Escaping the Amish – Part 1

In February, I received an e-mail from a reader using a Columbia University address — Torah Bontrager — that ended curiously:

“…and if you ever want to hear how I escaped the Amish, let me know.”

Those peace-loving bearded folks from Witness? I called Torah, and after just a few minutes, I knew this post had to be written.

For those of you who feel trapped because of a job or self-imposed obligations as an entrepreneur, this will put things in perspective.

How do you escape your environment if you’re unable to control it? If almost no one on the outside realizes what’s happening?

I’ll let Torah tell us in her own words…

Torah Bontrager after escaping the Amish at age 15.

To start, tell us a little about your background.

I’m twenty-seven and graduated from Columbia University in 2007. I was born in Iowa. We moved to Wisconsin when I was three and to Michigan when I was ten, and I lived with my family in traditional Amish communities this whole time. I escaped from my family and the Amish when I was fifteen. I’m the oldest of eleven children. Four of my siblings were born after I escaped.

What are the most common misconceptions or myths about the Amish?

Here are some of the most common false beliefs about the Amish:

-The Amish speak English (Fact: They speak Amish, which some people claim is its own language, while others say it is a dialect of German. Most people don’t know that Amish was only a spoken language until the Bible got translated and printed into the vernacular about 12 years ago.)

-Amish teens have a choice whether they want to remain practicing the religion. (False)

-Amish is only a religion (Fact: It’s a religion, culture, and language, etc.)

-Amish kids go to public school, or are taught similar courses (e.g., science) as public school kids

-The Amish are Mormons (False)

-The Amish have arranged marriages (False)

-Amish men have more than one wife (False)

-The Amish put all their income in the same pot, like a communist or socialist banking system (False)

-Cameras and music/musical instruments are allowed (False)

-The Amish are “peaceful gentle folk” (False)

What were the positives of growing up Amish?

-Growing up bilingual (Though I didn’t become fluent in English until after I escaped and I was always very self-conscious about my command of the English language)

-The emphasis on the solidarity of the extended family unit

-The emphasis on being hospitable to strangers, helping those in need, whether Amish or “English” (anyone who’s not Amish is “English,” no matter what language or culture he/she represents)

-Building your own houses, growing your own food, sewing your own clothes

These experiences taught me self-reliance, self-preservation, and gave me the ability to relate to non-American familial cultures much better than I might otherwise.

The biggest negatives?

-The rape, incest and other sexual abuse that run rampant in the community

-Rudimentary education

-Physical and verbal abuse in the name of discipline

-Women (and children) have no rights

-Religion–and all its associated fear and brainwashing–as a means of control (and an extremely effective means at that)

-Animal abuse

I consider these negatives as personal positives in a somewhat perverted or distorted way. Without having experienced what I did, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, shaped by the experiences I’ve had since. I always tell people that I’m thankful for having grown up Amish but that I’d never wish it upon anyone else.

What had you want to escape?

For as long as I can remember, I had always envisioned a life such that wouldn’t be compatible with the Amish religion and lifestyle.

I loved learning, and cried when I couldn’t go back to school the fall after graduating from Amish 8th grade. The Amish do not send their children to formal schooling past 8th grade. A Supreme Court case prevented forcing Amish children into high school on grounds of religious freedom. I knew that, by US law, I wasn’t considered an adult until eighteen. I didn’t want to wait until then to go to high school.

For four years, I tried to come up with a way that I could leave before turning eighteen without my parents being able to take me back, so I could go to school.

People generally have a peaceful image of the Amish. Can you explain the physical abuse?

The Amish take the Bible verse “spare the rod and spoil the child” in a literal sense. Parents routinely beat their children with anything from fly swatters, to leather straps (the most typical weapon), to whips (those are the most excruciating of), to pieces of wood.

When I was a little girl, my mom used to make me run down to the cellar to retrieve a piece of wood to get beaten with. I’d choose the thinner ones because I thought they’d hurt less.

One day I couldn’t find a thin piece and I had to get a thicker one. Luckily, I discovered that the thick ones hurt less. So every time after that, I’d get a thick one. It made her feel like she was hurting me more, and I’d scream harder just to make sure she didn’t catch on that it actually hurt less.

One of my acquaintances stuttered when he was little and his dad would make him put his toe under the rocking chair, and then his dad would sit in the chair and rock over the toe and tell him that’s what he gets for stuttering.

Even little babies get abused for crying too much during church or otherwise “misbehaving.” I’ve heard women beat their babies — under a year old — so much that I cringed in pain.

How did this all culminate for you prior to the escape?

My dad was a hunter and taught me to shoot. One evening after eighth grade, when I was fourteen, I came back from target practice in our field. The sun was just setting and I paused for a moment on a little knoll just below the house to enjoy the view. I had just gotten done with a good practice shooting, and I remember that the thought suddenly struck me: today would be a good day to die.

I hadn’t gotten beaten by my mom that day, and we hadn’t had any significant arguments over anything. I thought that if I died, I wanted to die without being mad at my mom. So I thought, I might as well take the opportunity to do so before I got back to the house—at which point who knows whether there would be another fight or a beating.

I put a bullet in the chamber and raised the rifle up. The closer it got to my head, the faster my heart beat. I was taught that whoever committed suicide would go to hell. But I was so miserable in the Amish culture that I believed God would understand that my motives were good.

In the end, I didn’t have the guts to point the barrel straight at my head. Okay, I thought, I’ll just put the gun next to my cheek to see what it feels like.

The instant I felt that cold hard steel, I suddenly realized that I wanted to live.

I had never had that thought before in my life. I had always thought I wanted to die. I don’t know where the idea came from that I wanted to live, but it completely changed my outlook on life.

Just remembering the feel of that cold steel still makes me shudder.

It was an instant flash of revelation—one that appeared and disappeared just as quickly. But in that moment, I realized that I truly wanted to be alive, that someday I’d be happy, and that I must be destined for something better in life—or surely I wouldn’t have gotten a crazy thought like wanting to live.

I branded that thought and feeling into my head. I told myself never to forget it, that no matter how depressed or how much I might want to kill myself in the future, even if I don’t have that same feeling again about wanting to live, I still shouldn’t kill myself because there was a better life in store for me.

At that point, I knew I had to escape.

[Continued in Part 2]

Postscript: This post is not intended to generalize all Amish. Rather, it is one person’s experience with the common constraints of the Old Order Amish. Please see Torah’s further explanations in the comments below.

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210 Replies to “Escaping the Amish – Part 1”

  1. @Spencer: You say “This is just not a true story”. I assume that you do not mean that Torah is not speaking the truth as she has experienced it, but rather you mean that the kind of treatment she describes as being common in her community is not in fact common in all Amish communities.

    The fact that Amish communities vary in the amount of abuse they experience does not make the story untrue. Rape, incest, pedophilia, child abuse, spouse abuse, and elder abuse are undoubtedly much more widespread in our own communities than we care to admit, as these are subjects that carry a great deal of fear and shame with them, and therefore are not usually discussed openly.

    I commend Torah for her courage to tell her story.

    @Norman: you overgeneralize when you say that “the problem with religion (and any authoritative ideology) is dogma: the word from above which shall not be challenged. Critical thinking in such environments is despised and faith overly praised”

    I disagree that all religions reject critical thinking, and suggest that you can only make such a statement about a religion you have followed yourself.

  2. Torah,

    Where in Iowa were you born?

