“Ghost” Rapes in Mennonite Bolivia

Any time someone says “oh, but they’re such good Christians, they could never do XYZ,” I just want to bang my head against a wall. This is especially true with groups like the Amish and the Mennonites, and also in how I’ve seen people react to the Duggars’ TLC show. “Look at them, raising big families, praying together, going back to the solid way things were in the good old days, not dependent on anyone—aren’t they quaint and sweet and wholesome?” Look, no one is immune to doing terrible things, and the idea that we should give a group a pass because they are Christian or wholesome or whatever is silly at best and toxic at worst.

Am I saying every person in an especially Christian or “wholesome” group or sect should be assumed to be a terrible person with skeletons in the closet? No, absolutely not. I’m not a big fan of stereotyping. What I am saying is that people shouldn’t let down their guard just because a group has Bibles and wears old-fashioned dresses—and also that these sorts of communities and groups are ripe breeding grounds for abuse because of the emphasis on conformity, respect for leaders, and keeping your mouth shut about things that might harm the public image.

Anyway, this is how I would introduce a recent and completely horrifying story about “ghost” rape in a Mennonite community in Bolivia.

***ten thousand trigger warnings for rape***


All photos by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky. Noah Friedman-Rudovsky also contributed reporting to this article.

For a while, the residents of Manitoba Colony thought demons were raping the town’s women. There was no other explanation. No way of explaining how a woman could wake up with blood and semen stains smeared across her sheets and no memory of the previous night. No way of explaining how another went to sleep clothed, only to wake up naked and covered by dirty fingerprints all over her body. No way to understand how another could dream of a man forcing himself onto her in a field—and then wake up the next morning with grass in her hair.

For Sara Guenter, the mystery was the rope. She would sometimes wake up in her bed with small pieces of it tied tightly to her wrists or ankles, the skin beneath an aching blue. Earlier this year, I visited Sara at her home, simple concrete painted to look like brick, in Manitoba Colony, Bolivia. Mennonites are similar to the Amish in their rejection of modernity and technology, and Manitoba Colony, like all ultraconservative Mennonite communities, is a collective attempt to retreat as far as possible from the nonbelieving world. A slight breeze of soy and sorghum came off the nearby fields as Sara told me how, in addition to the eerie rope, on those mornings after she’d been raped she would also wake to stained sheets, thunderous headaches, and paralyzing lethargy.

Her two daughters, 17 and 18 years old, squatted silently along a wall behind her and shot me fierce blue-eyed stares. The evil had penetrated the household, Sara said. Five years ago, her daughters also began waking up with dirty sheets and complaints of pain “down below.”

The family tried locking the door; some nights, Sara did everything she could to keep herself awake. On a few occasions, a loyal Bolivian worker from the neighboring city of Santa Cruz would stay the night to stand guard. But inevitably, when their one-story home—set back and isolated from the dirt road—was not being watched, the rapes continued. (Manitobans aren’t connected to the power grid, so at night the community is submerged in total darkness.) “It happened so many times, I lost count,” Sara said in her native Low German, the only language she speaks, like most women in the community.

Mennonite children attend school in Manitoba Colony, Bolivia.

In the beginning, the family had no idea that they weren’t the only ones being attacked, and so they kept it to themselves. Then Sara started telling her sisters. When rumors spread, “no one believed her,” said Peter Fehr, Sara’s neighbor at the time of the incidents. “We thought she was making it up to hide an affair.” The family’s pleas for help to the council of church ministers, the group of men who govern the 2,500-member colony, were fruitless—even as the tales multiplied. Throughout the community, people were waking to the same telltale morning signs: ripped pajamas, blood and semen on the bed, head-thumping stupor. Some women remembered brief moments of terror: for an instant they would wake to a man or men on top of them but couldn’t summon the strength to yell or fight back. Then, fade to black.

Some called it “wild female imagination.” Others said it was a plague from God. “We only knew that something strange was happening in the night,” Abraham Wall Enns, Manitoba Colony’s civic leader at the time, said. “But we didn’t know who was doing it, so how could we stop it?”

No one knew what to do, and so no one did anything at all. After a while, Sara just accepted those nights as a horrific fact of life. On the following mornings, her family would rise despite the head pain, strip the beds, and get on with their days.

To find out what was actually going on and how it came to light, read the rest of the story. If you read the rest, you’ll find that this community was run by a heavy dose of patriarchy—throughout the community women are expected to submit to their husbands and fathers, leadership is firmly in male hands, and even schooling is gendered. In fact, the plaintiffs in the rapists’ trials were male relatives of the victims, not the victims themselves. But also, in a pattern we’ve seen elsewhere, you’ll find that sexual abuse and rape were not new to this community—and that both had long been mishandled. In fact, this article is really a painful case study in how to do everything wrong when it comes to sexual abuse and rape.

I had come to talk to Agnes about other painful parts of her past—namely incest—the origins of which aren’t even clear. “They kind of mesh together,” she said of her earliest childhood memories, which include being fondled by several of her eight older brothers. “I don’t know when [the incest] started.”

One of 15 children, growing up in the Old Colony of Riva Palacios (her family moved to neighboring Manitoba Colony when she was eight), Agnes said the abuse would happen in the barn, in the fields, or in the siblings’ shared bedroom. She didn’t realize it was inappropriate behavior until the age of ten, when she was given a stern beating after her father found her brother fondling her. “My mother could never find the words to tell me that I was being wronged or that it was not my fault,” she recalled.

After that, the molestation continued but Agnes was too scared to go to anyone for help. When she was 13 and one of her brothers tried to rape her, Agnes warily notified her mom. She wasn’t beaten this time, and for a while her mom did her best to keep the two apart. But the brother eventually found her alone and raped her.

The sibling assaults became increasingly commonplace, but there was nowhere for Agnes to turn. Old Colonies have no police force. Ministers deal with wrongdoing directly but because youth are not technically members of the church until they are baptized (often in their early 20s), bad behavior is handled inside the home.

