegations found in fundamental Baptist churches across U.S. Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Retrieved from https://www.star-telegram.com/entertainment/living/religion/article222576310.html
Starts with youth director Dave Hyles, son of paster Hyles; he was accused by 4 girls, but avoided charges by being moved to another church
Article has access to an independent fundamental Baptist sexual misconduct database of where alleged abusers identified by the Star-Telegram have worked (before or after the alleged abuse)
Pastors use informal networks created through colleges and conferences to help abusers find new churches
Joy Evers Ryder has started Out of the Shadows, a group dedicated to helping sexual abuse survivors, particularly from independent fundamental Baptist movement.
***Dr. Tara Mitchell joined the faculty at LHU after earning a Ph.D. in Legal Psychology from Florida International University in 2005. Her teaching, research, and service to the community center around interpersonal violence and discrimination against marginalized groups, particularly based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. She has presented research on domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and human trafficking at a variety of conferences and for several local community groups.