    I know a few Bontragers’ from the Lebanon, IA and Drakesville IA group. I live in Douds, IA. In fact my in-laws live right next door to the Amish school house in Lebanon. No I’m not Amish but I have Amish acquaintances. They have all been a blessing in our life. Everything from helping us move to providing good down home hospitality. I must admit I know nothing about the abuse you speak of. If it is the way you say they hide it very, very well from their “English” neighbors.

    I have witnessed a few “new” Amish in the community that seem to be a little more free wheeling if you will. Literally partying on a Saturday night with their English neighbors. I can’t imagine this is well looked upon by the church. They have picnic tables, partable gazebos and tiki tourchses all in the front yard. Looks like a fun bunch. I have not met them yet. I can send you a picture if you like.

    I would love to speak with you more about your career plans and your plans to bridge the Amish/English.

    Thanks for sharing your insight on the Amish. I wish you well in your travels.


    Shawn Frey

    Douds, IA

  3. please, if you’re gonna quote the Bible, make sure about what it says first. spare the rod, spoil the child? not anywhere in there.

    gripping read. thanks.

    1. King James Version of the Bible, Book of Proverbs, 13:24

      “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes

  4. My parents were born Amish and their parents (my grandparents) left the Amish church while my parents were still young. However, I grew up learning how to speak Pennsylvania Dutch.

    As many have already noted, many of Torah’s facts are fishy, from cold gun barrels, to legal questions, to SS numbers (Amish don’t have SS, my parents don’t have SS), and most hilarious of all, calling Pennsylvania Dutch “Amish”.

    I have a funny story to tell about calling PA Dutch Amish. As a kid growing up, I knew PA Dutch was called PA Dutch. But one day I was bragging to somebody how many languages I knew. I was trying, of course, to figure out how to inflate the number. I came up with this: “I know five languages! English, Spanish, Pennsylvania Dutch, German, and Amish!” My audience burst into roars of laughter and my parents still tell that story about how I made up “Amish” as a language! In fact I recently told that story to a group of Amish friends and they laughed, shook their heads, and muttered through their laughter, “Amish!”

    I know lots of Amish folks and I’ve never heard it called “Amish”. Furthermore, your arrogance shines forth in that you so confidently disagree with 95%+ of the people who speak the language and the leading linguistic organization in the world: SIL.In fact, as the SIL ethnologue says, Pennsylvania German is an excellent name for it and no, it’s not a misnomer. I just came (about 2 weeks ago) from the area of Germany that Pennsylvania Dutch (as it known colloquially among the Amish, Old Order Mennonites, Lutherans, etc, which is a perversion of Pennsylvania Deutsch) originated from and I could easily communicate (mutual intelligibility, which you throw around without having anything to back it up) in Pennsylvania Dutch with the older people there.

    I think someone else hit the nail on the head when they said that you are trying to capitalize on your upbringing and make a quick buck by dramatizing and embellishing your story. I’m sure you’ve heard of the way the internet makes overnight phenoms and I’m sure you hoped to use this blog to accomplish that. What you might not have known about the blogging community (of which I’ve been a member for a number of years) is the instant fact-checking and quick networking of people who know what they’re talking about.

    But I’d hate to commit the sin of overgeneralization. Just because your story sounds fishy doesn’t mean that there aren’t some Amish kids out there that get abused–in fact there are. I’ve heard some stories. However, it’s certainly not the norm.

    I’d like to echo what others have said about lumping all Amish into one lump. They range on the conservative-liberal scale from Swartzentruber to New Order. I just got finished hanging out with four New Order Amish girls in Europe for two weeks and we had a blast. They were quite well educated and well read. They had loving parents who taught them well. I have Amish friends in Kansas (my home state) that I hang out with quite a bit. The situation is the same there. Loving parents, extremely well educated, even tech-savvy! Three of them are computer programmers! (So indeed you might see some honest-to-goodness Amish posting on here setting you straight. I’ll have to drop one of them an email with the link.)

    Have a great day!

  5. To ‘littleblackriver’ who says the following:

    “I apologize for belaboring the point. But i have never once heard an Amish person call their dialect “Amish”. The only people I have heard call it that were “Englishi leit”. (Phonetic spelling alert! LOL)

    “Two nights ago I had a house full of company. I mentioned that I had never heard Amish use that term in reference to their language. 3 out of the 6 ex-Amish there said they had but they all agreed it was rare.”

    The Amish do call their language Amish. When asked by English speakers, most Amish people reply, in English, that it’s Pennsylvania Dutch (a misnomer), German (incorrect) or ‘a dialect of German’. However, in Amish, we call it Amish. Sometimes we also say ‘German’ but that’s borrowed from the English misnomers.

    See my comments elsewhere in this post for an elaboration on the whole language vs. dialect issue or go this link:


  6. What an eye opener, the general impression one has of the Amish is that they are such gentle people. My heart bleeds for the little ones getting beaten. I will be back for part 2. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I just finished reading all these posts (wow, lots of feedback), including the ones that seem to be looking at the blog entry as a some sort of all-encompassing generalization of Amish culture.

    Torah – it is in people like you that other people find the strength to make changes in their own lives, no matter how subtle. I applaud you, and your courage to come out and tell people about your weakest moments, you are a positive role model for many.

    To the people out there who are arguing the blog was biased – I think we are all intelligent enough to know that this is just one person’s account of how she experienced life in an Amish community. That doesn’t mean she’s the only one who was forced into this experience, nor does it mean there isn’t something genuinely disturbing about the whole ordeal.

    The fact that this particular Amish group is allowed to abuse infants and deny women and children of rights because they hide behind a big word like “religion” is inexcusable. Just because a group of people claim to have an organized religion should not make them immune to the laws our society has put in place.

    We talk about gangs and organized crime as being something entirely different, but they’re really not. The only difference is that they aren’t recognized as a religion, and therefore are punishable by the law that governs their region/state/country of residence. They are still a group of people, with some degree of similarity in their beliefs and behaviour, and they do things their own way. But that doesn’t make it okay for them to steal, abuse, kill, torture, slave, or otherwise.

    I am a firm believer that people should have the right to practice their own faith, but I draw the line when people claim to be practicing their faith when they are hurting other people either, physically, emotionally, or otherwise.

  8. Hello All,

    I tried to read most of the comments regarding this young “escaped” Amish woman.

    I am generally amazed at some of the speculation and distraction from the intended lesson.

    I think the important point to consider, “here,” is NOT the abuse. ABUSE is bad, we all get it. Abuse can occur by warped people anywhere. THIS IS NOT AN ABUSE DISCUSSION FORUM.

    We do not know the extent of her abuse and we should not lose focus from the main point of this forum by trying to speculate on the actual extent or her motivations. WE DO NOT KNOW. SHE DOES.

    The main point is that “environments” exists that may be seemingly beyond our control. We did not ask to be born in a certain environment.

    Therefore, we can look at life experiences of others who have lived in the extremes, away from things we take for granted, and be amazed with the fact that they overcame. This is true for the Amish girl, or ANY socio-economic deprived person throughout the world.

    This does not apply ONLY to this isolated story. I do not believe it was the intent of the site owner to relay this story for a specific discussion of the Amish or this particular young girl’s character.

    The opportunity exists to lift up each other and motivate one another to overcome adversity and limitations.

    Instead, the forum spirals down into a speculative critique of the Amish and of the intentions of this girl who took the time to share her personal story of triumph.

    This site and forum is really about triumph, don’t you think?

    Isn’t that a more worthy and positive discussion to build?

    The fact is that, to use this girl as an example, she followed her DREAMS.