Seeking help outside the colony would have never entered Agnes’s mind: from her first day on earth, she, like all Old Colony children, was taught that the outside world holds evil. And even if someone managed to reach out, there is virtually no way for a child or woman to contact or communicate with the surrounding non–Low German world.

“I just learned to live with it,” Agnes said haltingly. She apologized for her stops and starts, for her tears. It was the first time she had ever fully told her story. She said the incest stopped when boys began courting Agnes, and she filed it away in her mind as a thing of the past.

But when she got married, moved into her own house in Manitoba, and gave birth to two daughters, family members began molesting her children during visits. “It was starting to happen to them, too,” she told me, her eyes following the movements of her two young platinum-blond girls darting past the windows as they played outside. One day, her eldest daughter, not yet four at the time, told Agnes that the girls’ grandpa had asked her to put her hands down his pants. Agnes said that her father never molested her or her sisters, but that he allegedly routinely abused his grandchildren until Agnes fled Manitoba with her daughters (and still allegedly abuses her nieces, who remain in the Colony). Another day, she caught her nephew fondling her youngest daughter. “It happens all the time,” she said. “It’s not just my family.”

Indeed, for a long time now there has been a muffled yet heated discussion in the international Mennonite community about whether Old Colonies have a rampant incest problem. Some defend the Old Colonists, insisting that sexual abuse happens everywhere and that its occurrence in places like Manitoba only proves that any society, no matter how upright, is susceptible to social ills.

But others, like Erna Friessen, a Canadian-Mennonite woman who introduced me to Agnes, insist, “The scope of sexual violence within Old Colonies is really huge.” Erna and her husband helped found Casa Mariposa(Butterfly House), a shelter for abused Old Colony women and girls. Located near the town of Pailon in the heart of Bolivian Old Colony territory, they have a continuous influx of Low German-speaking missionaries ready to help, but the number of women who have made it there are few. Aside from the challenges of making women aware of this space and convincing them that it’s in their best interest to seek help, Erna told me that “coming to Casa Mariposa often means leaving their families and the only world they’ve ever known.”

While Erna admits that exact figures are impossible to calculate due to the insular nature of these communities, she is adamant that rates of sexual abuse are higher in the Old Colonies than in the US, for example, where one in four women will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Erna’s whole life has been among these groups—she was born on a Mennonite Colony in Paraguay, raised in Canada, and has spent the past eight years in Bolivia. Of all the Old Colony women she has met over the years, she says, “more have been victims of abuse than not.” She considers the Colonies “a breeding ground for sexual abuse,” in part because most Old Colony women grow up believing they must accept it. “The first step is always to get them to recognize that they have been wronged. It happened to them, it happened to their mom and their grandmother, so they’ve always been told [to] just deal with it.”

Others who work on the issue of abuse in the Old Colonies are hesitant to pinpoint incidence rates, but say that the way abuse is experienced within an Old Colony makes it a more acute problem than in other places in the world. “These girls or women have no way out,” said Eve Isaak, a mental health clinician and addictions and bereavement counselor who caters to Old Colony Mennonite communities in Canada, US, Bolivia, and Mexico. “In any other society, by elementary school a child knows that if they are being abused they can, at least in theory, go to the police or a teacher or some other authority. But who can these girls go to?”

. . .

The Old Colony leaders I spoke with denied that their communities have an ongoing sexual abuse problem and insisted that incidents are dealt with internally when they arise. “[Incest] almost never happens here,” Minister Jacob Fehr told me one evening as we chatted on his porch at dusk. He said that in his 19 years as a minister, Manitoba had only one case of incestuous rape (father to daughter). Another minister denied that even this episode had happened.

. . .

Agnes thinks the two crimes are flipsides of the same coin. “The rapes, the abuse, it’s all intertwined,” she said. “What made the rapes different is that they didn’t come from within the family and that’s why the Ministers took the actions they did.”

Of course, leaders do attempt to correct bad behavior. Take the case of Agnes’s father: at some point, his fondling of his granddaughters was called out by church leaders. As procedure dictates, he went before the ministers and bishop, who asked him to confess. He did, and was “excommunicated,” or temporarily expelled from the church for a week, after which he was offered a chance to return based on a promise that he would never do it again.

“Of course it continued after that,” Agnes said of her father. “He just learned to hide it better.” She told me she doesn’t have faith “in anyone who after one week says they have turned their life around,” before adding, “I have no faith in a system that permits that.”

Younger perpetrators have it even easier; according to Agnes, the brother who raped her admitted his sins when he was baptized and was immediately expunged in the eyes of God. He now lives in the neighboring Old Colony, Riva Palacios, with young daughters of his own.

Once an abuser has been excommunicated and readmitted, church leadership assumes the matter has been put to rest. If an abuser flagrantly continues his behavior and refuses to repent, he is once again excommunicated and this time permanently shunned. Leaders instruct the rest of the colony to isolate the family; the general store will refuse to sell to anyone in the household, kids will be banned from school. Eventually the family has no choice but to leave. This, of course, also means that the victims leave with their abusers.

Perhaps the saddest part of the article was that even though the original perpetrators were caught, the rapes are ongoing. And in this last little quote, we can see the influence of the group’s religious beliefs in enabling them to continue:

Those I spoke with said they have no way to stop the alleged attacks. There is still no police force in the area, and there never will be any proactive element or investigatory force that can look into accusations of crimes. Anyone is free in the colonies to report somebody else to the Ministers, but crimes are addressed on the honor system: if a perpetrator is not ready to admit his sins, the question is whether the victim or accuser will be believed… and women in Manitoba already know how that goes.

The only defense, residents told me, is to install better locks or bars on the windows, or big steel doors like the one I slept behind each night during my trip. “We can’t put in streetlights or video cameras,” the husband of a victim of the rapes told me—two technologies not allowed. For it to stop, they believe they must, as before, catch someone in the act. “So we will just have to wait,” he said.

