GLADWIN, MI — An Amish man will spend more than a decade in prison for sexually assaulting three girls over a several years.
Gladwin County Circuit Judge Thomas R. Evans on Monday, Oct. 15, sentenced 53-year-old Ora F. Troyer to one term of 15 to 25 years in prison and two terms of 10 to 15 years. The three terms are to run concurrently.
Gladwin County Sheriff Michael Shea previously told MLive his investigators believe the sexual assaults began in 2003 with one girl and advanced to the two others as time went on, through June 2018.
The abuse came to light when Amish community elders notified police, Shea has said.
Troyer, described in court records as a married farmer, made admissions to police that corroborated the victims’ descriptions of abuse, the sheriff told MLive.
Sexual abuse crimes happen in Amish communities, as they do in other communities. But how does a perpetrator get away with committing abuse over a 15-year period on a series of victims? Details are not clear in this case – and perhaps this man somehow operated with all other adults in the community being unaware – but generally one big roadblock of abuse cases among Amish is the matter of reporting crimes.
It’s happened that transgressions that should be treated as criminal matters have been handled strictly as church disciplinary matters. Consequently the abuse goes unreported to authorities by church leaders (who are legally obligated to report suspected child abuse), as in this recent case in Dauphin County, PA. We went into greater depth on this topic in a previous post on sexual abuse in Amish communities.
This is not the cheery image of the Amish often presented in the media but a reminder that some Amish have their own serious problems as well. The Amish church and community structure has a lot of strengths that means get needed support in times of difficulty. But in some cases violations can also be exacerbated by the same structures meaning victims fail to get the help they need.
Challenges of reporting abuse in Amish communities
Jim Cates’ book Serving the Amish and in particular chapter 7 on Violence and Abuse is a good resource on this topic, outlining why these crimes can go unreported and the difficult position would-be reporters find themselves in. From a previous post, those reasons include:
- conflict between laws of the state and the Amish approach to dealing with sin
- the untrained ministry’s lack of experience in dealing with abuse
- the patriarchal ministry and culture being a barrier for females to report
- a community emphasis on peace and consensus makes exposing violators more difficult
Amish-raised Saloma Miller Furlong, herself a sexual abuse survivor, has also written about the obstacles here. As Saloma writes:
Even though I was born and raised in an Amish community and endured sexual abuse myself, it is hard for me to say just how prevalent sexual abuse is among the Amish in general. But what I do know is that Amish men are dominate in the culture and that girls are taught they should be submissive to the men (and boys) from the time they can understand the concept. Most Amish do not educate their children about sex, so girls can easily fall prey to sexual abuse. They often have no reference to know what is happening to them, even as the abuse takes place. And to make matters worse, the usual avenues for getting help are not available to Amish children. Very often abuses are first noticed and reported by schoolteachers in mainstream society, but even that avenue is blocked for most Amish children who attend their own parochial schools.
When sexual abuse is uncovered among the Amish, they focus mainly on the perpetrator’s repentance, rather than on the welfare of the children, which allows pedophiles to walk freely among innocents. They are simply not equipped to deal with these issues, and their isolation from mainstream society means that public services are largely out of reach, especially for children. Even if people in the community know of abuse, they will usually not intervene on behalf of the children, because they do not want to be seen as meddling in other families’ everyday lives. This leaves those Amish children who are being abused with few or no advocates, just when they need them the most.
I agree with the sociologist Dr. Donald Kraybill’s assessment that the Amish believe these types of behaviors are spiritual failings and therefore don’t recognize a psychological basis for deviant behavior. In my experience, they look inside their communities for a spiritual solution, when the more appropriate solution would be to seek help from professionals who are trained to deal with psychological problems. People (including the Amish) need help from psychologists, social workers, and law enforcement officials. That is why we have them.
As Cates, himself a clinical psychologist who has worked extensively with the Amish notes, the response of Amish does vary:
In some areas church leaders will not initiate a report to social services agencies or law enforcement, but neither will they censor such reporting by others. Some bishops express a belief that cases of abuse should routinely be reported to the law and that Amish offenders should not receive preferential treatment. Other bishops believe situations should be handled within the community without the involvement of state authorities.
However, he expresses the belief that abuse goes underreported, in part because by asking Amish to report, we also ask them to violate tenets of their belief – including opting to trust in “the world” over the spiritual community and also undermining the act of confession “by prolonging the consequences of a sin that both the perpetrator and (often) the victim believe is now washed clean with the blood of Jesus.”
This is not to excuse the abuse in any way – only to explain why such situations can occur to a greater degree in some communities.