Sexual Abuse in Amish Communities

Over the years a number of cases have come to light of Amish who have committed sexual abuse, most recently in an Ohio community.  Last week a central Pennsylvania news station did a report on the issue of sexual abuse among Amish, which you can view here: (UPDATE: no longer available online)

If you read Saloma Furlong’s autobiography Why I Left the Amish, you know she was a victim of sexual abuse growing up in an Amish home.  Saloma has a good post on this topic, in which she 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.

Saloma goes on to detail how the system of discipline can allow a perpetrator to be absolved by the church but remain at liberty to commit more offenses.  It’s an example of the tricky and sometimes tragic area which arises in the practice of a two kingdoms belief system.

I also think Saloma’s first sentence above is a good note of caution against painting with too broad a brush.  I will note that some Amish have been working with English to address this issue.  In the past, some have in fact decided to involve worldly authorities by reporting abuse.  There are also publications which are joint efforts of English and Amish designed to help Plain people face domestic violence and sexual sin, plus at least one more related publication upcoming.

The Amish periodical Family Life has also addressed the topic by printing fictionalized pieces within the themes of sexual purity and abuse.  In their comments on the issue the editors noted that “We realize the subject is a delicate one.  There is always a risk of being misunderstood and of people being offended.  After consulting with a number of ministers and bishops, we have come to the conclusion that the risk from not printing this material may very well be greater than the risk of printing” (Family Life, “Staff Notes”, Dec. 1999).

As Saloma suggests, it is hard to know how much abuse goes unreported, and in that also lies the danger of assuming much more abuse happens than in fact does. Whatever the reality, for present, past, and potential future victims, joint efforts between Amish and English to combat sexual abuse are encouraging.

Naturally Amish will get a greater share of attention than when similar things happen among non-Amish, but that is the case with just about everything.  Attention is not what the Amish seek, but perhaps this sort of attention can end up saving a lot of suffering.

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    1. Robin Wyatt


      I hate to hear about any sexual abuse or domestic violance in any Community. But more so in the Plain community,they are in all very religeous and from everything I have read and learned about them is that they are very family orinated(sp)and that CHILDREN are a gift from god, but yet they let this happen. God would not allow ot think this to be ok. Nor would he allow or prase domestic abuse or violance. That is not how it is.Having a peaceful soul and peace in your emotional state is right up there with your belief in God. There is nothing in the Bible,old or new testament that says it is ok to abuse in anyway our children or wives or any living thing. I really respect the Plain Communities for the way they live and having the strenght to live their lives the way they see they should, but when I here about things like this,or any negetivity that they are doing Ungodly things or possible abuse to animals, or such I hurts me,my heart and soul.To think they even think any of this is ok. Even if it is a small number of them doing this. Like the saying goes One bad apple spoils the bunch. Sorry for the long rant. The Plain Communities were or are the bright spot in my life. No I am not judging ALL of them, Just the ones that allow this to continue.

      Robin Wyatt

      1. Carole


        Any one who treats animals as the Amish do is not a wonderful, family oriented, God loving person who shows care for others. I personally choose to boycott anything remotely involving the Amish community. and encourage others to do the same. If the whole Amish set of communities are not given credibility by those of us who are not Amish, it would greatly hurt their pocketbooks and they would be forced to stop the travesty of inhuman puppy mills!

    2. Denise

      It was not so long ago that in the “English” world this topic was not brought up in polite company. This was never spoken of, like it is today, when I was growing up. Now it is on TV specials, the news, taught in schools, etc. We were just as sheltered at one time. I do hope that the Amish will become more proactive in the prevention of this abuse.

      1. Robin Wyatt

        Denise, you are so right, the English communities were blind and deaf to alot of this in the past. I do also hope with all the news of this something will get done to protect the children and women.

    3. Mary

      I think all of us have a tendency to feel and think that what OUR experience was, (or is), is most or all other peoples experience too. Having grown up Amish myself I was never sexually abused, neither were any of my 8 siblings. I have a difficult time believing that it occurs very often. Someone like Salome probably has a difficult time believing its not happening a lot. It goes to show humanity is the same all over. We compare ourselves among ourselves, which the Bible says, “is not wise”!

      1. Dody

        You are so right Mary

        I never saw any such abuse when I was among them as a foundling. If anything, I felt that I was treated better by them, than my own biological parents.