That last day, before leaving Manitoba, I returned to visit Sara, the woman who woke up with rope around her wrists nearly five years ago. She said she’d also heard the rumors of ongoing rapes, and breathed a heavy sigh. She and her family had moved to a new house after the gang of nine was captured in 2009. The old house held too many demon-filled memories. She said she felt badly if others were now living her past horrors, but she didn’t know what could be done. After all, her time on earth, like that of all her fellow Mennonites, was meant for suffering. Before I left, she offered what she considered words of solace: “Maybe this is God’s plan.”

This fatalistic approach to “God’s plan,” combined with the idea that this life is meant to be one of suffering, keeps people from actually trying to enact change. In some sense, their religious beliefs are stifling their ability and desire to take action to improve the lives they are living and bring justice to the world in the here and now. And that’s more than a little horrifying. But then, where do you think this woman has gotten these religious ideas? Unless I very much miss my guess, it is the leadership in the community, the very leadership that has long turned a blind eye to problems of incest in the community, that is telling women like this one that our current lives are meant to be ones of suffering. How very convenient.

The Modesty Rules—Not So Simple, Really
Sometimes All I Can Say Is UGH
Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 6-10: The Child’s Right to Know and Be Cared for by Their Parents
Monogamy Isn’t Biblical, It’s Roman
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://slatewoman.blogspot.com/ Slatewoman

    i love just about anything vice publishes and this was especially interesting to me. i’ve always had a special admiration for the amish/hutterite/other luddie style groups. this article took the tiny quiet thought in the back of my mind that they’[re really just the same as anyone else and slammed it right up to the front of my brain. perhaps i’ve been fetishizing them the way i idealized catholicism before i converted, and then instantly it lost all it’s mystery and power. veils are dropping left and right. these communities, for all their admirable qualities, are like you said especially prone to abuses and incest. all the repression and lack of contact with the outside world, that’s how it happens. i know many groups marry their children into separate “clans” so to speak to avoid inbreeding, but i’m starting to wonder just how inbred ALL the groups are to begin with. there are not that may people in them to begin with.
    {{amendment}} after reading a comment above pointing out the racist double standard of the admiration for these groups, i’m just gonna point out that these people aren’t indigenous. they are aware of an outside world, they are given a chance to test and approve the outside world and (due to indoctrination) usually come back. not that all indigenous cultures are unaware o f the modern way of life, and i have a equal respect for any group of people who can successfully shun modern life. but there’s a unique combination that makes the amish etc. especially interesting to me. but the above comment is very correct.

    this is my first comment on your blog, which i’ve been reading for abut a year now. just a quick introduction, i was homeschooled my whole life for non-religious reasons, and i became quite devoutly religious as a result of going to church on my own when i was a child and finding it to be a good social outlet. i got sucked into some of the megachurch mentality, a tiny corner of the purity culture and my then-unrealized genderqueer status was very VERY poorly handled. so that’s my relevant information. thanks for keeping on your blog. fringe christianity, though i have never been personally involved with it, is a big interest of mine and your blog is a killer source of information.

    • Saraquill

      In reference to your inbreeding aside, I was struck at how the girls in the classroom photo look alike.

      • Christine

        Honestly, that’s not necessarily significant inbreeding. (Yes, there are generally a lot of problems with it – there are groups that have been marrying second cousins for a couple hundred years.) You rarely see such a homogenous ethnic group anymore these days, and on top of that they’re all dressed in similar clothing, so we notice the similarities from that more than the differences.

      • http://slatewoman.blogspot.com/ Slatewoman

        that’s what i was going to say, but you put it more eloquently than i would have, so thanks for beating me to the punch.

        another point is that inbreeding often causes.. uh… how do i put this nicely… it causes weirdly formed features, in extreme cases, plain old deformity. the girls in the picture above are distinctly pure examples of their ethnic group, but they don’t strike me as looking inbred.

      • Saraquill

        It’s hard to tell inbreeding from a photograph where everyone has the same hairstyle. I’m more concerned whether or not the similar faces are an indication of something more unpleasant going on, like Tay-Sachs or hemophilia.

      • Christine

        Actually, there could be anything going on (and quite likely is.) The Russian Mennonite emigration from “Russia” (I believe most, if not all, were from what is now Ukraine) was generally on a per-village basis. If you go through actual Manitoba, there are (or were) a lot of small towns where there was a higher incidence of X. X changed from town to town, but was basically a side effect of people having been marrying in a small population for several hundred years. The people in their small town in Canada were the same people as in the small town in Russia.

      • Mel

        Around where I live, a ridiculously high percentage of the Caucasian people are descended from about 100 years of Dutch immigration. It’s caused a freakishly high percentage of adult blondes and really tall people. I am descended from non-Dutch stock but have the light hair and vertical features. Where am I going with this? Group photos from the neighborhood look rather homogeneous…..

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001411188910 Lucreza Borgia

        It’s called the founder effect. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founder_effect

  • Beutelratti

    I’ve read this article a few days ago. It is horrifying. I’m always astounded when these communities are seen through rose-coloured glasses, because they abdicate certain (or all) modern technology. Yet at the same time people in other countries (that most likely aren’t white) that have no other choice but to live without some (or all) modern technology are seen as “savages”. It’s quite the double standard.

    Bolivia (still) has a large indigenous population. Especially in the Andes there are villages and settlements that survive on farming alone and without many amenities of the modern world. Yet I don’t see any admiration for them. Oh right, they didn’t choose to live that way, they are not white, and they are not Christian.

    Apparently it’s only the good white Christian men that can be trusted and that get a carte blanche for about everything. Is it any wonder that such power brings out the worst in people?

