Update 3 : CSA in Amish, Mennonite, Hutterite, Anabaptist & Other Religious Communities
Updated: Sep 17
Good Morning Folks,
We are grateful to be able to share the information regarding what words conservative religious communities used to describe child sexual abuse. Please join us next week for an open discussion of this information via a livestream on Youtube, Facebook or Twitter, Saturday, September 10th 2022 at 0930 EST.
Mary Byler and Dr Tara Mitchell
There are documented anecdotal reports of people using inaccurate and vague terms that downplay the severity of sexual violence against children as well as remove access to potential resources. Sometimes these terms are used because that is the way people were taught to talk about child sexual abuse. We felt it was important to gather specific terms that may be used to describe child sexual abuse by religious groups in order to bridge the language gaps, therefore we asked participants “If you were taught child sexual abuse is a sin, what was it called?”
We received a wide variety of answers from participants in regards to the question.
Some folks indicated they were taught the following terms that explicitly indicate accurate descriptions of sexual abuse:
“Sexual abuse, sexually abused, child sexual abuse, incest, rape, molestation, molesting, molesting children, sexual molesting, statutory rape”
Other people indicated they were taught varying other terms that can and may be used to describe sexual assault but are not inherently indicative of the severity and may lack in specificity when attempting to communicate with appropriate authorities in order to report, seek support, seek resources etc:
“Wrong, child abuse, sex, sex act, fornication, lust, defrauding, tempting/temptation, tempting-child, sin, improper behavior, immoral, immorality, immoral behavior, sexual immorality, perverts, sodomy, dirty, sins of the flesh, illegal, inappropriate touching, inappropriate behavior, mortal sin, evil, demonic, devils work, porneia, misconduct, wickedness, bad touch, unjecht, generic abuse, abuse, bad stuff, improper behavior, bad, moral failure, stumbling, touched, awful, pedophilia”
We felt it was important to include child abuse, sex, sex act, generic abuse and abuse in this category because it hides, denies or minimizes sexual abuse.
People may wonder why we put pedophilia in this category, allow us to explain:
Pedophilia is a medical diagnosis described as someone experiencing sexual attraction to a child; it does not indicate that child sexual assault has transpired or a child has been raped. People who rape children may do so for power and control, which is unrelated to pedophilia. Labelling someone who experiences sexual attraction to adults as a pedophile is inaccurate.
In other words, pedophilia is a diagnosis that means someone is attracted to children. Not all pedophiles sexually abuse children, and not everyone who sexually abuses children is a pedophile. Claiming that child sexual abuse is pedophilia denies the possibility that child sexual abuse is driven by the desire for power and control over the child, not sexual attraction to the child. Research has shown that people who sexually abuse children are motivated by far more than sexual attraction to children (Sullivan & Sheehan, 2016).
In addition to the terms people answered with, the following phrases were also given. It’s important to acknowledge that some participants used these specific phrases to refer to Child Sexual Abuse.
“There wasn't really a name for it; just bad touch”
“he was bothering me”
“being dirty with someone”
“sex before marriage”
“sex outside of marriage”
“taking advantage of a child”
“hurting a child”
“breaking the law”
“violations of person/innocents”
“invocation of the devil”
“doing shameful things”
“sin of darkness”
“wrongful touching by someone else”
“things done in secret”
“doing things they shouldn’t to children”
“not being appropriate”
“struggle with lust”
“lust of the eyes”
“taken advantage of”
Considering the vague terms and euphemisms indicated, it begs the question of whether or not people in authority understand the language used by Amish, Mennonite and other conservative religious groups.
Based on this information, further research needs to examine the effects of using these ambiguous and vague descriptors and how it affects survivors' ability to access resources and reporting.
The following are some direct quotes from participants that raise further questions:
“It was called anything, but was something bad that people got in trouble for. It wasn’t clear WHO would get in trouble.”
So, when someone mentions anything/something/something bad should workers be concerned and ask further questions to determine whether or not CSA has occurred?
“It was called a sin, often stated as being "evil" and associated with the devil's work. In that sense, it was also insinuated that anyone outside of our religion was at more of a risk for such things.”
“I don’t know it was named exactly as such, but it was thought to be evil. Sometimes that the female involved was evil, demonic. That she (even as a child victim) was at fault and had been sent by the devil to attack religious leaders.”
It is possible this means that children who are sexually abused may be afraid of being led astray by the devil and demonized, and/or they’re more likely to be abused if they’re seeking support/resources not of the community. This is especially true if they are also taught that the child is equally likely to be possessed by a demon/devil that was sent to attack church leaders.
“There was no teaching about CHILD sexual abuse specifically. There was a general idea conveyed to children that anything sexual is bad, so that would extend to child sexual abuse”
“Inappropriate behavior, 'stumbling' morally, moral failure, sometimes even more vague, like 'a struggle with lust' you weren't sure if the person was raping children or viewing porn.”
These suggest that consent is not a consideration when people were taught about sexual behaviors/sexuality. Those working with people from conservative religious groups should understand that all sexual behavior may be considered equally bad. There is no recognition or understanding of consent. There is no distinction between consensual and nonconsensual sexual activities.
As one example, there is no difference between descriptions of extra-marital affairs and raping children. Consistent with other comments, this suggests the child rapist and the child being raped equally share responsibility for engaging in sexual acts.
Multiple people provided responses indicating a lack of knowledge or discussion of child sexual abuse and whether CSA had a name or description.
Some examples are:
“I’m not sure”
“No name for it”
“It was not spoken of”
“It was a sin, but no one talked about it or stopped it”
“I was taught it was wrong but to always be quiet if it happened”
These suggest that some communities went beyond blaming the child or saying the child was equally at fault, these communities directly and explicitly denied its existence or demanded silence about child sexual abuse. Children in these communities may have been taught that talking about child sexual abuse meant they could not get to heaven.