Update 5: CSA in Amish, Mennonite, Hutterite, Anabaptist & Other Religious Communities
By Mary Byler and Tara Mitchell
Of the 84 people that were not Born Anabaptist, 30 had joined the Anabaptist church. Because there were only 30 that joined, it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions about their experiences. Of the 30 participants who joined an Anabaptist church, 23 responded to the question about personal experiences with child sexual abuse. Although this data did not reach statistical significance due to the low number of participants who joined Anabaptist churches, we compared the rates of abuse among those 23 participants with the rates of those born in an Anabaptist Church (250 participants) or other church (61 participants).
We found that the highest rates of child sexual abuse were among those who were born Anabaptist (49%), followed by those raised in another church (44%), and then those who joined an Anabaptist church (44%). We also found, though, that the highest percentage of those who said they were unsure if they were abused was among those who joined an Anabaptist church (21%); the percentage who said they were unsure was 8% for both those who were born Anabaptist and those who were raised in other churches. If we remove those who were unsure if they were abused, then, from the calculations, a different pattern emerges. When looking only at those who said they were or were not abused, excluding those who were unsure, we found that the highest rates of child sexual abuse were among those who joined an Anabaptist church (56%), followed by those who were born Anabaptist (53%), and then those raised in another church (48%). This raises several questions:
1. Are people who joined an Anabaptist church actually more likely to be abused than those born in an Anabaptist church? If they are more likely to be abused than those born Anabaptist, is that because they are considered of lower social status than those born Anabaptist?
2. Why are people who joined the Anabaptist church more likely to be unsure if they were abused? Is it due to a greater unwillingness to label experiences as abuse? Is it possible children who joined the Anabaptist church were actually adopted into the church, facing greater language barriers, as they learned PA Dutch (and possibly even English) later in their lives?
3. Comparing those who are born Anabaptist to those who are not combines the experiences of those who joined an Anabaptist church and those who have never been Anabaptist. When these groups are separated, it appears those who have some association with Anabaptist churches are more likely to be abused. Is this the case?
4. Some people who are joined in Anabaptist churches are adoptees including children and babies of color. Are these children facing racial prejudice and discrimination which may make them more likely to experience sexual abuse?
There was a significant difference in the likelihood that current Anabaptist and non-Anabaptist people reported being affected by child sexual abuse, even if it did not happen to them. People who were Anabaptist were less likely to report childhood sexual abuse affected them (59%) than people who were not Anabaptist (77%). However, those who were still Anabaptist were slightly more likely to say they were unsure (13%) if they had been affected than those who were not Anabaptist (11%).
Although there was not a significant difference in the likelihood of experiencing child sexual abuse based on the church participants were born in, there was a significant difference in child sexual abuse experiences based on people’s current church: Anabaptist, other, or none. People who were currently Anabaptist were most likely to say they had not been abused (55%), followed by those who were in other churches (30%), and then those who were not in a church at all (15%). Interestingly, people who were Anabaptist and people who were not in any church were equally likely to say they had been abused (37%), followed by those who were in other churches (26%). Among those who were unsure if they had been abused, the majority were not in church (41%), followed by Anabaptist (38%), then other churches (21%).
This data suggests that experiencing child sexual abuse is connected to leaving one’s church. In order to further investigate this possibility, we examined the data based solely on those who were born Anabaptist, as this was our largest group of participants. There were 249 participants who were born Anabaptist and answered the question about their child sexual abuse experience. There was a significant difference based on their child sexual abuse experience and current church membership. For those 107 participants who were not abused, the majority (70%) remained in an Anabaptist church, with 22% becoming part of another church and 8% not being part of any church. However, of the 123 participants who were abused, only 44% remained in an Anabaptist church, with 25% becoming part of another church and 31% not being part of any church. Of the 19 who were unsure about being abused, 42% remained Anabaptist, 21% became part of another church, and 37% were not part of any church.
This clearly shows that people who have experienced child sexual abuse are not only leaving their “home” churches, they are leaving churches all together. Interestingly, though, those people who leave the church all together are just as likely to be unsure if they were abused as those who remained in Anabaptist churches. This raises several questions.
1. This seems to support the #ChurchToo movement, in which people in various churches are reporting they were abused. Anabaptist churches are not immune to child sexual abuse, and people are leaving the church having experienced child sexual abuse. This doesn’t mean they are leaving the church BECAUSE of child sexual abuse, but it does suggest that child sexual abuse is part of why they are leaving.
2. What is happening to people who leave the Anabaptist churches when they have been sexually abused? Why are those who left all churches almost as likely to be unsure they were sexually abused as those who remained? Are children who leave the church being denied the access to resources and community that would allow them to understand what child sexual abuse is?
There was no significant difference in whether or not participants were taught child sexual assault was a sin based on their church of origin (Anabaptist or not). However, there was a significant difference between those who were born Anabaptist and those who were not in the likelihood they were taught child sexual abuse was a crime. Of the 319 people who answered the question, those born Anabaptist were more likely to report they had not been taught it was a crime (62%) than those who were not born Anabaptist (43%).
This has implications particularly for mandated reporting and accessing resources for children who have been sexually abused. While teaching that child sexual abuse is a sin is a valid response for church leaders, not teaching children (or their parents, potentially) that it is a crime suggests that mandated reporting is less likely to occur, children are less likely to have access to the resources that come from naming child sexual abuse, and, because of the connotations of sin versus crime, more likely to be blamed for their abuse.
Anecdotally, Anabaptist children who have been abused have to apologize to their perpetrator for the child’s role in the sexual abuse, which is an extreme example of victim blaming. The potential for victim blaming was further explored by asking participants if they had ever heard of a child behaving in a way that made an adult or older child want to have sexual contact with them. Almost half (44%, 138 people) of the 311 participants who answered the question had heard of a child being to blame for their abuse. There was not a significant difference based on being born Anabaptist or not, although it may be of practical significance that 39% of those not born Anabaptist heard victim blaming, but 46% of those born Anabaptist did. This is further supported by the fact that there was no significant difference in the likelihood of hearing victim blaming and current church affiliation among those who were born Anabaptist. However, among those who were not born Anabaptist (74 people), there is a marginal difference between being currently involved in a church and hearing victim blaming. Those who heard victim blaming were more likely to be unconnected to any church currently. This raises some questions.
1. Are people born Anabaptist more likely to hear victim blaming?
2. Is the likelihood of hearing victim blaming tied to the focus of child sexual abuse as a sin in which the child is an active participant?
3. Why are people who are not born Anabaptist more likely to leave churches all together if they have heard victim blaming than people are who born Anabaptist?