    • AnotherOne

      To be fair, I do think there’s an idealization of “primitive” peoples in the US. Conservative Christians tend to idolize the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, but lots of people across American society admire primitive/off-the-grid living. People in the countercultural movement in the 60s and even up to today saw isolated tribal groups through rosecolored glasses, and there are millions of Americans with varying degrees of commitment to, or idealization of, living off the grid and surviving with little to no technology. I think it’s pretty understandable in some ways–human society has changed unbelievably in the modern period, and we’re all still adjusting to it. And there are things about it that are worrisome, or problematic, so there will always be something appealing about the possibility of opting out. That is, unless you spent your adolescence washing clothes by hand for a large family. Been there, done that, and have had arthritis in my hands since my mid-20s. To this day, the sound of the washing machine makes me very, very happy. :)

      • Composer 99

        The idealization, even romanticization, of so-called “primitives” (whose social and cultural complexes and whose senses of resourcefulness and inventiveness, if my anthropological reading is accurate, were certainly as well-developed as ours are, even if their material technology was not) is a feature of modern societies since the 16th century (in Europe, anyway), if not earlier.

        IMO it’s almost certainly of a piece with “golden age” style beliefs, which we have seen traced as far back to ancient Greek societies (again, if not earlier).

      • Alix

        The idealization goes back at least as far as Rome, where Tacitus wrote a whole book idolizing the “barbaric” Germans and contrasting their natural wholeness with the decadence and corruption of Rome. One gets the sense that if it weren’t for the (in his opinion) horrible weather in Germania, he might’ve gone and joined them.

      • Beutelratti

        Thank you for giving me something to think about. :) I hadn’t thought about the idealisation.

        Maybe it’s more the fundamentalist-leaning Christians that see indigenous people as savages and people to evangelise. I definitely encountered that attitude though.

  • persephone

    This reminded me of the young Amish woman who was raped over and over again by family member. She broke ranks and filed a report with the police. The result is that the men confessed to the church and were given the standard six-week repentance shunning. The victim has been shunned for refusing to forgive her attackers by accepting the judgment of the church elders, and for pursuing a criminal case.
    Every time I hear comments like, “Oh, they’re so nice, and Christian, etc.” I want to smack the speaker. And they’re the same people who proclaim that former members who speak out are bitter liars.

    • Beutelratti

      That’s terrible. I’m not surprised though.

    • Stev84

      That kind of thing – minus the shunning – is standard in fundamentalist Baptist churches too.

    • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

      Same pattern as controlling evangelical churches. Nothing new under the sun.

  • Boo

    I’m curious about two things not mentioned in this story. First, did any of the women become pregnant as a result of these rapes? It is hard for me to believe that so many women were raped over an extended period of time and none of the women became pregnant. If the woman who became pregnant was unmarried, what happened to her? I imagine a patriarchal society wouldn’t react too kindly to an unmarried pregnant woman even if they did believe she was raped by a demon.

    Second, I did read that some of the members of the community suggested that some of the boys had been raped as well, but they didn’t say anything to authorities about those crimes. That really bothers me. Sometimes we focus on only the women in the patriarchal societies without realizing that some of the boys have been victims too. Boys and men are unfortunately the last members in a group to come forward when they have been raped. Even military statistics are suggesting that more than half of the victims of rape in the military are men.

  • ako

    That is utterly horrifying.

    Not too long ago, I was doing research on mythology for a short story I was writing about an incubus, and I discovered a scary number of people on the internet who appear to sincerely believe they’re being sexually assaulted by demons, and far too many churches promoting that kind of belief. Some of the people posting online seem to have been blaming dreams and desires they felt bad about having on demons, but it sounded like some of them were really being assaulted by someone.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

      Oh dear. These are people with internet access believing these things? Yikes. I thought it was bad that people who had no technology believed it, but when you have access to research and web searches…

    • lrfcowper

      As a person who suffers occasional bouts of sleep paralysis with associated hypnagogic hallucinations, including experiencing an evil presence, I can tell you the experience can be very real and feel very demonic. As a child and teen with no access to the Internet or psychology research into the phenomenon, you go with what you know to try to describe the experience, which for me was demonic attack (note, this was never rape, but rather being sat on/suffocated/held down, hot breath on my ear saying something I could never quite make out, being levitated out of my bed, and leaving my body behind). Learning about sleep paralysis was a relief, because you feel really really crazy believing you’re being targeted by a demon.

      Undoubtedly some of the seed of the incubus legend (and legends of the Hag/Nightmare and alien abductions) is with drug-using rapists, but some is also firmly sleep paralysis with hallucinations. Mine are almost brought on by stress and exacerbated with lack of sleep (meaning having one can bring on a cycle as sleeping after an episode can be difficult and stressful).

  • kisarita

    isn’t it obvious they were drugged with some very earthly human made drugs? are the folks so lacking in such basic knowledge they attribute it to demons?

    • Christine

      Yes, they are. The Mexican Mennonite colonies are very depressing in a lot of ways. (According to GAMEO, Manitoba colony was settled from Mexico). They left Canada when the government instituted state schooling (they had come to Canada to leave the Russian state schools). This means that it’s only the super-conservative individuals who started the colony – the more progressive ones stayed in Canada because the government wasn’t as bad, maybe the schools would be ok. Their colony schools are a good example of why I’m scared of homeschooling when the parents haven’t gone to university – the graduates have not been taught outside, and the level of knowledge is going down. They have basic math, and are somewhat literate. They aren’t stupid, but they’re profoundly ignorant. So the idea that they wouldn’t know about drugs that could do this? Totally plausible.

    • Anonymouse

      Well, the men doing the drugging know what it is.

  • Mel

    I feel so scared for people who live in such isolated communities. For most Americans, government, religion and work are not deeply intertwined. If I left my church today, that choice wouldn’t affect my protection by the police or my job. If I left my job, I’d still be under the government and my church. These women have very little recourse within their communities and a deep distrust of anyone outside the community.

    And it’s not so far away from home either….

    I work at a summer job with some local home-schooled kids. One young adult was telling me about their plans to get a Bachelor of Science in Biology in two years from College Plus then apply to medical school. (This plan was approved by their “contact person” i.e., the salesman) When I brought in detailed information about the problems with this plan – (College Plus doesn’t have an affiliate college/university that offers an online BS in Bio; I couldn’t find any university that offered an entirely online BS in Bio; the CLEP test can earn you about 6 credits of science credit usable toward a major not 36; the list goes on for about 5 pages) the person’s eyes got very guarded. It was like watching a door close. Up until then, I thought the students trusted me enough to tell me if anything bad was happening to them. Now I wonder. I wonder how much I’m considered corrupted due to my crazy heathen ways.