    4. Anna

      I agree with Mary. I was also raised in an Amish home and was never abused in any manner, neither were any of my siblings. There was one family in our community that was found to have an abusive father. The church stepped in and removed the ten children and later when an eleventh child was born they took the baby from them at only a day old. Counseling for the children was provided. They are now getting married and having families of their own. While I’m sure they have scars they seem like they have received the help and healing they needed.

      Proof again we can’t judge all Amish communities on the actions of one.

      1. An Amish friend I once asked about a similar matter was clear that this type of abuse is “something to involve civil authorities with” and that church discipline is not enough. Not everyone is of the same mind though.

        I think the video report makes some good points about working within the culture. Doing so in a way that respects and incorporates Amish ways is important. People within Amish culture will have the most influential voices.

    5. Debbie

      Agree with Denise

      Even with our enlightened English society spouse abuse and child molestation still goes unreported and handled in such a way that still leaves the women as the loser. As a child and teenager I was sexually abused and my family still cannot acknowledge it happened. I have worked with many at risk children and families and reported abuse to authorities only to be told by those authorities that they didn’t have time for those children because they were abused as badly as others. I was even told that my sexual abuse wasn’t bad because no actual intercourse took place. So we English aren’t much ahead of the Amish in my book.

      Forgive my rant but this subject really sets me off. Especially when we say some other group is worse than we are.

      1. I am glad the counselor in the video pointed out that English people definitely don’t have it figured out either.

        1. Rod

          united states of america

          Do you even realize what country you reside in? You live in the United States of America!! Englishmen live in England!! Don’t call me an englishman because I am not an Englishman. What kind of schools do Amish attend? Is it true they only go to school thru the eighth grade? Are Amish children taking standardized tests like publicly educated American children? Why not? What are they afraid of?

          1. Dody


            “Do you even realize what country you reside in?”

            What a rude tone. The term English is used because we are English speakers and they speak a different language.

            “Don’t call me an englishman because I am not an Englishman.”

            He didn’t call you an Englishman.

            What kind of schools do Amish attend? Parochial.

            Is it true they only go to school thru the eighth grade? Yes, for formal schooling. Then it is like trade schooling.

            Are Amish children taking standardized tests like publicly educated American children? No.

            Why not? Because they don’t have to as private school children.

            What are they afraid of? Nothing, they have the Lord on their side.

            1. Amish Girl - Rebecca

              Well writte, Dody. I think someone needs to take the time to understand and visit some Amish shops, stores, and other businesses. We are not afraid of further education, we just don’t feel we need it to live this lifestyle.

            2. higher education

              well they are afraid they will be exposed too the real world and that are afraid more will leave the community. i feel sorry for some so bright and who knows what they could accomplish, they are not even given a choice and not just education they are ruled by a strict and heavy handed thats the truth

            3. Wrong

              There afraid that there children will leave the Amish way of life if there exposed to a higher education and that’s a shame which means they have very few options to choose from in there life

    6. Jean Junkin

      Not enough time

      I have a hard time with this subject. I was abused by my brother while growing. He is 88 and I’m 65. I forgave him just this year and I’m putting this behind me. It was the only way I could go on. Just a comment, wonder when they have the time for sexual abuse. The men seem too busy having baby after baby and all their farm work.

    7. You should only speak for yourself on this issue...

      …not for siblings. Most times even close family members won’t know. To overhear someone express disbelief that abuse ever occurs when you have experienced it yourself is devastating, English or Amish.

      1. Eli S.

        To this very day, none of my siblings know what happened so many years ago. A good reason to use less than a full name here.

        1. God Bless You, Eli

          It’s a lonely road, isn’t it? I would not have made it through without Jesus Christ. I wish you and I had never experienced abuse, but we live in a fallen world. The good news is, you can be freed from the pain and the shame. I pray this has happened for you.

          My favorite Bible verses from those years are Matthew 11:28-30–“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

          It took courage for you to chime in, and I’m proud of you.

    8. Greg Stutzman

      One irrefutable truth is that the Amish, like any other group, (genetically and socially homogenous or not), are human and therefore subject to the same foibles and maladaptation’s. Abuses – while horrible and gut wrenching – will happen among all humans and IMHO it is naïve to assume otherwise.

      Stephanie, my heart goes out to you.

