The memories come to her in fragments. The bed creaking late at night after one of her brothers snuck into her room and pulled her to the edge of her mattress. Her underwear shoved to the side as his body hovered over hers, one of his feet still on the floor.
Her ripped dresses, the clothespins that bent apart on her apron as another brother grabbed her at dusk by the hogpen after they finished feeding the pigs. Sometimes she’d pry herself free and sprint toward the house, but “they were bigger and stronger,” she says. They usually got what they wanted.
As a child, Sadie* was carefully shielded from outside influences, never allowed to watch TV or listen to pop music or get her learner’s permit. Instead, she attended a one-room Amish schoolhouse and rode a horse and buggy to church—a life designed to be humble and disciplined and godly.
Others find solidarity in The Plain People’s Podcast, a show launched in 2018 that features stories of Amish and Mennonite sexual abuse. Jasper Hoffman, a former Mennonite and the podcast’s cohost, says she receives “hundreds of messages” from people wanting to share stories or get help reporting an abuser.
And especially in Pennsylvania, efforts are being made to reform Amish culture itself. In Lancaster County, the task force Stedman serves on, comprised of police, attorneys, and social service agencies, has been meeting with Amish leaders a few times a year, trying to build trust and communication. (It’s worth noting, however, that not a single woman has been included among the group’s Amish representatives.)
Some Amish have started their own initiatives too. In multiple states, their Conservative Crisis Intervention committees liaise with local authorities on reporting and prosecuting sexual assault cases. One Lancaster County member, Amos Stoltzfoos, told me that “a lot of things have changed and forced us to comply and not allow things to be swept under the rug, like they had at one point.” (Stricter mandatory reporting requirements were implemented in Pennsylvania in 2014 in the aftermath of the high-profile Jerry Sandusky child abuse case, for one.)
Now, Stoltzfoos says, the Lancaster County Amish, at least, “aren’t interested in hiding things” and have “adapted and recognized that we need to change with some of the education that we give to the parents and the children.” He says they’ve also tried to understand the lasting trauma that can make quick forgiveness difficult for victims: “Our community does really care….It just takes time.”
In the summer of 2018, Lizzie sought her own justice by reporting her rapes to police, something she never felt she could do before. To her surprise, charges were brought against Stutzman, who was by then a deacon in the church. He pleaded guilty to third degree criminal sexual conduct, and at his sentencing hearing, the room was filled with his Amish supporters. But Lizzie was also surrounded by supporters, including Sadie, who had driven two hours to be there. Stutzman was ultimately sentenced to 45 days in jail and 10 years’ probation, based on guidelines in place in 1988, the year before the assaults.
As for Sadie, she’s now a 32-year-old mother of five living in the Midwest. In 2013, she and her husband finally left the Amish church. For now, she’s focused on healing, not pressing charges. She still speaks with her brothers, one of whom has apologized “many times,” she says. She knows it sounds “weird,” but she even visits them occasionally.
Sadie has tried to work through her trauma in couples therapy with her husband. And she’d still like to get her own Christian therapist. She’s pretty sure she’ll never completely trust any man around her kids.
There’s been plenty of anger to deal with. She used to “fly off the handle,” she says. But now, it feels good to finally be letting it all out.
*Name has been changed.
These photos are used for illustrative purposes only.
Additional research by Darya Marchenkova and Hannah Beckler. Additional support provided by Investigative Reporters and Editors.
Type Investigations is an award-winning nonprofit newsroom that works with independent reporters to investigate topics ranging from gender issues to criminal justice to human rights.