    Does this change the way I interact with the kids? No. They still need to see that the outside world isn’t as evil as it is portrayed. It just makes me feel more helpless… but feelings aren’t a good way to determine reality. I’m not the helpless one.

    • Naomi

      That young adult will probably remember your advice for years to come…especially on the day his/her dreams are dashed. I applaud your non-confrontational approach. So many outsiders have no idea how powerfully it can shatter the misconceptions of young people like that. It played a major role in getting me out of a hopeless situation!

    • Boo

      Sounds like ‘College Plus’ is a crook. Is there a way to report them and have them investigated? If their salesman is telling naive young people they can receive a BS in two years without actually going to school that is probably fraud.

      • AnotherOne

        Actually, I would love to see College Plus investigated. I don’t think it’s outright fraud, but boy would I ever like to know their success rates. I have multiple young adult stay-at-home siblings who are supposedly doing college through College Plus, but years along the road, they don’t appear to be any closer to gaining a degree.

      • Mel

        My advice to the young adult was to skip College Plus, do the CLEP tests herself, then apply to one of colleges listed by College Plus.

        My other advice was to look at some of the local private colleges in my area. I live in an area with some very solid and highly conservative religious colleges. The student would get a first-rate education there without being unduly exposed to “corrupting” influences.

      • AnotherOne

        I would suggest this to my siblings, but sadly, they’re doing college plus partly because I went to one of those highly conservative religious colleges, and I still rebelled* and left the faith**. So my parents battened down the hatches even tighter.

        *rebelled only in ways that hyperfundamentalists would construe as rebellion. meaning i wore shorts, and didn’t court, and decided 6-day creation “science” wasn’t. no drugs, drinking, sex, or anything fun like that (sadly).

        **left the faith meaning drifted into mainline protestantism and i-don’t-have-the-energy-to think-about-this-crap agnosticism. not like i was jumping up on the table at thanksgiving screaming richard dawkins quotes.

      • Helix Luco

        do their credits transfer? if it’s a diploma mill then i don’t think there’s anything technically illegal about it, unfortunately.

      • Gemgirl

        They should absolutely be reported and investigated. However, when it comes to “for-profit schools” this particular one is only a small piece of the corruption. There are so many “mainline” for-profit institutions offering “degrees” with zero accreditation to back up that piece of paper you receive at the end their program. I went back to school three years ago and chose a local community college to receive my respiratory therapy degree. Before I chose that wonderful, dedicated and accredited school…I found so many for-profit schools whose pitch was “we get you out in less time, with fewer courses”. What you get is a sub-standard education, with very little actual clinical time in the hospitals for much MORE money spent and NO accreditation. I feel bad for fundamentalist “home-school kids” who would never find out that this kind of education is a total sham until they had finished it. I also feel sorry for mainstream America as well, however. These schools are being allowed to wreak havoc, make tons of money and then close their doors and leave town.

      • Mel

        Oh, they are very careful about what they put down on paper. It’s stated on their website that they are not an accredited college or university. They state that they are a CLEP prep program. All of that is true. They’ve got BBB approval – I called to check that one out.

        The false things are communicated verbally or through misleading comparisons. For example, the website lists “Some of our partners” including some reasonable universities. I’m still curious who the unlisted partners are. They compare the cost and atmosphere of public, private and their programs. My biggest red flag was that none of their testimonials came from anyone besides Voddie B. et al.

        My biggest concern is for families who do not have previous college experience. I’ve been through college with a BS in Bio. I know what they want in a pre-med program. For families who don’t have the experience, how would you know it’s a crock? It sounds good on the surface.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001411188910 Lucreza Borgia

        Pre-med isn’t a real program. My cousin got into med-school with a degree in psychology and some extra courses taken at a local CC in the sciences that were pertinent to the program he was applying to. It really depends on the school’s med program and their requirements.

      • Mel

        There are a list of general science classes expected before someone applies to medical school. The list is termed the “pre-med program”. It’s the classes your cousin took before he got into med school. The difference is that your cousin had a real degree in psychology – he just needed some basic science classes to finish off his transcript for medical school. This YA has no high school transcript and needs an excellent transcript from a reputable college to have a shot at med school.

    • http://aztecqueen2000.blogspot.com/ AztecQueen2000

      This happens all the time in Boro Park too. Girls especially are conned into getting “master’s degrees” from bogus online schools. If these poor girls ever tried to work outside the community, they would find out that their “degrees” are worth enough to wallpaper the subway.

    • Apple

      I currently work for CollegePlus after going through the program myself. The Biology degree is actually a Bachelors of Arts in Biology. I don’t know how that compares with a BS in Biology, but the student actually has to take classes with labs at a local college for Chemistry, Biology and Physics, then transfer those credits to Thomas Edison State College – http://www.tesc.edu/heavin/ba/Biology.cfm (regionally accredited). Although, I’ve never had a Biology student, they are getting legitimate, accredited degrees. Some parents won’t even let their girls take local college classes and then they have to choose a degree that only requires online classes. No its always a great option. But as a woman coaching young girls, sometimes this is the ONLY way their parents will allow them to get a college degree. Which is why I am still working for them even if there is a lot of fundamental craziness in CP’s background. (ATI/Verity, Vision Forum) GAG! And they still drink the kool aid. Girls can actually get an accredited degree that may help them if they ever get out. It definitely helped me start questioning and exploring the world outside my ‘fundie biblical worldview’.

      • Mel

        Good to know. A BA or BS in Biology can be equivalent – it depends on the amount of math/chemistry/physics required. In an institution that offers both, the BS has more math/chem/physics while the BA is a liberal arts focus with lots of biology classes. In colleges that only offer one, the BA/BS usually doesn’t mean anything.

