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  • Writer's pictureLauri Stoltzfus

Open Letter to Goshen College & Bluffton University

My name is Lauri Stoltzfus, and I recently saw a packet of materials sent to social work professors and college academic leaders about the harmful practices of Dr. Jeanette Harder. I was surprised to learn they had taken no action, and I had to wonder why they would not address the concerns regarding her ethics and professional misconduct.

Perhaps it is because they, like Dr. Harder, do not truly understand Plain communities. I was raised in a conservative Mennonite community in Lebanon, PA. I have been out of the community for around 20 years. I am now a Licensed Professional Counselor. One of my areas of specialty is trauma, particularly sexual trauma.

The Amish and Mennonites have a history of utilizing their own internal systems to handle sexual abuse cases. Part of the internal systems the Plain communities have in place involves only disclosing to the ministry when a reportable situation occurs. The perpetrator’s only “consequence” is to merely make a confession of sin in front of the church and to ask the victim to forgive (meaning never talk about it again). These systems serve only to protect perpetrators of abuse and rarely if ever offer support and help for victims/survivors.

Dr. Harder endorses these internal systems. Dr. Harder endorses an ideology in which mandated reporters (people who have regular contact with vulnerable people and are therefore legally required to ensure a report is made when abuse is observed or suspected) are taught to report only to the ministry. In some states, mandated reporters include clergy. If victims/survivors only report to their ministry, then their abuse will likely be covered up and only dealt with in the ways that the church typically deals with abuse.

The packet of materials sent to these academic leaders is full of evidence of the harm and professional misconduct that Dr. Harder has caused by endorsing these internal systems. I believe that Dr. Harder’s work is out of touch with the reality of the Plain communities, particularly those who have left it and are survivors of the abuses that occurred from within their communities.

She has even written that plain people do not have the ability to reason and/or think for themselves. Not only is her work out of touch with the plain community but she seems to “give them a pass” by not expecting them to report abuse to the proper authorities. “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)

She states that abuse in these communities is prevalent and rampant, yet she clearly coddles Plain perpetrators and sugar-coats the realities of the threats they and the men in positions of authority pose. Plain churches are notorious for showing grace and love to perpetrators, while shaming victims for reporting abuse to legal authorities.

She also endorses treatment facilities run by Plain people, which are NOT licensed facilities who do NOT employ licensed mental health providers. These facilities further victimize victims/survivors of abuse and do not adequately treat perpetrators of abuse.

As a licensed mental health provider who grew up in one of these communities and experienced the patriarchal abuse myself, I’m horrified by the way that she aligns herself with the men in positions of power in these communities, when it’s clear that these leaders do not value victims/survivors. It is problematic that she has not consulted with members of these communities who are survivors and have left the community due to the harm they had received and survivors who have been cast out by said communities. I’m concerned that she’s in a position of teaching social work students when she is so clearly out of touch with survivors of abuse in Plain communities.

I hope that the people at Goshen College and Bluffton University begin to listen to the Plain survivors and advocates who have attempted to hold Dr. Jeanette Harder accountable. Their refusal to take action serves only to protect her, and, by extension, protect the perpetrators within Plain communities while continuing to enable harm to victims/survivors.

Lauri R Stoltzfus, MA, LPC


Harder,J., (2021). Understanding and Partnering with Amish Communities to Keep Children Safe, Child Welfare Journal, 99, Issue 1, p69-91. 23p

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