‘I knew something was very wrong about it’: Ex-Amish woman shares what she says are dark secrets of Amish community
Torah Bontrager said she left the Amish community when she was 15 years old after years of being sexually abused
PORTAGE, Wis. — Wisconsin is home to a number of Amish communities which are typically seen as quiet, quaint places.
As Torah Bontrager describes it, “People think of the peaceful gently folk in this kind of idyllic society where there are no problems and everything is safe and beautiful.”
But Bontrager said that romanticized idea of the Amish community doesn’t paint the whole picture.
“I was molested quite a bit as a child by various people,” she said.
Bontrager said she grew up in an Amish community in Wisconsin and remembers the first time she was molested when she was 5 years old.
“I knew something was very wrong about it but I didn’t have the words or knowledge about how to identify that,” Bontrager said.
Bontrager said her uncle, Enos Bontrager, was among several people throughout her childhood who inappropriately touched her.
When Bontrager was 11 years old, she decided to leave the Amish community. It took her four years until she “figured out how to escape.”
“The toughest part about it was figuring out how to survive in the outside world, figuring out how to escape,” she said.
Bontrager said she also left for an opportunity to go get an education beyond the Amish eighth grade. Bontrager said she was forbidden from learning at a higher level than that where she grew up.
Now Bontrager lives in Manhattan, New York. She started a non-profit to help Amish women get the resources and assistance they need.
Bontrager said she knows hundreds of women who have experienced sexual abuse and that the way the Amish church works isn’t welcoming for women to come forward.
“Both parties have to go before the church, and confess about what happened and the victim has to ask the male perpetrator for forgiveness for having tempted him,” she said. “It’s the woman’s fault. The women are also warned not to report to police, to outside authorities. If they do, they are going to be ex-communicated by the church.”
Bontrager said she reported her sexual abuse to law enforcement years after it happened, but nothing came of her report because of the statute of limitations.
But Bontrager’s uncle, Enos Bontrager, was found guilty by no contest plea in Columbia County Court Monday morning on charges brought on by another one of Enos Bontrager’s victims.
But that is just one case.
Bontrager said the Amish community’s lifestyle makes it easy for predators to get away with sexual abuse.
“Because of the isolation, and the separation from the outside world, that creates a perfect environment for abuse to flourish. The Amish also have an agreement with law enforcement with the outside that we take care of our own problems.”
Bontrager said in order for real change to happen, she is trying to get law enforcement to become more involved when cases are reported and let Amish communities know they are not above the law when it comes to dealing with sexual abuse reports.
But Bontrager knows it is going to take years of work for change to happen because most women don’t want to be exiled from their communities and give up everything they’ve ever known.
“We cannot just keep looking the other way and say there’s nothing we can do about it because we can do something about it.”
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