Open Letter to Dr Jeanette Harder
Updated: Sep 30, 2022
The below letter was signed by 20 current and/or non-compliant Amish/Plain survivors, activists and advocates and sent to Dr. Jeanette Harder and the board at Dove's Nest via email attachment on May 9, 2022. As of today, May 10, 2022, The Misfit Amish have not received a reply from anyone. Although it has only been 24 hours, the work of Dr. Harder, and Dove’s Nest enabling that work, is so harmful to current and non-compliant Amish/Plain survivors, we feel it is important to share this letter with everyone. We do not take this action lightly, but we believe it is important to share with as many people as possible that both Dr. Jeanette Harder and Dove’s Nest have contributed to continued sexual abuse of children, as well as institutional harm and abuse from Amish/Plain ministries.
We are proud to be able to provide these 20 survivors, activists and advocates with a space to send this message.
May 5, 2022
Dear Dr. Harder,
We are writing to you today as survivors of abuse, as advocates, and as children raised in Amish/Plain communities where many of the practices you recommend have been implemented for many years.
You are promoting an interpretation of Amish/Plain people that comes from those in the upper echelon of our societal structures. You have further empowered the most powerful people in our communities and enabled their silencing of those at the bottom of those same societal structures. While you claim to be helping protect children, your chosen allies are thwarting our access to meaningful interventions to end and prevent domestic violence and child abuse for Amish/Plain people and their children, and you are granting them legitimacy to continue doing so.
You promote books and facilities that violate the social work code of ethics in your writing and teaching. For example, you list many unlicensed Amish/Plain-run mental health facilities as recommended resources, even though many of those facilities are widely known to abuse clients and ignore their mandated reporting obligations. By doing so, you are legitimizing books, facilities, and teachings that have repeatedly harmed survivors.
Have you read any of the books listed as resources in For the Sake of a Child? We ask this because, on page 106 of For the Sake of a Child, Sacred Subjects is listed. To a Girl of Eleven (one of the Sacred Subjects books), states on page 16 “And when you sleep, either be sure your door is closed, or you are properly clothed or covered. Your brother, innocently coming upon you, and seeing your partly uncovered body, may suddenly have strong sexual desires aroused within him. His intentions were not bad, but he suddenly finds himself the victim of your carelessness, and the lusts of his own body.”
This is just one example among many of the destructive teachings and victim-blaming in these books you recommend. Many Amish and Plain Mennonites grew up learning from the Sacred Subjects booklets. Imagine our shock and horror to find out a social work professor has recommended these books.
In your email correspondence with Dr. Tara Mitchell, when asked whether or not you vetted the facilities you recommend in the book, you stated “I did not vet the facilities in Appendix B other than visiting a couple of them – I should have included that as a disclaimer in the book.” Dr. Harder, we are not asking for a disclaimer. A disclaimer does not matter to vulnerable people looking for help. Your response indicates you are concerned about your own legal consequences, not that you are concerned for the survivors impacted by your work, including children. There is a demonstrated, and in some cases documented, pattern of abuse in these facilities that have now been given legitimacy and credibility by your book.
Children are the most vulnerable of all and are the ones that suffer the most from your recommendations in your teaching, writing, and workshops that you have provided to law enforcement and other professionals. You may be well-intentioned, but that does not change the fact that your recommendations are harmful. The advocates among us have received multiple calls about cases of child abuse being reported to appropriate agencies, such as Law Enforcement and/or DHS/CYS/CPS, only to have the agency charged with investigating turn the investigation over to the Conservative Crisis Intervention team or church appointed committee. We’d like to remind you that the church appointed committees or CCIs lack any training on how to perform an appropriate investigation into allegations of child abuse or domestic violence. Dr Harder, whether you intend this or not, your teachings are legitimizing unethical and inappropriate practices within the secular systems in place to protect children and allowing them to turn a blind eye to an Amish/Plain child or person in need of outside help.
Further, your writing indicates a rather obvious lack of respect for the worth of Amish persons. In your 2021 Child Welfare Article you wrote: “Due to cultural expectations, the Amish are not often in the practice of critiquing or analyzing their own thoughts or behaviors, or thinking abstractly” (Harder, 2021, p. 83). Dr Harder, we are not cognitively impaired. Amish/Plain people engage in critical and abstract thinking and self-critique on a regular basis. It is ignorant at best to assume that all or most Amish/Plain people lack these basic cognitive functions. It’s also inaccurate to portray us as incapable of exploring interpersonal and intrapersonal problems. Our lives are inherently worthy of respect.
By writing about us this way, you’re revealing that you think you know us far better than you actually do, and that you’ve already decided that we’re all stupid.
It is obvious that you, Dr Harder, have been duped by the powerful leaders inside Amish/Plain Communities into believing whatever they would like you to believe. You speak as though you are educating them, but you don’t understand our culture well enough to understand their motives. They are using you as a tool to manage their image in society, specifically those outside Plain communities, while evading accountability for their actions. Abusers remain good Amish/Plain people and victims of their abuse are all too often driven out of the community by these same powerful people – people like your co-author, Allen Hoover – who have become your allies. The children and other vulnerable people inside of these Amish/Plain communities could have benefitted the most from you using your power and position to actually provide them and the world with evidence-based best practice information for all forms of abuse prevention.
Instead, your work is encouraging our people to place unquestioned trust in church and community leaders, and encouraging law enforcement and child protective services to let those leaders speak for and over victims, apparently in the name of “cultural competency.” What you are doing is not “cultural competency”; it is an obvious inability to receive information from the most vulnerable people inside of insular communities with limited access to resources.
For many years now, we have been trying to help vulnerable people in these communities report child abuse without the interference of the church or community leaders. It takes years to build the kind of trust that is needed in this work. Your teachings are undermining our efforts.
The 2021 Revisions of the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics state that, "Social workers should demonstrate awareness and cultural humility by engaging in critical self-reflection (understanding their own bias and engaging in self-correction); recognizing clients as experts of their own culture; committing to life-long learning; and holding institutions accountable for advancing cultural humility." Dr. Harder, in 2021, you were so confident in your own interpretation of our culture that you published an academic article claiming that we don’t engage in abstract thought. You ignore or block us even when we reach out to you with civility and kindness. What do you teach your social work students about survivors like us?
As advocates, survivors, and Amish/Plain cultural insiders, many of us have attempted to engage in conversations with you to explain how your teachings will harm Amish/Plain abuse survivors for decades. Your reactions to our outreach lead us to believe that Amish/Plain church leaders have already told you what to think about us and our work.
At this time, we ask you to stop positioning yourself as an expert on any type of abuse inside of Amish/Plain communities. We ask that you stop writing, speaking and doing research on Amish/Plain communities. We ask that you take public accountability for the harm your teachings have already caused and will cause in future generations of Amish/Plain people and children. Your work is negatively affecting us, our clients, our families, and other people we care about. We do not trust you. Please stop.
Updated to add Report on Dr Harder: