Thursday, February 24, 2011

Amish sex abuse

Judge forms task force to address sex abuse in Plain communityIntelligencer Journal
Lancaster New Era
Updated Feb 24, 2011 07:43
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Creating a task force to address concerns about sexual abuse within the Amish community
Judge Dennis Reinaker

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It was a difficult case for everyone.

A father and son, Jonathan and Melvin Smucker of Martic Township, both were charged last year with sexually abusing young girls.

The men and their victims all were members of the Amish community.

The victims said they did not want to pursue the case unless they were assured the men would not go to prison.

Lancaster County Judge Dennis Reinaker recently sentenced the two men to probation. But the judge felt he had to do more to help victims like the ones in the case.

Reinaker has formed a Plain community task force, which will meet for the first time next week, to address concerns about sexual abuse within Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities.

VIDEO: Reinaker talks about creating the task force

The judge formed the task force after he saw how the Smucker case unfolded and became concerned about how the Plain community sometimes reacts to such cases.

Concerning the Smucker case, Reinaker heard that the Amish community was pressuring the victims to forgive the two men and move on with their lives.

Reinaker also wondered if the girls were receiving adequate counseling.

And while the judge ordered the two men to leave their family home, he worried that not enough was being done to prevent future sexual abuse within the Plain community at large.

The judge has asked local attorneys and a counselor to join the group, and is hoping for participation from the Plain community as well.

A local Amish man, who asked not to be named, said his community is talking about the issue but has not decided what its role will be with the group.

"It's something I think we need to look at," the man said. "What I mean is we realize the seriousness of it, and there should probably be some awareness made."

Task force members said that the isolated, insular nature of the Plain community sometimes results in it reacting differently to sexual abuse than the outside world does.

Part of that results from the male hierarchy in the community, where men are the leaders of the household and, as bishops, leaders of the church, said task force member Linda Crockett, who is director of consultation and education for the Samaritan Counseling Center in Lancaster.

Female victims of abuse sometimes are reluctant to report the problem to a male leader, said Paula Knudsen Burke, a Lancaster defense attorney who also is a task force member.

And, when abuse is reported, the Plain community often wants to handle the problem internally as much as it can, Reinaker said.

But sometimes it does not have access to counselors who are trained to deal with the challenging issues facing abuse victims, said Crockett, who also is director of Walking Together: Support for Survivors of Family Violence.

Reinaker said he hopes the task force can work with members of the Plain community to accomplish three goals:

• Create an environment where victims feel free to come forward with allegations of abuse.

• Ensure abuse victims receive proper counseling and support.

• Educate young people in the Plain community on how to recognize inappropriate behavior.

The group also includes Karen Mansfield, a prosecutor from the Lancaster County District Attorney's office, and Daneen Miller Smith, an attorney who has worked for the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic.

Reinaker consulted with Elizabethtown College professor Don Kraybill, an expert on the Amish community, before setting up the task force. Kraybill declined to comment on his input.

Burke hopes the task force also can educate the Plain community on how the justice system works and how it handles abuse cases.

She hopes to promote the understanding that abuse allegations will be investigated and prosecuted, if evidence is found to support charges.

"These are very serious offenses," she said. "If they say, 'Oh my goodness, I could go to jail for a long time,' hopefully that can serve as a deterrent."

Crockett said she hopes the word will spread throughout the Plain community that help is available for both victims and their abusers.

"It may take a few to step up and be willing to look at it," she said, "and be willing to make some changes."

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