    9. Ed

      One issue lurking in the background of the video is the Amish versus secular concepts of “justice”. Generally speaking, prosecutors want to identify perpetrators and lock them up for long periods. The Amish, on the other hand, focus of restorative justice, and forgiveness. The two systems both have their advantages and drawbacks. Even in our mainstream justice system, there is an incredible array of responses to sexual abuse cases. Some perpetrators are sentenced to life in prison, others barely slapped on the wrist, for the same act.

      Education does seem to be the key here – when people know how to identify something as “wrong” they are more apt to be able to stop it. The Amish victims who refused to cooperate with prosecutors unless prison time was taken out of consideration were incredibly brave and their interests should be respected. Undoubtedly, though, there are also cases where common sense dictates that an offender not have any more contact with children. If an offender can’t hold himself to that standard, prison is probably the best place for him to stay.

      In short I think that both Amish and mainstream society can learn from each other here.

    10. Mary Yoder

      Sexual Abuse

      Please don’t take Saloma Furlongs book as a normal. And no the Amish do not stay oblivious. We are just normal people who hate abuse(and make mistakes,) but being Amish 53 years has given me an inside on this, and our area is not prone to this abuse and are taught in school and at home about sex and the pitfalls, and we feel very shocked about abuse.
      I have a tendency to get disgusted about these books of ex-Amish. They give a picture of uncaring, harsh men and women who do not have a voice. Not what we are at all. thanks for letting me vent and sorry to anyone who has had such a background of abuse.

      1. Mary, just my thoughts here, if I may. I know there are Amish people and churches that would not turn a blind eye, and are just as disgusted by these incidents, wherever they happen.

        I also know that two of those pamphlets shown in the video meant to help in cases of abuse came with a good bit of Amish input and support, and that it goes beyond that.

        I know there are Amish people who are shocked by these cases, and it is also unfortunate that all Amish get painted with this perception because of what happens in some communities.

        As Debbie says people with these issues are going to appear in all societies, and that is something I think you are pointing to when you say Amish make mistakes, that Amish are not immune from this either.

        I am curious myself how much this issue gets talked about in Amish communities, and I’m just not in a position to know that.

        For that matter it would do well to be discussed more among English, but speaking for myself, it’s just not a comfortable topic (I was reluctant to even do this post because…it’s just not a pleasant topic and truth be told I’d rather discuss other things).

        Ed makes a good point that there is a clash of systems with church discipline vs. criminal punishment. I think figuring out how the two can work together will be a challenge in some communities but I hope it can and it’s good to see people working in that direction.

      2. Mary

        Mary, I’m ex-Amish. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I left for religious reasons and definitely not because of sexual abuse! I grew up in a very secure home where I knew I was loved. My parents would have died to protect us children from abuse! I don’t remember of ever hearing of incest among them before I was married. I’m sure it existed in isolated cases just like in any culture.

    11. Debbie

      Mary, I agree. It is the same with Christians. One bad incident gets splashed across the media and everyone thinks it is rampant among all Christians, Jewish, Muslim, etc. Until we walk in their shoes we cannot judge.

    12. Sara Mandal-Joy

      sexual abuse in authoritarian religious families

      The problems of sexual abuse in authoritarian religious families occur across the board, at a far higher percentage than in more egalitarian religious structured families or non-religious families. I did a research study to complete my independent studies undergraduate program on this, doing anonymous surveys at a multiple of agencies, churches, and in schools and universities. The per cents in authoritarian structured religious families were the highest category in which those surveyed reported direct experience of familial sexual abuse. It was almost 40 % of those women from self-defined authoritarian religious families who had experienced some form of familial sexual abuse. The general population says 25 % of all women will have experienced some form of sexual abuse within their lifetime. But to have 40% report familial abuse!!!. I can’t guarantee my samples were a fair representation – simply those who managed to get a copy of the survey and chose to respond. But it was shocking… Sara

      1. I guess it can depend on how abuse is defined and how questions are worded, but both those numbers seem really high.

        The biggest danger is not that perpetrators go unpunished by the secular criminal system and thus escape worldly justice–it’s that they may be left without effective treatment and freely able to commit more deviant acts.

        If the road ends with church discipline and counseling within the church only, it may be well-intentioned but often not adequate to prevent more incidents from happening. These people have a sickness that typically needs more than the church and community can provide, though church and community still play a key role.

        I don’t want to portray this as a rampant problem, but there are examples of cases where matters were handled internally with less than ideal outcomes, and also indications that in some Amish communities internal handling of abuse is the norm.

