Exposing Sexual Abuse among the Amish and Seeking Social Change. Misty Griffin’s Tears of the Silenced (Universität Bielefeld)

Aktivität: Vorträge und GastvorlesungenKonferenzvorträgeForschung

Sabrina Völz - Sprecher*in

Amish societies seek separation from the outside world and reject individualism, military service, and gender equality. Retaining a traditional way of life in the face of modernity, this diverse patriarchal Anabaptist group is generally viewed as “an archetype of uniquely American goodness” (Issenberg, 2004), a gentle, peace-loving folk. The darker side of Amish culture – problems associated with domestic abuse – has been insufficiently researched. The first book-length study on Amish sexuality appeared in 2020.

Since sexual abuse is viewed as a sin or religious matter to be dealt with within the community, it is, therefore, seldom reported to outside authorities. Due to their cultural scripts and religious beliefs, the Amish prioritize concern for forgiveness and the offender’s salvation over the needs of the victims. After a public “shaming” ritual in which the victim is expected to forgive the offender in front of the entire congregation, the sin is to be spoken of no more. Without formal health insurance, Amish victims are then mostly left alone with their suffering and offenders to their own devices. The vicious cycle of abuse and forgiveness is likely to continue unless Amish leaders sanction counseling.

A small group of cultural Amish seeks to create awareness for this severe problem in memoir. After briefly introducing Amish gender constructions as well as religious and cultural practices that make reporting abuse complex, I will analyze the struggles of two young Amish women victimized by sexual abuse who permanently left the Amish after members rejected and further traumatized them. Misty Griffin’s Tears of the Silenced (2018) and Lizzie Hershberger’s Behind Blue Curtains (2021) will provide the basis for this study. Memoir empowers these non-professional authors to narrate and analyze trauma-laden experiences, create cracks in the dominant narrative, and share their experiences of escape and transformation. In addition to seeking social change through life writing and maintaining a Twitter presence, Griffin fights child abuse and fosters sexual assault awareness as an activist, while Hershberger aims to empower women to speak out about and overcome abuse with Voices of Hope, a non-profit organization she co-founded. These efforts will also be discussed.


Life Writing, Creativity, and the Social in the Americas


Bielefeld, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Deutschland

Veranstaltung: Konferenz