        My on-going concern is that my YA is still being told that they can finish the equivalent of a 4 year program in two years online through CLEP tests. That is simply not true for a BS/BA in Biology. The YA will have to take college classes at a brick-and-mortar school. Since many of those classes have a set order that needs to be accomplished due to prerequisites, a two-year plan is literally impossible.

      • J.B.

        Apple you are awesome! Actually, I used CollegePlus, because at the time, it was the only acceptable way for me to get a “real” degree. After wasting 5 years through a bogus ATI college program called Telos, that offered an unaccredited “counseling” degree, I needed a fast-track to an accredited Bachelor’s. So, I heard about this, and at the time I still lived at home and had drunk the parental-submission kool-aid. I ended up testing my way through most of the credits toward a BA in Psychology. As I transferred my credits I discovered I could have avoided the CollegePlus fees and just done my testing on my own, because CollegePlus is just a coaching program, not an actual school. Live and learn. Thomas Edison State College is indeed accredited, although I have since found the degree I got to be mostly worthless. My education was sub-par in many ways, and now I’m stuck with a less-than useful degree. HOWEVER as I studied toward my degree I realized that there was nothing to fear in “secular” psychology, and that student loans are not evil, and this freed me to pursue education in the real world. I’m currently living in a military posting with limited job options but I’m researching post-grad studies to see how I can turn my degree into something useful towards a career. I’m still interested in counseling but not sure I want to go the LMHC path just now….I discovered what I’m really interested in is victim advocacy. Anyway, sorry about the ramble, but, for all its drawbacks and needless expense, CollegePlus may indeed be the only option for many girls to get a real degree. And although TESC may not be the best school, any college diploma is better than nothing. In hindsight, how I wish I had just taken a student loan to get a real education. But as it is, I’m lucky I came accross this program because it as what jumpstarted my escape from the craziness.

  • Christine

    My husband grew up in rural South-Western Ontario, so he went to school with a bunch of Amish children. There is really no better way to lose the idea that the Amish are so perfect. My husband tells the story of a girl in his elementary school who was
    getting extra tutoring, because she was bright, and wanted to learn, so
    the teachers were helping her, because she was going to be kept home
    after grade 8, and this was her only chance.

    What a lot of Evangelicals forget, as witnessed by the horribly misleading “bonnet lit” books, is that these aren’t people who are making conscious choices to life simply, they’re just doing what their culture does. If you’ve ever read one of the Amish romance novels*, you’ll see how much this fetishization of their culture completely ignores the realities of it. The characters don’t think like Amish people would be expected to think. They think like super-pious pietist people would. It’s a real exercise in cultural appropriation. (When a former Amish woman wrote books about her childhood, reviewers mentioned how the main character was so incredibly different from what you normally expect in Amish fiction.)

    *If you haven’t ever read one, don’t.

    • http://slatewoman.blogspot.com/ Slatewoman

      yeah, i’ve got some truly atrocious guilty pleasures (todlers &tiaras, anyone?), but amish romances are just so far beyond me. i knew a girl who was really into them just as stupid little stories and i’m afraid i lost a bit of respect for her…. i mean… if you’re gonna read a book, and probably spend money on it, make it worth your while! at least when i watch crappy TV, i can do some sewing or whatever!

      • Christine

        Hey, I can knit while I’m reading a crappy book. I’ve read a couple of the Amish romances – I read an essay about how horribly they misrepresented everything, and it was like when you hear about the Star Wars Holiday Special. You think “it can’t be as awful as that, right?” (especially since, in this case, they’re often bestsellers, and I’ve seen several donated to my husband’s church’s library), and go to see for yourself, and realise that maybe you should have trusted the researcher.

      • http://slatewoman.blogspot.com/ Slatewoman

        hopefully you didn’t perceive my comment as an attack. if so, it wans’t intended as one. i’m having trouble reading the tone of your reply because i just woke up and am waiting for the coffee to brew GO FASTER MACHINE.

        how do you read and knit at the same time? do you have 3 or 4 arms?

      • Alix

        If I tried reading and knitting at the same time, I’d end up with some kind of unholy book-yarn hybrid. With crooked rows.

      • Christine

        Don’t worry, I didn’t think it was an attack. And I manage the reading while knitting by not using my hands to hold the book. I lay it open, or use my hands or legs or some other weight to hold it open. After years of knitting in class I am very quick to pick up & put down knitting, so turning pages isn’t a problem for me.

    • Naomi

      Absolutely, Christine! The Amish-themed romance novels tell us more about their Evangelical writers and readers than they do about the Amish. I’ll spare you my usual rant, but, yeah. People want the fantasy, not the reality.

  • Naomi

    Great comments, Libby Anne. Or at least those I’ve read. I’m not ready to read the article beyond the headlines yet since it strikes too close home to my own Amish Mennonite upbringing. I just can’t deal with it at the moment. I’ve never heard of anything this pervasive happening before, but I know of multiple unrelated situations where relatives of mine were molested as children. In all the cases, it was first swept under the rug, and then when the victims became old enough to cry foul, they were ostracized for not forgiving. No one doubted that the abuse had happened, but the only “solution” the community had was to tell the victim to “forgive”/shut up/get with the program. This dynamic is changing in some communities, but at a glacial pace.

    Obviously, there are plenty of loving, gentle, intelligent people in Amish/Mennonite communities, but the culture’s complete lack of insight into power dynamics and their voluntary isolation make them ripe for abuse. It rarely, if ever, occurs to an abused person in that culture to call the police. Especially when the abuse is coming from a family member as it usually does. It’s just outside their frame of reference.

    There was so much positive press about how the Amish community forgave the murderer in the Nickel Mines shooting. But this story about the Bolivian community shows the flip side of their radical conception of “forgiveness.” It makes me physically ill.

    • Naomi

      I should perhaps add that there are reports of situations where Amish people (in an Ohio community, I believe) have called the police about abuse, but the police refused to take action. Either they didn’t want to deal with it (afraid of the bad press) or their assumptions about the community prevented them from believing abuse was possible. I understand that in this Bolivian situation, the police have locked up the perpetrators. Unfortunately, not all law enforcement in the US are so diligent.

