Leola, Pennsylvania (AP) — Rippling linen and long dress clotheslines are common on off-the-grid farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. For many tourists, they are as symbolic as the idyllic landscape of the Amish Country, as are the country paths and wooden bridges.
However, for two days in late April, a small indoor exhibit here was hung for another purpose. Thirteen costumes representing the trauma of sexual assault suffered by Amish, Mennonite, and members of similar groups hung from it. This reminds us of the unobtrusive clothing they need, especially women and girls.
Each garment on display was either the actual garment worn by the survivor at the time of the attack, or a replica assembled by volunteers to match the strict dress code of the survivor’s childhood church.
One was a simple stand-up collar long-sleeved periwinkle blue amish dress. The attached sign said “Survival age: 4 years old”.
Next to it was a five-year-old thick coat, hat, and long hunter green dress, adorned over sturdy black shoes. “I was never safe, I was a kid. He was an adult,” there was a sign saying the survivor said. “No one helped me when he told them he hurt me.”
There was also a toddler onesie.
Ruth Ann Bullbaker of Wayne County, Ohio helped assemble the exhibits. “I didn’t know I was so angry. Then you start crying.”
The clothes on display represent various branches. Conservative Anabaptist tradition, Amish, Mennonite, Brothers, Charity included. Often referred to as a mediocre church, it emphasizes discreet clothing, including separation from mainstream society, church discipline, forgiveness, and head coverings for women.
It will be held April 29-30 at Leola’s Forest Hills Mennonite Church, with A Better Way based in Zanesville, Ohio and Lancaster, PA.
Hope Anne Dueck, executive director of A Better Way and one of the organizers of the exhibition, reported that many survivors were told, “If I covered my head, I probably wouldn’t have been beaten.” He said he was doing it. You wouldn’t have been able to dress modestly. “
“And as my own survivor, I knew it wasn’t true,” Dueck said.
“No matter what you wear, you can do harm,” she said. The people who contributed to the exhibition said, “I wore what my parents and the church prescribed, and I wore it correctly, but I was still assaulted.”
The exhibition was based on something similar that was staged On a university campus Other places in recent years called “What were you wearing?” They show a wide range of outfits aimed at breaking the myth that sexual assault can blame what the victim was doing.
Current and former members of the plain-clothes religious community, such as Holiness, a sect of Methodists with an emphasis on devotion as well as Anabaptism, agreed last year that it was time to retain their own version. ..
“After all, it wasn’t about clothes,” said Mary Byler, a survivor of child sexual abuse in the Amish community where she grew up. Byler, who founded the Colorado-based group The Misfit Amish to bridge the cultural gap between Amish and the wider society, helped host the exhibition.
“I hope it helps survivors know that they are not alone,” she said.
Survivors were invited to submit their outfits or their description. All but one provided children’s clothing for girls and one boy, mostly reflecting their age at the time of the assault. Dueck said the only adult outfit was that of a woman who was raped by her husband shortly after her birth.
The organizer will prepare high quality photographs made of clothes for display online and in future exhibitions.
In recent years, ordinary church leaders have held seminars to raise awareness, recognizing that sexual abuse is a problem in their communities.
But advocates say they need to do more and some leaders continue to treat abuse cases as a matter of church discipline rather than as a crime reported to civilian authorities. ..
Dozens of criminals from Plain Church affiliations have been convicted of sexually abusing their children in the last two decades, according to a review of files in several state courts. In 2020, several church leaders, including Bishop Amish of Lancaster County, were convicted of failing to report abuse.
Researchers and organizers of the conference said they are investigating current and former members of the plain community and collecting specific data on what they believe is a pervasive problem. ..
However, the display itself made a powerful statement, said Darleen Shark, Mennonite of Lancaster County.
“We talk about statistics … but when you have something physical here, and because the dress is from the plain community, it shouts,” Look, this Is happening in our community! “She said.
Defenders say that in the male-led plain church, forgiveness is taught as the most important virtue. People are often pressured to reconcile With their abusers or abusers of their children.
Byler said he had heard countless abuses in plain churches in the 18 years since he reported sexual assault to civilian authorities. Survivors are often isolated from their community and encounter “very victim blaming statements,” she said.
“Children’s sexual assault and sexual assault are things that happen in the community from every step and way of life,” Bailer said.
The Associated Press’s religious coverage is funded by Lily Endowment, Inc. and is supported through a collaboration between AP and The Conversation US. AP is solely responsible for this content.