    Desire, Recognition of Purpose, Effort, Ambitions, Motivation, and Self-Confidence. I always like to throw in Faith and the end of this as it is Faith that makes all DREAMS a reality. Faith should not be confused with blind hope and wishing. Faith is based in action, with the expectation that the reward will most certainly follow, even in the face of contrary evidence.

    She had Faith when the “evidence” in her “externally controlled environment” wanted to crush her expectations of high school, college, and a better life. I reiterate: HER PERSPECTIVE.

    Thoughts like this should be what motivates this particular forum.

    We cannot undo the abuse. We cannot retract any lies or embellishments, here.

    We can only attempt to extract the value of the potential lessons to be learned.

    Follow your DREAMS people,

    Dr David D. Thornton

    Raised in a Low Middle Class home (i.e. no silver spoon)

    Sudden Young Widower before 30

    Father of 4 toddlers

    (doctorate earned while raising 4 young children alone without support)

    (doctorate earned on time, without dropping one class or semester)

    P.S. I do not brag. I need no acceptance, appreciation, or approval here. I simply illustrate the theme of this site and forum: Stability and forward motion through uncontrollable adversity.

    We all have this capability in us.

  9. As a side note to my previous post:

    Stories like this should be read as allegory in the absence of verifiable sources.

    In this way, the story does not lose its instructive potential.

    All holy books are full of allegories versus only historical fact.

    Allegories have been used for instructional purposes throughout time.

    So, what is the problem here, if this story is not real? It can still be used as an allegory.


  10. David, I have two very insightful friends. After they read this blog post and story (not including your comment, which was posted later), they told me that this story reminded them of another story they had heard. Your comment put the icing on the cake for that comparison. 🙂


    On Tuesday, the investigative website The Smoking Gun published the six-page report, “A Million Little Lies,” exposing a number of fictional events in James Frey’s supposedly nonfiction memoir “A Million Little Pieces.” TSG reported that the confessional, an Oprah Book Club selection and a memoir of Frey’s struggle with drug and alcohol abuse and eventual recovery, was riddled with exaggerations, embellishments and outright lies, including claims that he’d beat up a cop and spent three months in jail, as well as an extremely suspect incident involving a fatal car accident.


    So of course her rush to defend Frey had an effect that was not just legitimating but sanctifying. She insisted that she stood by the book, by Frey, by the incredible power of his harrowing story, the story of how he became “the man you see before you today.” (A liar, but an inspiring one.)


    Time was up, and so Oprah left us with an assurance that the book was still an “Oprah recommends,” and with soothing words for an earlier caller:

    “You know what? I was really touched by the woman who called, I think it was from Carmel … who said, as an addict, what do I do now? What do I—does this—is this true? … If you’re an addict whose life has been moved by this story and you feel that what James went through was able to—to help you hold on a little bit longer, and you connected to that, that is real.”

    And here Oprah’s voice deepened an octave, and the Significant Capital Letters crept into rhythm, as she repeated “That … Is … Real.”

    So sleep well, Frey fans, because subjectivity trumps all. Another great battle won in the American war on reason. If you feel it, it must be true.

  11. It’s hearbreakin’, the story of Torah. There is no person alive who should have to be subject to abuse, whether Amish or English. But I find it unfortunate that Torah is so negative about her Amish upbringin’. Born and raised Old Order, I cherish my childhood. ‘Twas not always the best of times growin’ up, and granted, some things were difficult, livin’ in a secluded world, for one. But never would I betray my heritage by speakin’ out so negatively about the Amish in general. The Amish like any group of people have found within them some “bad” seeds, but also they have some wonderful-gut ones, too. I left the Old Order for a less restrictive lifestyle, but I incorporate my childhood values into my new life today, as I am proud of my heritage and where I come from. As up-and-comn’ author, I take great pride in educatin’ the English about the Amish and would wish more former Amish would do so. What does it accomplish to stereotype against a people in general and speak only of negative things that simply are not the truth for the whole of the Amish?

    Leah E Mast

  12. To ‘Winifred’ who says the following:

    “For the record, her claims of being a licensed pilot are completely false. See the website linked to my name, or go here:

    “Nobody under the name Torah or Ruth Bontrager has or has ever held a pilot’s license. No female with that name has ever completed the 1500 hours required for the license she claims.”

    I’m a licensed pilot. If you want to fact-check, you can contact the school where I did my training: Hesston College.


  13. To ‘JobSage’:

    Thank you for your kind comments!

    To ‘David’:

    Thank you, Dr David D. Thornton, for your kind comments, encouraging readers to pursues their dreams, and reminding us all to not let ourselves get caught up in unbeneficial arguments. I needed that reminder; it’s always easier to focus on the negative side than to keep my head on straight and pursue the positive. Many congratulations for earning your doctorate’s and under those circumstances!

    To Shawn Frey:

    You can reach me directly via my website if you’d like to know more about my plans or the Amish.



  14. @Spencer: “If child abuse is happening in the Amish community, I’d confidently wager that it’s happening in MUCH larger percentages in our own backyards in “normal” communities.”

    The difference being that in the wider community there is no hiding behind religious exemptions from the law of the land. This view that if you really REALLY believe something means you can ignore the rest of society and its laws is one of the cancers of modern society. This attitude creates sick, fearful communities.

    The only option going forward is to end religious exemption from laws, including government subsidisation of churches through tax exemption.

  15. I knew from the way she insisted on awkwardly using the word “escaped” in numerous times in the first few paragraphs alone where this was heading. When she got to her list of “The biggest negatives” about the Amish, it all became clear:

    A rebellious girl from an Amish background whose antagonistic nature, coupled by abuse, led her to the leftist extremist’s heaven — a university — and is now making it her duty to disparage these people because she was unhappy.

    Congratulations to this angry person for having “escaped” the Amish and thrown herself right into the jaws of a disgusting, degenerate culture. At least she has her muckraking crusade to give her meaning–which makes me think, actually…perhaps she hasn’t escaped at all.

  16. There is nothing “disgusting” about the quote regarding the rod and the child. It may seem that way to softy lefty lemmings who think that so much as playfully spanking your child in the butt is “physical abuse” but, believe it or not, many great men and women who created history came from a time when corporal punishment was a routine part of parenting. It is funny, then, when one reflect on the worthy undertakings of two generations ago and the whiny fools that pass for human beings today.

    The disclaimer at the end of this post about it being just one person’s view of the Amish is pointless and the blog owner KNOWS it. The “damage” is already done–at least in the eyes of any fool who reads this blog like a religious relic.

  17. Hi everyone,

    I’d like to take this opportunity to clear up a few things in case anyone is concerned about it.

    – I’m a licensed pilot. If you want to fact-check, you can contact the school where I did my training: Hesston College.

    – I was emancipated in Montana at the age of 16. If you want to fact-check, you can contact the county clerk’s office. However, if for some reason you’re not successful and it’s crucial that you see evidence, contact me via my website and I’ll help you get the evidence.

    – Old Order Amish people use buttons. But only the men, not the women. So the picture of the boy on Post II isn’t misrepresentative.

    -To anyone who thinks it’s impossible for the steel part of a gun to feel cold after target practice, take into account that it takes x minutes to go from the field where I was practice shooting to the house. I didn’t hold the gun up to my head the instant I got done firing. I don’t know exactly how many minutes it takes for the steel to cool off from that particular kind of gun but by the time I got close to the house, it had certainly cooled off.

    -To anyone who thinks I didn’t have a social security number before I escaped the Amish:

    The Amish are indeed exempt from paying social security taxes but that doesn’t automatically mean that none of the Amish have social security cards, nor is it logical to conclude that there is therefore no reason to have one.

