• Mary Byler

Myth vs Reality

Updated: Jun 27

It's rant time. Gather around. Listen closely.

Trigger warning Content warning

Words cannot describe how I felt after learning that multiple non-Amish neighbors refrained from calling CPS when I was a child and being raped. because "we didn't want to lose our good standing with our Amish neighbors”!!!! Why I asked in a small tiny voice? Why? Why would you not help me if you knew? We still have to live with them, and interact with them, and you're safe now.

What kind of deranged, degenerative people are these people I asked myself? They want to see me to tell me they knew. Almost as if they were rubbing it in my face that they knew, callously dismissing it and justifying it at the same time. I think these neighbors are just as responsible as some of the Amish people.

As I learned more and more about the not Amish society and culture, I've learned that this is the common thread. Someone meets you and somehow, they find out you used to be Amish. The general public’s response is to romanticize them. So much so that people will dismiss the atrocities that they commit. Some people will literally listen to your story of how you left with nothing, no education, no identity, no birth certificate or SSN, no high school diploma and no verifiable employers (Amish people will not verify employment if you don't conform). I had no clothes to wear. I had nothing. And respond with but the Amish make good "inserts random thing here" (i.e.: furniture, baked goods etc.). This is silencing and horrifying. You cannot justify the trauma or erase the trauma that some Amish people experience. It is horrifying that this is excused under the guise of religious freedom. The fanatics paid for attorneys to ensure "Wi vs Yoder ruling". It results in thousands of children not being given an appropriate education. I am talking about complete utter control over every aspect of your life from your Amish Cult. I am referring to the fact that even in states where “Erin’s law” is a law, Amish schools do not teach safe touch, non-safe touch. I am referring to the fact that many Amish schools use books only published by their own publishing houses. I am talking about a community where most children who earn money will never see a dime of it until they get married or turn 21. I am talking about a culture where you as a woman, if widowed will often have “men” assigned to handle your money, because women can’t manage money. Sometimes the church will also “seize” control of an entire family’s funds and properties if there are “issues” with the family. I am talking about still catching myself looking at a man for permission to speak and I have been out and awake for 17 years. I am talking about a community that shuns, harasses, shames, threatens and blames victims as they hide and support pedophiles, that will cry and testify for pedophiles. I am talking about a group of people who even if they don’t abuse people will still hold the victim as sinning worse than the perpetrator if they speak up about it, since clearly, they are not “forgiving” (and let me define my Amish communities’ forgiveness, you never speak of it again for the perpetrator is sorry and if you do, your sin is worse than his). I am speaking of a community so controlled by the bishop, 3 ministers and a deacon for each church, who gather and write the rules twice a year, they even control what kind of chinaware you can have. They control how much hair you can expose from your covering, the width of your apron string, the color of your clothes, the information you are allowed to receive, whether or not you “may” seek therapy, and whether or not that therapist “can” be someone from outside the community (let’s not even talk about Licensed qualified to work with the trauma counselors). Let me be clear, when you open your mouth as an Amish woman you had better have the support of the “man” ruling your life. I am also talking about a community that will use the “justice system” to harass victims because it suits them.

I am talking about sometimes adult women that have no idea why menstruation happens and how babies are made. I am talking about a mother telling her daughter “when you get married, you have to do whatever your husband says, whenever he says, inside the bedroom or out” I am talking about a community that practices public humiliation for confessions in front of the church. Where they list off your sins and have you exit, then go around and take a rote (closest translation: vote) where women and girls are only allowed to agree, where there is no option to disagree for anyone (if you disagree you will likely be the next confession) and people add to the sins you must confess for and you find out when you get down on your knees and give your formal confession. The discipline I saw was a person drinking enough to puke receiving the same discipline as a rapist. I ask you how is that justice and prevention? And while I am at it: 1. There are many different Amish settlements that vary widely in their rules. Some can differ simply on whether or not they can use chainsaws or a woman’s head covering has to be finely pleated or the dress is 6 inches from the floor with no sleeves and had a separate top with sleeves. I could continue rambling about differences but I think you will get the gist of it. 2. Not all Amish are bad not all Amish are good. Society and researchers and sociologists tend to put them on a pedestal when their research and knowledge and surveys are warped and inaccurate. The Amish are a business. The story that sells is a peaceful idyllic community. The story that does not sell is they are people like the rest of society who also condone pedophilia and sexual assaults and rape and many other crimes. Again, what you see is what they want you to see. 3. Did I learn some stuff growing up that I appreciate yes, I did. But that does not remove the trauma and nightmares, flashbacks etc. 4. The shunning. Shunning, banning and meiding excommunication etc. just because it is a different name does not mean it's more or less harmful than another religions practice of shunning. It is practiced differently by different communities and can even vary by families. The severity with which just depends on an individual case by case basis but the majority at least includes the not talking to you unless they are admonishing you to return to the ways of thy youth and not sitting down and eating with you as well as not accepting anything from your hand to include money or a baby for example. 5. Rumspringa the commonly accepted idea of rumspringa is again a narrative media has put out that is good for business. The actuality is I lived in 5 different Amish communities and visited at least 15 and not a single community allowed their youth to go experience the outside world. Rumspringa is the time between 16/17 to 19/20 when you are supposed to get married to someone. You are supposed to find someone to get married to not go out and experience worldly things. That is a shame to your family, your community and yourself and you will be punished for it.

For those who think rumspringa is experiencing English life. (To be fair, in every community I lived in they would always gossip about the northern Indiana, Holmes county Ohio and Lancaster pa youth)

In northern Indiana the youth are known to be wild and drive cars and do drugs. Is that actually living as English?

No. Because of several reasons. 1. They're partying only. 2. They still live in their Amish homes 3. They're not actually experiencing the English culture, they're just experiencing the aspect that Amish youth are often taught "sex, alcohol, drugs and rock and roll" 4. Northern Indiana is the only place I know of where rumspringa ends with baptism into the church and even that I have received conflicting reports on that it usually does end with marriage. Only one person has ever said that it ends with baptism. To try to be more accurate I am including that.

Rumspringa in all the other communities that I have known of or spoken to people about is supposed to be when they find someone to get married and usually ends when they get married. It can be overwhelming when you leave an Old Order Amish community and are cast out. When you are shunned, harassed, slandered, threatened and abandoned. Amish teach a very conditional love and that it’s a privilege to be born into the Amish and it’s a sin to not conform to Amish life. It infuriates me that I still live in a society that can't seem to stop being part of the problem. Yet, I know this is all part of the narrative, this is what happens: When you have tv shows portraying them as "these godly, pure and holy people?" When news outlets won't report on Amish abuse because they're afraid of losing their viewers? When police departments won't investigate credible allegations of abuse because it will affect the tourism? When prosecuting attorneys advocate for Amish rapists (because they can govern themselves)? When the so-called experts who study the Amish only ever do so as an outsider and from a man's perspective? When Judge's show perpetrators leniency because they're Amish and they want to retain their position on the bench? This is the result. I ask each of you to look at yourself today and ask yourself are you part of the problem or part of the solution? I promise to make it my mission to never stop telling.


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