        Here is one in which bishops in Missouri knew of a perpetrator in the community but kept the matter internal:

        ‘Like a similar story unfolding in an Amish community in northeastern Missouri, the elders had hoped to reform the sex offender on their own.

        ​According to one report one of the elders told a Webster County sheriff’s investigator “that it was against the Amish Rules to report child sexual abuse,” and that they had shunned Johnny Schwartz twice for the sexual abuse of his daughters.’


        On the other hand here is a case where the people in a Michigan community were influenced by what happened in Missouri and reported the crimes. It may have caused trauma in the church community to do so but hopefully that is well outweighed by prevention of further harm to individuals:–98460189.html

        ‘Cole had a meeting with the Amish community in his county nine months ago to make clear to them the law of mandatory reporting. And, even by buggy, it seems the news traveled fast, all the way to Michigan.

        “They had never reported it up there either,” said Cole.

        He said two young Amish girls who spent time here in the past, and now are in Michigan, told the elders of being abused; the elders then told Michigan police. That police department now credits Webster County with making a difference.

        “It was one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time,” Cole said.

        The sheriff says his hope is the reporting won’t stop in Webster County or in Michigan but also will have a domino effect across the country in Amish communities, and anytime there’s a sexual abuse case, church leaders will report it to authorities.’

    13. Nancy

      sexual abuse in amish

      I also grew up amish and was sexualy abused by my father from time of ages 10-13. I also left when I was 22. I was so ashamed of myself not being a virgin,how was I going to marry an amish? I hated my father,hated my life, as there was no way I could tell my mother and bring shame to the family and church. I finaly fought every time he would come close to me and refused to be anywhere near him if no one else was around. I screamed a couple times just to let him know im not playing with his dirty self. my dad has passed away a couple years ago. and all he ever had to do was get put in baun for 6 weeks and ask the church to forgive him.and I am still to this day having issues, am a single mom with 2 boys and have forgiven and now realize that it wasn’t my fault. the lord is my daddy now and I know he will never hurt me. and yes I told on him after I left. It took me years almost 16 years,and 3 very abusive realtionships to get to this point where I am at peace with myself. guess I should write a book instead of taking up all this space!! and by the way my mother still calls me her daughter,and I visit her all the time.

    14. Dr Donald R Drake DD, PhD

      Boys and Abuse ?

      I am NOT Amish but I did grow up on a farm in Lancaster County, PA. In the Summer, especially after haying many of us boys went swimming in local ponds or showered in the barn. Most always it was skinny dipping. Natural curiosity being as is, we always seemed to check out the other boys. Mostly this was just a quick look, however I do know of some boys who took this another step. These boys were both English and Plain People. In our teen years, there was a lot of talk about sex with siblings, and even with some of the farm stock. I know a lot of brothers shared a bed and even at times showered together. Some of the boys had friends over and to use a polite word, experimented with male to male sex. I do not think anyone was gay, nor am I, but then I lost touch when I went to Seminary. My question is and was is if this was just a natural case of experimentation, or was this just something that just happened where I lived. More important was or is this considered abuse ?

    15. JP


      Dr, Drake, depending on the State that the incidents occurred the act of touching is all that is required for it to become a criminal offense.

    16. michael flueckiger(adopted name)

      I am looking for my birth mother she was living in holmes county ohio I was born 2/13/1969 adopted at birth her last name was hershberger married name swartzentruber why would an amish mother give me up(rape or incest)I know she tried to get me back but was told it was to late. If anyone knows who my mother is please email or any information that might help me in this search.Thank you

    17. Greg Stutzman

      seeking mother

      Are you certain that your birth mother is Amish? Was your adoption through an agency or private? There are many Hershbergers and Swartzentrubers in Holmes County who are not Amish and I suspect perhaps your birth mother was not. I have an adopted brother and sister and at their request I was able to locate their birth mothers quite quickly. There are resources available.

    18. michael flueckiger(adopted name)

      well greg I believe I have used or tried all resources,I am trying everything. I got word from a search Angel my mothers name is Salome (hershberger)swartzentruber fathers name Mose At least thats what was on the Original Birth cert. So now I hope someone knows them and can help. Now, I don’t know if they are Amish but the name may suggest they are.I am so glad you were able to locate your brother and sisters family but my search seems to be more difficult.

    19. michael flueckiger(adopted name)