    I don’t know how widely spread the practice of getting a social security card is (this is something I will research) but in my particular family, we all got a social security number at birth. I will have to ask my dad what exactly his reason was for getting that for us but I suspect it might have had something to do with a tax write-off (but I could be wrong).

    -To anyone who thinks that Amish is not a language, please see my comments in either Part 1 or Part 2 in which I argue the reasons for calling it a language. You can also read my argument by going here:

    Please note that “there are two completely different kinds of criteria related to the distinction between dialect and language, linguistic criteria and social or political criteria.”

    I end my argument with “my stance is still that Amish is a language (for social/political criteria if not for linguistic criteria). If anyone would like to contest this [with a solid argument], I’m very open to being persuaded otherwise. I’m interested in seeing what arguments can be put forth to solidly claim that Amish is not a language.”

    -To anyone who thinks this story is slanted or an isolated incident or that I’m betraying my Amish heritage or that I’m portraying the Amish as only negative, here’s an excerpt of comments I made earlier addressing this:

    ‘My purpose is to create a balanced awareness of the Amish. The general public already knows the good sides of the Amish. I’m here to inform you of the negative sides. That I’m addressing the negative sides should NOT be construed as my presenting a one-sided view or branding an entire culture as only negative. You already know the good stuff. Now it’s time to know the not-so-good so you can help do something positive about it.’

    For further elaboration, please see

    -It is very normal for Amish kids to get abused. Physical, verbal and emotional/psychological abuse are all very common Amish-wide. Sexual abuse tends to be more common in the stricter communities but it can happen in any community. I don’t know how common it is compared to other societies but that’s not the point. The point is that rape, incest and child molestation happen far too often and regularly and so far, nothing has been done about it to stop it permanently.

    -As previously pointed out in the posts and in my comments, when I refer to the Amish, I’m referring to the Old Order Amish. The New Order Amish and the Swartzentruber Amish are not Old Order Amish. All of my statements about the Amish are statements about the Old Order Amish.

    -It’s possible that some Amish make their own shoes. However, I don’t personally know of any Amish who do.

    -The Old Order Amish don’t have electricity in their houses. Some Amish communities allow gas-powered fridges and stoves in their homes. Some Amish communities allow running water and indoor plumbing.


  18. Torah,

    You mention generalities amongst all Amish, and while I do not question your knowledge per se, I am slightly confused about where you gained all of the knowledge about other Amish communities besides your own since after leaving you too would be an outsider?

  19. I would like to request a quotation for the design of a piece of equipment I would like to have manufactured and proceed to sell.

    I do not have a patent and do not want to file one until I do preliminary testing after the design is complete.

    Question? How do I protect intellectual property.

    Thank you,


  20. I had a foster mother who had been raised mennonnite (but then went off on her own)- for about a year. Then she got married to a guy who didnt want kids and off I went to the next foster home- my main memory of her home was that she was very wed to corporal punishment, could not be bothered to think of anything creative besides a beating with a paddle.

  21. At least one reader comments asked how this post was meant to relate to this blog. I think it fits in very well with the spirit of past posts. This blog is a kind of cult itself, the cult of self-improvement, which is not a bad thing. But I do think there is a nasty tendency to condemn 95% of the human population as passive schmucks stuck in unhappy situations that because they don’t change their lives, deserve their fate. I think that view of society is unhelpful. Success is not about getting back at the world or just recruiting likeminded people and helping a few of them. Success should be about giving back to everyone, even the poor schmucks. There is just a little too much of the myth of rugged individualism in this blog for me to take the author completely seriously.

  22. My Wife and I recently visited Lancaster, PA and she saw their way of life for the first time, and liked it. we both have become more peaceful people. In am Amish community, what would be the proper punishment for a child that steals something from the parents, and then lies about it. (Kids took treats from the refrigerator that were for another family member, then told their mother that I at them, not themselves)

    Mother re-made the treats adding additional costs totally about $30.00

    beating our kids does not seem to to the trick. their ages are 8 and 11

  23. “beating our kids does not seem to to the trick.”

    You’re 100% right and you’ve raised the issue why so many people are against corporal punishment. Simply beating kids will not help matters.

    However, what makes for amazed people when they see how well my siblings and Mennonite peers behave is loving discipline.

    When Mom or Dad would give me a spanking, they never did it because they were angry at me. In fact, several times they gave me no punishment *because* they were angry and didn’t feel it would be right to punish in anger. No, they punished me in love. Sometimes they would have tears in their eyes when they spanked me.After they spanked me and I was crying, they would hold me close, cradle my head, and tell me they loved me. They would tell me that the only reason they were doing this was because they loved me. They told me that it would be far easier to simply let me go and not go through the agony of punishment, but that it would be bad for me when I grew up without discipline in my life. They told me it was the only way I would remember to do right.

    Comparing the behavior of my siblings with those of my non-Mennonite peers, it is clear that they were right.

  24. First, let me say this. My kids are not bad. They are extreamly well behaved must of the time, a little hyper at times, but their kids!. although the 11 year old boy acts much younger when he is around his sister… Good kids, good firm hand shakes, strong confidence in themselves. But the girl, is just sometimes unbarable with sneaking and lying.

    We have new tatics in my house, I wont go into details, but we’ll say it is working great, the kids are talking back much less, leaving fewer lights on in the house (that comes out of thier allowance) and taking better care of their things. What im going to do about the things the snook from the fridge is take the price out of their allowance and make them do extra chores.

    I would however like to know how the Amish would handle this situation, as I no longer believe in “spare the rod spoil the child” They’ve had their fare share of spankings when they were littler, now that they are getting older I am trying to teach the real world punishments.

    Next Question. Is this a good idea.

    8 year old daughter will not keep her room clean. Mother does the laundry hangs it up, and then less than a day later its almost ALL on the floor because shes wants to change her clothes, and throws what she doesn’t want on the floor.

    my Idea. what I see on the floor she has 5 minutes to pick up and put away, or its lost PERMANATLY. This has been a battle withher for over a year now. this kid is 8, but tries to act 20! she reads on a 9th grade level, is extreamly smart, but is extreamly messy. We have picked clothes out for her before, and she throws a blazing fit.

    She we, put a lock on her closet door, pick out an outfit and thats that, or pick out 3 outfits and let her choose. I really dont thing an 8 year old should be making their own decisions, or am I wrong?


  25. THis may be somewhat of a repost. I think one of my messages got lost in the ether…

    Dont get me wrong, my kids are very well behaved. They do have their days when they are someone whiny, but all in all, when I see other people’s kids in the stores, screaming for what they want, giving their parents a fit, I look at mine and say, “Do you want to act like that?” NO!

    My Daughter is a little different. Shes 8, more whiny then the boy (11)

    Shes also very messy. Her Mother will do the laundry and then put it away for her, less than a day later she has is scattered all over her floor. because she could not find anythign she wanted to wear. This is where I have a question…

    Is this a good idea.

    Give her 5 minutes to pick up the mess, and if its not, she loses what ever is left PERMANATLY?

    My kids are very loving and well behaved. Strong firm hand shakes, good ethics, but still kids nontheless.

    As for the Treats from the fridge, I am going to give them both extra chores and take the remainder out of their allowance over the course of a few weeks.

  26. This is a remarkable story of one young girls courage.I hope she is able to get her book written and published I would love to learn more.

  27. Well done Torah- wonderful, amazing, courageous stuff! You have friends. More power to you 🙂

  28. I read nearly evry comment and could not possibly comment on the whole amish thing but I attended the kind of churches that taught about the rapture.Last Summer I met a woman on the beach who told me she had never trained for a career because she believed there was little point if the second coming was imminent and I told her that I had been exactly the same. That is how much I believed what I was taught I only wish I had talked this over with some adult but I never did. There were times too when I wished I was dead because there seemed no way out but I think now that some of this was the helplessness that a teenager feels.