      • Whirlwitch

        The original rapists were handed over to police because of fears they would be lynched. I’m assuming from what I’ve read here and elsewhere that part of that concern was the upheaval that the violence would bring to the community, as well as the outside investigation that would be required if any of them were killed.

        The Manitoba Colony doesn’t have to report any crime except murder to the authorities, and the article made clear they usually don’t, which is the situation you are familiar with. I could wish for more, frankly.

    • AnotherOne

      I wasn’t raised Mennonite, but have had a lot of contact with Mennonites in various capacities. I was really sorry to read in the article how the leaders of the colony have adamantly refused any help from less conservative North American Mennonite groups who have offered to send sexual trauma counselors who speak low german. Most of the old order Mennonites I’ve known who have escaped traumatic and abusive situations have done so by transitioning to less conservative, more open Mennonite communities who understand where they’re coming from much better than most people in mainstream society and who also have resources to help them. Like you said, going to secular authorities or others in mainstream society just isn’t in the frame of reference of most Amish and Old Order Mennonites. And so if leaders of a group like this colony adamantly oppose interaction of any kind with less conservative Mennonite groups, they really succeed in totally isolating victims from potential sources of help. And that seems more possible to do in these geographically isolated communities in Mexico and central and south america than it is to do in places in the United States and Canada where there are large concentrations of Mennonites. In the North American communities i’m familiar with, there are cross relationships between old order groups and more mainstream Mennonites, and overall I think that’s much healthier (though not problem free, of course).

      • Christine

        As you somewhat implied, there is a very practical side to the crossovers with mainstream Mennonites – there aren’t a lot of other places where you’ll find someone who speaks the language. So even if the abused women realised that what was being done is wrong, and that they were entitled to help, and they were willing to make the leap to get that help, if no one can speak to them, no one can help them.

    • jemand2

      This is why I was rather sick at all the positive press about the Amish community’s ‘forgiveness’ after the Nickel Mines shooting, because I knew about about how the community defined and enforced this supposed ‘forgiveness.’ And because I could imagine what would happen to the one relative who was willing to still express any kind of anger at all about a dead little girl.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yeah, it amazes me how dumb people can be when they take this kind of “forgiveness” at face value. Don’t they realize that these people essentially have no choice, that they believe that their salvation is bound up in their ability to forgive anyone for anything and they have no exposure to any other kind of thinking? That’s not forgiveness anymore than me giving someone my purse with a gun held to my head is charity.

      I wish people would get over their worship of the concept of “forgiveness” and take a critical look at how it is often used to control and abuse people.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    This is horrifying. It seems to me that an insular, patriarchal society with no outside oversight lends itself to rape and incest because there’s no one to really care about how women and girls are treated (and men and boys who are raped are generally too ashamed to speak up), nor is there any way for women to escape. There are uncomfortable parallels that might be drawn here to more insular fundamentalists in the US, too.

    I join Boo in wondering, what about pregnancies? That was the first thing I thought of when I read it.

    • Gillianren

      Yeah, I’m also curious about pregnancy. I assume that any married women who got pregnant are just assuming that the child is her husband’s, not her rapist’s, but still.

      Also? This is a good example of why I actually like the idea of the police. You need to have someone whose job it is to be a disinterested investigator. I’m not saying that the police system is perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot better than this.

  • Saraquill

    Despite all of the awfulness in their colonies, they say that evil largely exists outside their communities? The dissonance is strong.

    • jemand2

      well, that’s very convenient for them, simply *because* it is so awful in the colony, combined with the unverified statement that it’s worse elsewhere, victims are not likely to want to risk what could *possibly* be worse than what they are already experiencing.

  • Liz

    “…But we didn’t know who was doing it, so how could we stop it?”

    The whole thing is horrifying, I just don’t know what to say. I couldn’t bring myself to read the whole article, but that quote stuck out. It just sounds like they couldn’t care that much about people who were repeatedly raped. That’s just… no words.

  • Sarah-Sophia

    The problem with idealizing the family is that it stops people from seeing the bad things that can happen inside the family. I read somewhere that in the 18th century people believed so strongly against government intrusion into the family that the idea that a man should be arrested for beating his wife was controversial.

    • Mel

      Read “Marriage – A History” by Stephanie Coontz. It tracks the evolution of the nuclear family. You’d like it.

      • Watry

        Seconded. It’s an EXCELLENT book.

      • Beutelratti

        *adds to wishlist* Thank you!

    • Whirlwitch

      “…in the 18th century people believed so strongly against government
      intrusion into the family that the idea that a man should be arrested
      for beating his wife was controversial.”

      True. Also in the 19th, the 20th, and you can still find people pushing this idea today in the 21st.

  • lawrence090469

    I always assume religious fundamentalists are freaks and perverts until proven otherwise.

    • AnotherOne

      That’s awesome. We should all operate like that. One of the things that helped me escape from fundamentalism was that everyone outside my religious circle treated me like I was a freak and a pervert.

      Oh, that’s right. I actually escaped because people were nice to me, and treated me like a person instead of a freak. Even though I was kind of a freak.

    • wombat

      That’s funny. I always assume religious fundamentalists are people, with a normal people-distribution of character traits, until proven otherwise.

      • AlisonCummins

        Fundamentalists? No. Religious extremists are not the same as people who can accomodate the mainstream. They are less rational and more afraid. That doesn’t mean I would treat them any different from anyone else, but I can’t assume that they have the same random distribution of character traits that anyone anywhere has.

    • Beutelratti

      Nah, nah. I know there are some terrible fundamentalists out there, some beyond saving, some who are really evil, but they are all humans. And the next fundamentalist you meet or have a discussion with might just be that one freak that really wants out. Compassion and reason are the keys to fight religious indoctrination, not hostility.

