Thursday, July 15, 2010

Amish leaders in Michigan learn from sex abuse case near Seymour MO

Amish leaders in Michigan learn from sex abuse case near Seymour MO
Originally printed at

MARSHFIELD, Mo.-- An Amish man from Seymour, Johnny Schwartz, was charged last year for statutory sodomy and rape of two young Amish girls. His wife, Fannie Schwartz, was later charged for knowing about the abuse and not reporting it.

The Webster County Sheriff's Department investigation later found that elders of an Amish church near Seymour also knew about the abuse but never alerted authorities. That led to prosecution of the elders. Now it looks like that heartbreaking case might have brought some relief for a similar situation in Michigan.

"If it happens again, will they report it? I don't know, I don't know," Webster County Sheriff Roye Cole said in November 2009.

On Wednesday, Cole talked about what he'd heard from Michigan.

"One of the Michigan officers talked to one of our detectives basically saying, 'Good job,' because we think the elders and bishops reported this because of what they'd seen down here in Webster County," said Cole.

Cole had a meeting with the Amish community in his county nine months ago to make clear to them the law of mandatory reporting. And, even by buggy, it seems the news traveled fast, all the way to Michigan.

"They had never reported it up there either," said Cole.

He said two young Amish girls who spent time here in the past, and now are in Michigan, told the elders of being abused; the elders then told Michigan police. That police department now credits Webster County with making a difference.

"It was one of the best feelings I've had in a long time," Cole said.

The sheriff says his hope is the reporting won't stop in Webster County or in Michigan but also will have a domino effect across the country in Amish communities, and anytime there's a sexual abuse case, church leaders will report it to authorities.

It's a first-of-its-kind of case for law enforcement in Michigan, and perhaps for more departments to come.

"I don't look at it from the sending-a-message point of view. I look at it as we try to do what's right and I think good things will happen. That seems to be what happened in this case," Cole said.

The case out of Michigan is still under investigation.

As for the case last year in Webster County involving the couple and elders, Johnny Schwartz is in prison, his wife is on probation and the case against the elders is still pending.

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