  29. If you actually read through ALL of the posts and read “Torah’s” responses, you will see she makes very valid, legitimate points and even goes so far as to credential herself by proving she has a pilot’s license and a SS #, etc. If you want to criticize her, fine. Free speech, your right and all that jazz, but keep in mind this is HER first person account of what happened to HER, which she has every right to convey in any way she chooses. And for those of you questioning her NAME (Torah or Ruth), get a clue! She is using a psuedonym/penn name. As would I in her shoes.

    For those of you who have lived near Amish communities and claim your view is that of a peaceful and loving people, I’m certain that there ARE Amish communities that are peaceful and loving, but you can’t deny that these horrors are taking place in many of the Amish communities. I’m also 100% confident that just like every other family in America that you aren’t seeing the “real” side of them and only what they want you to see. (Much like the cop/police officer who beats his wife and kids but is seen as an upstanding member of the community until one of them winds up dead.) And yes, I know not EVERY cop/police officer is an abuser or has that problem but my point is that it happens. And of course the men in those communities are going to deny any rape or abuse of women! Now, I must also note that I lived next to an Amish community in Pennsylvania for a couple of years as a child (later raised in Europe) and became friends with an Amish girl. My view of their world was colored by what she and her family told me. As I child, I’ll be honest, I thought they were just plain weird. She was shy, withdrawn and always seemed afraid of her parents and brothers but I thought she was just “skittish.” She was always fun and loving and creative when we played in a field together and others weren’t around. Understandably we lost touch after I moved, but she found me a few years ago (yes, through the Internet) and I was shocked to learn that she had been severely abused mentlaly, physically and sexually as a child by her family members and members of their community. Actually, it made sense after she explained it all. She tried to escape numerous times but was always taken back home where she received even worse punishments for the attempts. Basically she was tortured. She has numerous scars to back up her tales, which I was never able to see because of the clothes they wear. I’m amazed that she didn’t take her own life. Her last attempt was successful only because she was 18 and despite having no one, she has managed to build a wonderful life for herself. She literally walked to the first city she could find and woman at a diner where she might be able to find a spot to rest for the night. The woman directed her to a shelter and after that she lived in shelters and relied on the kindness of strangers and programs through other churches (who truly wanted her to start her life over and didn’t expect her to join them and pledge her life to them in any way). She wasn’t as fortunate as Torah to have a newspaper as a resource or even the reading capabilities to know the laws on how to escape successfully and literally had to start over. My friend never wants to set foot in the state of PA again and struggles with her desire to completely put the past behind her or to go back and help other young girls in those communities. I find Torah’s story VERY inspiring, moving, touching. I encourage her to continue her work to raise awareness of what can and DOES go on in these communities and to reach out to those communities in order to help others “escape.”

  30. People, I can assure you beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the horror that Torah experienced is not an isolated case. Especially in communities like the one I grew up in. ABC News did a series a couple of years back called, ” The Outsiders.” They had kids from the community I grew up in, on the show. I can also tell everyone from hand experience what it feels like to get raped as a child. A couple of my older bros. sodomized me off and on over a five year period. From the time I was 8, until I was 13. That was almost 50 years ago, and I promise you people, that horror is as vivid today as it was 50 years ago.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that this is prevalent in all communities. Not at all. I can tell you though, that when it does happen, it’s almost always swept under the rug. Not only that, often times the victim is made to believe that it was somehow the victim’s fault.

    Where I came from, once you left the community, you were ostricized for good. I finally decided after 17 years of no contact what so ever with my parents, to go pay them a visit. I know they were happy to see me, but they tried their darndest not to be too obvious. Then one year later my mother passed away.

  31. I think it is very wrong that democratically elected governments are perpetrating the isolation of children by not forcing the issue of them getting a education. There is no reason why exemptions should be made for education or social secuty for any religious groups particularly when those practices enable them to imprison their helpless children and force them into a lifestyle not of their choice.

    It would be interesting to see a movement promoting law for the freedom from all religious indoctrination until 18. Imagine the scenario, if adults could only practice themself without forcing their children until they were adult enough to make their own decisions, the stranglehold religion of all kinds have on the community would immediately loosen

  32. Audrieau, you show within your own comment why your idea would never work and is grossly unfair and totalitarian. You tout “freedom from all religious indoctrination”, which is in itself a religious choice. You have obviously chosen the path of atheism or agnosticism or “personal religious” something or other. What you propose is that the all the world’s kids are taken and indoctrinated to believe what you believe. Because you believe it, it must be right. You espouse just another religion. Nope, the government should not mandate a religious or non-religious education. The government should protect freedom of religion and freedom of education. It is the right of the parents to educate their kids as they see fit. This include neo-Nazis, Amish, atheists, FLDS, Quakers, and Muslims, and every other group who you don’t agree with.

    Yes, I agree with you–the values of neo-Nazis, FLDS, etc are awful. But 90+% of Middle Ages Europe agreed that the heretics of the Inquisition were awful too. We are no better than the Inquisition if we follow your path.

    This election has shown how much the people of this country disagree with each other on a lot of fundamental issues. The last thing we need is for the 51% majority to be imposing their religious or non-religious views on the rest of us.

    You claim to be different from the Amish who are “imposing” their views on their kids. Well at least their views forgive their enemies and don’t cause harm to other people in this world. If the whole world were Amish, it would be a lot more peaceable. You claim to be different, but you are no different on this matter. You want to impose your religious ideas too. Actually, you are different. The Amish just want to teach their own kids their values and what they believe. You want to teach everybody’s kids your values and what you believe. In this department, you are worse than the Amish.

  33. Bailey, I am Amish-Mennonite and would be glad to attempt to answer any of your questions. My email address is hansmast at hansmast dot com.

  34. one of the best things that my father did for us kids is take us on family vacations every year the day after school got out for the summer. One of the ones that I remember the most is when we visited the Amish while on our way to niagra falls. We took a tour and it was something I couldn’t really wrap my head around as a little kid. However, I did see a little cutie and she saw me. Now as most men will think … “if a girl looks at you then it must be because your are extremly sexy.” Well, I dad took notice and informed me that if i were to be interested in an amish woman then it was expected that I go into her culture rather than she come to mine. Well, here I am in Atlanta and she is not.

  35. Although this may happen in more than one ORDNUNG it IS NOT the way ALL Ordnung handle day-2-day life. My family has several Ordnung as part of its extension (I have uncles who married former Amish girls) off the top of my head I can pick out 8 ordnungs. Most of them are very happy and have a very peaceful way of life and the abuses describbed by this girl WOULD NOT be tolerated. I’m outraged that she would imply that this is the Amish way for all Ordnungs it makes me very angry because I have Amish in my family and they are NOT this way! I’d hate to see that American majority see them as bad because 1 girl decided to call Amish life bad.

  36. This was an insightful and culturally significant article. Sometimes we fail to recognize the great injustices suffered by people in our own country, our own state, our own city. Especially within cultures or subcultures with little documentation or even gossip regarding their habits and practices; to many people, the Amish are considered quirky but harmless, even quaint. The Amish are viewed as a paragon of traditional family values but the dangers of an isolated community protected from the law by their self-imposed seclusion are overwhelming.

    Thank you again for this article.