      • AnotherOne

        Very true. I think people underestimate how much small, kind, non-combative interactions add up over time. My childhood was so unstable, and the fundamentalism was woven around dysfunction and emotional abuse and poverty. My emotions and beliefs were all over the map through my adolescence and into my early 20s. Throughout that time I remember brief encounters with stable, rational people whose kindnesses to me had the cumulative effect of encouraging me to slowly build a life and set of values I am happy with and secure in. Some of those people were devout but moderate in their religious faith, some were atheists, and some I knew too little about to characterize. All of them were helpful to me, because they showed me that a reasonable life could be built outside of what I grew up in, and that being a good person wasn’t predicated on a very narrow and harsh set of religious beliefs. I knew that I hated what I grew up in, and I knew that I had been miserable for years, but I feared the unknown so much that I had no clear vision for what the possibilities were beyond my family’s life. Those kind people gave me that vision, and showed me what was possible.

        There were unkind people too. Some of the unkindness was overt, but most of it was thinly-veiled, patronizing disdain. Like I said, I was kind of a freak. I was not emotionally stable, and I had glaringly bad social skills. The people who made it clear they thought I was a freak did not help me at all–they sent me running right back into the black hole of depression and despair that I had lived in since pre-adolescance. Believe me, when you grow up feeling like a freak, wearing freakish clothes, and aren’t socialized in the norms of mainstream society, you develop an excellent radar for what people think of you. I may have been socially backwards, but I knew the difference between people being genuinely kind, and being patronizing.

        Sorry for such a long diatribe; obviously lawrence’s comment hit a nerve. fundamentalism thrives on its adversarial relationship with the mainstream. i can’t do anything about fundamentalists’ paranoia and persecution complexes, but I am committed to keeping my interpersonal relationships with fundamentalists as non-adversarial on my part as I can. It’s a hard balance to strike, since I feel the responsibility to speak out against beliefs and practices I find harmful, but it never hurts to treat people with genuine love and respect and kindness.

  • Rob F

    I’ll just post this again (my emphasis):

    More than 100 reports in the scientific and professional literature, involving more than 35,000 subjects, indicate that rapists, child molesters, incestuous parents, and sexually motivated murderers are typically very conservative in their sexual and social values and sometimes more religious than average—suggesting that in many cases traditional sexual morality is a contributing factor in sexual abuse rather than a deterrent. At the First International Conference on the Treatment of Sex Offenders in 1989, there was broad agreement that Western societies with repressive sexual attitudes and traditional male/female roles are more likely to have high rates of all forms of sex crimes.

    • tsara

      Oh, wow. Reading.

      EDIT: I’d like to see something with newer data and better-defined terms.

    • http://aztecqueen2000.blogspot.com/ AztecQueen2000

      Why am I not surprised? I would love to do a study comparing attitudes and rates of rape and sexual assault in fundamentalist communities vs. secular ones. (My hypothesis–there are more assaults in fundamentalist communities than in the secular world.)

  • Anat

    Mennonites and Amish are supposed to be non-violent communities, but it looks like these isolated communities have yet to learn that sexual violence is violence too.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

      Well put.

  • Kagi Soracia

    This does not surprise me in the slightest. How very sad. My heart goes out to these women and their families – God have mercy on them. I would pray for hope and healing but unless something changes, I know they won’t get it. :(

  • TLC

    It never ceases to amaze me how these “Christian” communities who withdraw from the “evils of modern society” turn out to be some of the most evil places on earth. It makes me wonder which came first: were the founders just abusers who didn’t want to get caught, so they created these isolated societies to hide their crimes? Or were these societies created with the best of intentions and ended up drawing the worst criminals to them because of the isolation, patriarchy and strict obedience?

    My heart breaks for these victims who have been so cruelly abused, then have to use the “God’s plan” crap as their only treatment. God doesn’t plan this for anyone! Maybe the lesson to be learned is this: That knowledge of the outside world is “evil” only for those whose brutal crimes are exposed by it.

    • Alix

      I honestly don’t think it’s either, though I think both do happen. I suspect it’s something worse – that these people retreat from society with the best of intentions, and they end up growing their own criminals through their particular ideologies promoting and/or hiding certain abuses, and those ideologies concentrating power in the hands of a few people without also holding them accountable. Any community that doesn’t a) hold people in power accountable and b) have honest structures in place to deal with real crime (sin, whatever you call it) in their communities I suspect will have similar problems, though not necessarily sexual abuse.

      The truth is that we all have less than nice impulses*. If we’re planted in environments that cater to those, they’ll grow.

      *We also have nice ones, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

  • http://aztecqueen2000.blogspot.com/ AztecQueen2000

    Slightly off-topic, but still relevant. I have an acquaintance who was raised in a very strict Hasidic sect. She told me that she had no idea that when a woman turns down her husband and he forces her anyway, that it constitutes rape.

  • Thomas

    The trouble is not their religion. The trouble is with men who are scum. SCUM OF THE EARTH. I have difficulty with the repentance and forgiveness of such people. There are rapist scum in every faith, and DEFINITELY within agnostic/atheist/Unitarian communities. Sometimes certain groups’ isolation and social patterns make them particularly susceptible, but most groups do not handle rape or incest well. This gets tricky in isolated religious groups, but it can also be hard in activist communities with egalitarian ideals and a resistance to the

    prison-industrial complex, which thus requires alternate systems of justice.

  • Rachel

    That gets me too, how people admire these repressive patriarchal cultures. When I was a kid we lived near Amish. The entire society was extremely patriarchal, from the simplest things to the greatest. Men could wear buttons on their clothes, but that would be “vanity” for women — who had to fasten their dresses with pins. Men got to relax after a day’s work; women’s work never ended, even though they were doing heavy farm work a lot too. They don’t educate past eighth grade, female teachers were paid a fraction of what male teachers were paid, etc., etc.
    I’ve got no problem with someone trying to “get closer to God”, until that attempt entails repressing other people. Then I don’t think you’re a saint. You’re a misogynist asshole.

  • Joseph O Polanco

    I look forward to the end of all false religion.