Children’s stories of abuse often are ignored Children’s stories of abuse often are ignored
By linda Espenshade and Larry Alexander July 14, 2004

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a multipart series on domestic abuse among Amish and Mennonites. For additional stories, turn to Page A6 in the Lifestyle section. LancasterOnline Keyword: Lifestyle

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Concealed under the rug where they were hastily swept are dozens of stories from children whose emotional wounds still bleed.

Girls and boys were repeatedly touched, rubbed, hit and penetrated in their most intimate places by their Mennonite and Amish fathers, hired men, cousins, teachers, brothers, family friends or sometimes even their mothers. Some of them were verbally assaulted or hit, kicked or beaten until they were black and blue.

Many children didn’t talk about the abuse at the time because they were afraid, ashamed and embarrassed. Some tried to tell and were ignored, hushed or, in the worst cases, punished. A few were believed.

They are the children we know about, the ones who are listed as anonymous victims on Lancaster County court documents since 1990. The documents also list the names of the defendants, names like Tobias Mast Stoltzfus, Jacob Yoder Fisher, Ivan Z. Nolt, Phares Shirk Hurst, Benuel Fisher Beiler and Mahlon Shirk.

Eighteen of the 24 cases of child sexual assault allegedly committed by members of Amish or Mennonite churches that were reported to the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office since 1994 were never prosecuted because the victims would not testify in court.

Victims, counselors and relatives say there are many more children, including those who are now adults, whose stories were ignored because parents and/or church leaders did not want anyone to know.

In the worst of cases, the perpetrators are free to keep offending because families and church leaders refuse to believe the victims or report them to police.

“So many people don’t realize the far-reaching damage that it can do,” said one Amish woman who was abused as a child and now helps other victims. “Satan wants our children, and what better way to destroy lives than to get our children in this confusion, especially children that are being taken to church.”

Staff writer Thomas L. Flannery contributed to this article.

© 2004 Lancaster Newspapers

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