  37. I know the true Amish, do not use the internet and nor do they corrupt their hearts of todays evils that surround us.. My name is Paul and I do so MUCH Wish, and Want to Be Cleaner and Purer, Ridding Myself of the TV, Computers, Radio and Much Other EVIL of today,, BUT!!,, I’m now in a wheelchair because I broke my neck, and, feel hopeless to ever be allowed to become so plain and as good as they know, in front of GOD!.. I TRUELY KNOW I AM BLESSED to Still Be ALIVE!!,, But, I wish I could contribute and Join With the Goodness, Be Allowed To Become an Amish Person, of the Fellow Amish! Does any person know how to really contact the Amish, so I can ‘ask?’, if I could devote the remainder of my life simple, and productive, for the community and GOD? We are here for GOD’s Pleasure! When I eat a strawberry,, I Before Taste, Talk to You GOD, and Place it on my tounge,(spelling?) and,, MMmmMM!!,,, WOW!! GOD!!!,, 🙂 :-),, Thank You For The Gift Of Taste and LIFE!! 🙂 🙂

  38. Her story sounds like the way I grew up only I am not Amish and since I left and married a man of a different race, I have been shunned by many white people who believe that it is a sin, so churches are a struggle for me and I can not change the way I was raised but I did hear when I was young that Jesus loved the little children of the world no matter what color they were and that we should follow Jesus. She is more successful than I could ever be for having completed her education despite her struggles. What I would like to know is if she is specifically referring to the “Amish” bible having been translated 12 years ago.

  39. This is a very hard story to listen too you would think that the Amish are peaceful people, and I always thought that they we kind and loving to their wives a children to keep the way of life for the Amish.

  40. What I dont get is, she says “The Refridger ator kicked on, and mentioned later it was a gas powered Fridge. yes these do exist, HOWEVER, I have on in my mobile home, and they make basically ZERO SOUND! any why would someone need to sneek out in the middle of the night, go to the market area, catch a cab, bus, anything… have the person picking you up meet in in town. sounds like a bogus story to me, and this in the internet, where almost everything is fake… sounds like a book pitching ploy to me.


  41. I am not saying this is completely false, but i do believe that the wording exagerates what probably actually happened. the word escape is using excessively and i know for a fact that amish teenagers are pressured to join the church, but are not forced to. Furthermore, this one story should hold little weight in the opinions of Amish society to the average person who reads this.

  42. and the fact that it took her this long to brew a good story to tell says a lot to me. sorry to all those “moved” folks out there, but if i was an amish father and my duaghter was talking back and being defiant, i would use the acceptable dicipline methods. these are different for the amish, so it all seems wrong to us. so…I’M CALLING YOUR BLUFF HERE. youre stretching this and if you want my repect, don’t post part 2.

  43. It seems everyone is taken or moved by this story in many different ways. Some want to praise you for your stand, and courage. Some want to correct you on your disipline ideas, or take on an oppurtunity to define whats right and wrong to them. And, some simply find a spot for debate or argument.

    I find your story to be a sincere personal sharing of what you have come to know, and have become, as an adult. And, congratulations for finding you. I know alot of amish personally-and, have heard many ideas of why and how the amish live as they do. But, as it is-it’s simply IDEAS, as individuals have come to know it.

    There is always a grain of fear, doubt and uncertainty in what we may not understand. And, some are challenged -to make sense, and understand that which seems so very different. Even more so, when the amish beliefs appear hush-hush, secretive and uninviting to outsiders.

    No doubt, what you have shared with the world about your life, has been an eye opener for many. I hope writing your story has been an emotionally theraputic experience, I am a writer also ,and find a great comfort in writing. I wish you strength, and that you find love in the world around you.

    With Kindred Spirit, peace

  44. Dear Torah, many people are well aware of cruel Amish/Mennonite puppymills.

    Of course not all Amish people own puppymills but when we speak about treatment of animals by Amish people, don’t they view animals as cash crop, production unit, etc and not as living feeling creatures who deserve humane treatment?

    It is so heart breaking to see atrocities in Amish puppymills and cruel treatment of farm animals by Amish/Mennonite people!

    I am not saying all Amish and Mennonite torture animals but Amish/Mennonite puppymills are well known to Animal Welfare/Animal Rights people.

    I am sure when people see shocking cruely in these puppymills, it is enough for people who dislike animals to get so disgusted.

    Amish/Mennonite are also involved in cruel veal business.

    Do you have contact with Mary Byler who was born in Amish family and raped by her step father and brothers.

    Her mother end up in jail because she did not protect her.

    She has her own website and she speaks about her sad heartbreaking life before she left Amish community.

    Torah, I see you as courageous intelligent lady who never hesitate to speak truth and to be honest, I am little jealous of your accomplishment.


    Sorry for my poor English.

    English is my second language.

  45. This story was well done and I appreciated reading it. I am a bit annoyed by emails from people, who don’t want to believe this story but I understand where they are coming from. They can’t let go of their fantasy about the lovely Amish people living happy lives, being kind and peaceful and all that BS. I was raised Amish and left at age 18 and I have to admit my family wasn’t as terrible as Torah’s but I knew of Amish families like hers. There is a great deal of variation in Amish communities and families and in their Ordnungs. The Ordnungs are the rules like length of hair, kinds of machinery and things that are or aren’t allowed, etc. Some Amish allow electricity now; they are called New Order Amish. Anyhow, there is a great deal of variation like I said and many people suffer terribly in Amish families and communities that are really strict and in the less strict ones too. My family wasn’t so strict and I can still visit them but the visits are very cold and depressing sometimes. So, we may wonder if the Amish have more of the abuse problems Torah mentions than in the “regular” world. I would have to say, yes and here is why. When Amish people commit crimes like rape, physical abuse, incest, ugly things like that, the Amsih people tend to ignore it and the Bishops try to hide it. In cases of murder, they definitely sometimes cover things up so that the Amish don’t look bad or the people who commit the crime get off lightly like maybe they are shunned for a few weeks or months for raping someone! This means they get to do it again and some of them do repeat their action many times. SO, YES, it happens more in the Amish world and you can deny it and believe in your silly fantasy or accept it as the truth. You certainly aren’t helping anyone except yourself when you live in denial.

  46. Wow,

    Very cool to hear this perspective. I grew up in a traditional Mennonite house. No where near as conservative as Amish culture, but would make most people shutter. My grandparents all spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a dialect of high german, very similar to Amish. Fortunately, my family broke off from the very traditional church when I was young, but they always remained ultra-conservative by today’s standard.

    I don’t think most people can understand the strangle hold traditional religion holds over the mind. It permeates every aspect of your thought and behavior, and for someone who was immersed in it, it is very difficult (but possible) to divorce yourself. I know for me, I felt like I was betraying my culture and heritage.

    However, now that I am “out” and living my life I definitely respect and can appreciate some of the value system, etc. despite the fact I no longer practice and my family considers me “heathen.” I guess that is the cost of being free and happy.

    Best of luck Torah,


  47. @George

    Speaking of angry, hateful people, which one of my leftist colleagues and friends raped and abused you so that your cultivated view on “leftys” became so foul?

    Seriously, my friend, chill out and clean your own house of hatred before thrusting similar judgement on others.

    The only person who knows of the validity in Torah’s story is herself. I, as an apparent leftist extremist, can only hope that her account is true, fore placing such harsh words upon a community by a self-proclaimed academic would be indeed a sad, sad day.


  48. Are there any Amish/ ex-Amish/ Mennonite/ ex-Mennonite people in the North Central Indiana area able to meet for coffee/ conversation about Amish life? I know this is obviously a long-shot, but I’d truly enjoy a face-face conversation before I move to GA this coming Friday (the 17th of July).



  49. Teelor, I’m an Amish-Mennonite with lots of friends (Amish, Amish-Mennonite, Mennonite, ex-Amish, etc) in Northern Indiana. Drop your contact info to hansmast at hansmast dot com and I’ll try to arrange a meet.


  50. Hey Torah,

    Sorry for your personal hurts however i will gladly personally differ with you. My husband was Amish-12 siblings-wonderful family. We have left the amish with high respect for many and most.

    Your story may be very true but is it for the hoped for fame? Help? that you have so severely exaggerated the extents. I am a 43 year old mother and sure -there have been isolated incidents-i am also evangelical and am finding some homes, families and hence cultures/churches have them in their midst just as you described. Fallen man to sin is the culprit. Sin wants to hide behind culture, church, money, you name it-so before you or your friends hope to make a quick stardom here-be careful for your own healing sake and the fact there are hundreds of us(you and i) who have left the amish and read blogs like this and become very concerned about the hypocrisy of it and will pursue avenues to correct items intended to approach issues as a testimony of truth.

    But i do know you apparently came from a very sad, unstable environment and i hope you move forward. So have some of my Baptist, Catholic, non-christian friends. They just are not finding it healing to distort or use their pain for gain.

  51. Hey Angela,

    I also grew up amish, and let me tell you that the things that Torah discribed as having happened to her, are not isolated incidents from my perspective. It pretty much depends what community you come from. By the way Angela, if amish life is such a wonderful life to you, why did you leave? If you were never mentally or physically abused like Torah and I were, then you have absolutely no right to judge. Have a wonderful life.

  52. i dont know about other amish communites but there is one 4 miles from where i live. i own my own trucking bussiness and own a skidloader, ppl say that amish do almost everything them selves. alot of amish call me to haul hay with my flat bed and we unload it by hand or pull it off with a team of horses. or they will buy a semi load of hay and will pay me to come unload it and put it away and in the winter time they will hire me to plow snow. and if there in the truck with me going some where to get hay if they need to use my phone they just take it off the dash of my truck and use it like they own them selves. iv become good friends wiht one family just because that family impitiular is about the nicest iv met yet, i was tlakin to there young son one day and i asked him where his older brother was and he told me that he went english, and i was kinda shocked then he told me that he has had other brothers and sisters leave. and when his dad got close he just said i never told u that. i thought it was kinda funny that they keep it that hush hush.

  53. My debut novel, Amish Snow, has been out for a couple of months. An ex-Amish man that I do not know contacted me after seeing the website and story line, and asked if I would be interested in his story. I told him I was interested, and he sent me a most poignant accounting of his tortuous decision to leave the Amish faith, mainly around health issues.

    Other than deleting their names, here is an excerpt of the unedited email. I can almost hear the clipped singsong accent so characteristic of the Amish manner of speaking:

    Hello Roger;

    I was born in Canada. Then we moved to new york state lived there for 10 years

    Then in 1990 we moved to michigan.But threw those years i would get sick all he time.

    I thought after i got married to my wife it would stop it got worse.Be cause the amish life stile of using either kerosene,white gas or like camp fuel,and propane.for lights was the lights mostley. that i got poisend in the brain that i almost shot myself because of all the fumes from the propane to top it all of.We had a freezer fridge 2 lights in the house and then in my wood working shop i had 2 lights a unvented heater and 6 used propane tanks that i used to run my shop tools. it was the fumes that made me sick i got

    letter from my doc to take to the elders that i need electricty for every thing that i use propane for the elders said no.i went to my nees and repented all my sins to God asked him to be my savior. soon after that i asked God if i should put our phone in the house he

    said yes i got three yeses. (the rest of his story is on my website)

    1. The 2nd edition of Amish Snow has been released, and is available in paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.


  54. Iknow of somethings that she says are true. The strictness I know well. Also the fact that males dominate the families. But ordnung says that you are free to choose until baptism. Its strange for me , I like driving back to see people but feel out of place. I also am out of place in society.

  55. A number of points here: As has been said above by a number of calmer heads above one cannot define a people by one family or by one child in one family. Torah shows little understanding of teen anguish and the frustrated rebellion that is common at that age. It is probably almost as difficult for the parents of a teenager as it is for the teen. To my mind, the main problem with the Amish as a culture and in individuals is ignorance. Ignorance, frankly, is where the crime is.

    One can’t grow up in a closed society such as the Amish, a culture that does not value learning for its own sake and have that person marry and start his or her own family on that same basis and expect much progress, except in exceptional cases.

    I know a lot of Amish who are very bright and who, given a proper education, would no doubt be valuable people in civilization. Those who choose to stay – and again, some are very bright- do so for their own reasons: among them, love of family and tradition, love of God as they understand it, love of the land and its peaceful rhythms and a distrust of those on the outside.

    But if Torah wants us to believe that she is depicting the Amish as a whole she is painting with way too broad a brush. Her family may – MAY, I say – have been that brutal but I frankly doubt it. She is fond of the word ‘beating’; spanking, slapping, even whipping, are common in Amish families but I know of no such thing as an Amish woman or man BEATING a baby. If her parents did so, they are sick and should be brought to court.

    I was Amish until I left home at age 17 and I still have many Amish relatives. I resent Torah’s sensationalized account of being Amish. Even “escape” is sensationalistic; in my day we called it “running away from home.”

    Elva Bontrager

  56. I was never Old Order Amish , but I come from that back ground as well as being a Bontrager. I am a genealogy buff and have read a lot about my Bontrager and European anabaptist history. It is a rich heritage. They suffered a lot for their faith.

    The good Amish will not retaliate when people say things about them, good or bad.

    And, yes there is bad things that happen. When a person does a wrong to another it is right to bring them to account.

    When people have been wronged they most always need a healing. A big part of the healing eventually includes a forgiveness and it may take a lifetime.

    By the good Amish, I’m talking , being a Christian.

    The best example of that is an Amish bishop born in 1868, lived a good share of his life in the Shipshewana-Middlebury area. Toward the end of his life he wrote his life story. He was taught it,he believed it, and he lived it. Eli J. Bontrager .

    If you can find his story , read it. It will make you feel good.

  57. I always thought that the Amish were good, loving, caring people. I live in Iowa and I see the Amish all the time! I cant believe whats behind those sweet innocent eyes! It almost made me sick after I read this. They claim to be holy and righteous but yet they are doing all these bad things that our society claims a wrong doing and evil! Are they hypocrits? What has the world come too? Have the Amish always been like this?

  58. I grew up in a small town in NE OH. The only minority in our town were the Amish. I didn’t realize I was different until I was eight. In our town, non-Amish were called “Yankees”.

    Much of what you’ve said, I’ve seen or suspected. As a baby I had Amish babysitters; I’ve babysat Amish children; my children were babysat by Amish adults and kids. I consider myself pretty “Amish saavy” and just smile when people go on and on about how wonderful the Amish are. It does absolutely no good to try to dissuade them.

    When the news reported (1990’s, I believe) about the mysterious, “Amish Birth Defect” syndrome, or something like that, it was simply imbreeding. Incest produces babies by family and you have children with disabilities. It’s pretty basic, but no one seems to get it.

    I’ve personally loved a few Amish folks as dear friends. So I believe that, like all peoples, there are good and bad Amish. Beverly Lewis has painted a very pretty picture of the Amish culture. I believe that that makes it impossible for anyone to think anything negative. Most people think that the Amish are the best carpenters, bakers, furniture makers, cooks, babysitters, farmers, Christians, and have the most loving families.

    I would normally have said, “let them think what they want”, but when you say that it’s important to educate people for the safety of the women and children, I feel like my head just popped out of the ground! You are absolutely correct.

    Barbara (Borkholder) Keim is a woman who “yanked over” as we would say in my hometown. (That means she left the Amish culture/religion/life.) You can read her blog here:

    You two would make an awesome team!

    Be blessed,


    PS: Please don’t spend too much time responding to the naysayers. People will always be ugly and it’s just a trick to take you off the path you need to focus on. 🙂

  59. Hi Torah,

    I appreciated your story and even though I experienced none of the abuses you did, I certainly know that they diffidently exist in the Old Order Amish community. I was born & raised Old Order Amish in Lancaster County PA, by a very Loving & nurturing Mother, and a Father though not very nurturing never raised his voice or hand against me or My Sisters. But I know that wasn’t so for all the Amish I knew growing up and including some of my relatives, as a matter of fact one of my First Cousins on my Fathers side (He’s around 70 yrs old) is in prison for life because he molested lots of young boys for years before he got caught.

    I’ve thought about writing about my life as an Amish Kid since I was 16-17 and I only started last week on a blog, I’m now 60 yrs old so I guess its about time HUH??/

    Best of Luck Torah & congratulations on what you have already accomplished. BTW I also ended up in Manhattan for a lot of years, & My Wife & I now have a small Diary Farm in the mountains of Central New York, Thanx for listening Ammon K. Fisher

  60. Torah, I am so sorry to hear about these things. I am lds and I think each cultural religion has their flaws, although I have not heard of things like this before, not even in the lds scriptures. I am glad that we have people like you to shed some light on some of these things.

  61. Torah, thanks for your story.

    I can’t believe the people who want to debate the issue of abuse. I work in protective services and we generally adhere to the rule that acceptable spankings are done with the hand. It is harder to really harm a child when spanked with your hand. It will hurt you as it hurts the child.

    Spankings with objects are a different matter. Boards, belts and cords are too easy to get carried away with when you are angry and you have no idea how hard you are striking a child.

    If you were spanked with boards or straps, that is defined as abuse in most states.

    I completely agree with your discussion of religiously Amish versus culturally Amish. You can see that in the “english” world. I have freinds who were raised jewish or catholic and now consisder themselves ex-catholic or ex-jewish. But all you need to do to see the cultural influence, is to visit their homes around the holidays. You can see many examples of how their lives are still influenced by the way they were raised.

    I have an ex-catholic friend who, while serving as a brides maid at a friends wedding, had communion pushed on her by her old grade school priest. Later she was fuming and said, “I told him I’m not Catholic and I didn’t want communion but he just stuck the wafer in my mouth.”

    I said, “Why didn’t you just spit it out in your hand?”

    She said, “No, you can’t touch the ‘host’, that’s a sin.”

    I said, “host, what’s host? It’s a cracker, spit it out.”

    A lifetime of indoctrination in any faith can run deep and be hard to change.

  62. I have lived around the Amish most of my life. The sad thing about this story is that people who don’t know the Amish will assume that this is the norm. This is NOT the norm! This is the story of an abusive family…just like in our “english” culture, we too have our share. But I assure you 90% of the Amish families (that I know WELL) do NOT abuse their children in this way.

    They are people, they have the Good, the Bad and everything every other culture has. There are many, happy, healthy families percentage wise in their communities than in ours.

    I sense in the comments here a dangerous trend of sterotyping by those who have no idea what the true Amish community is like.

  63. Torah, I am sorry you suffered as you did. I am a Christian, raised my daughter in a loving and supportive environment, and only disciplined her with an occasion spanking when she crossed way beyond the line of acceptable behavior, which was rare. She got her BS at 19, her masters at 21, and I think is genuinely a happy, loving, and generous young lady who is very self-reliant, but has a keen sense of community responsibility. Her mother and I have also tried to teach her to be happy with the little and simple things of life. Sorry for this long preface, but it leads into what I guess I would like to ask you, which is if the Amish community is no more abusive than secular and non-secular society, which I suspect is the case (?), then wouldn’t you at least think that they are better off not being wrapped up in the “English” society based on a model that stresses monetary success at all cost, academic status over production (and I mean no offense to you – you should be very proud of what you have attained), and total focus on self to the detriment of anyone who gets in your way? I’m just wondering if you have ever thought that the world that was hidden from you may well be worse in some ways. I’m in no way condoning the abuse you suffered. No daughter, no child, and certainly no baby should be treated as such. But would you agree that there are many good practices of the Amish that should be appreciated by secular culture such as self-reliance and simple lifestyles that don’t require massive nuclear plant energy production and fossil fuel burning to function? And that there must be some Amish communities that are less abusive and more gentle, whose children are happy and loved? Or do you believe that that is very rare? Again, I’m asking you to compare it with modern (let’s say secular for argument’s sake) society. I would be very interested in your thoughts on this.

  64. To all of you who are concerned about the inbalance of the Amish image, think about this; When a totally positive picture of the Amish is presented, why are you not there to demand a balanced picture? If the public believes the propaganda that Amish are all good, moral and upright people, is that balance? Why then do you show up in droves to disparage a story that leans away from the “good” image, yet remain silent when the truth is fudged in the other direction? Balance works both ways! The truth lies somewhere in between the extremes. Something to think about.

  65. @Eli: Actually, it’s far more common for me to have to patiently correct non-Amish folks’ unrealistic views of the perfection of Amish. I cannot tell you how many times I have said, “Amish are people too. They have bad apples just like any other people group. They argue as families, etc, etc.”

    As I mentioned earlier on the thread, I am Amish-Mennonite which are basically Amish with technology and a greater emphasis on evangelism and education, and a lesser emphasis on a pastoral occupation. My parents would have born Amish and I have a bunch of Amish friends and family.

  66. the anabaptist community and religion is not a good one as it is perceived to be. growing up a mennonite i can tell you that it is awful and comparable to a cult. everything you do in life you are taught that you are going to hell. you aren’t allowed to watch tv cause thats a sin. you must be obedient to your husband or else you won’t go to heaven. marriage at 16 is completely all right and encouraged and you must produce kids cause that’s what god wants and what is expected of you. education is a complete no-no cause women shouldnt be educated but should be mothers to like 10 children. the more the better it seems. the saying is “woman and children should be seen and not heard” is the motto in the mennonite church. its not like that in every mennonite community but it definitely is in mexico.

  67. Hi Torah and anyone reading at this point,

    Sorry to butt in to a 3-year old thread/article. Your general assertions about dialects vs. language are correct, but with regard to German dialects, mutual intelligibility is not the best way to make a dialect vs. language distinction since most (uneducated) speakers of a given dialect may not understand a dialect from a distant dialect area, but both are considered German dialects by native speakers and linguists. By German standards, only one German “dialect” is considered a different language – Swiss German – and that is so because of grammar differences, not accent, pronunciation or vocabulary. German dialects can be surprisingly & radically different sounding from one another and can change quickly from one town to the next…probably more so than any other major language on earth. But grammatically they’re still considered similar enough to only merit being called dialects of German even though on a mutual intelligibility scale they’re as close as Spanish vs. Italian. Standard German itself is a bit of a construct and a lingua franca between dialect speakers.

  68. It’s interesting to read about the bravery and spirit of kids who grow in this type of environment. Most of us don’t ever really see this type of adversity at that age and for them to take these life changing decisions. Great post, unbelievable, thanks.

  69. Our group deals with Amish guys who have sexuality concerns -but absolutely do NOT feel comfortable to the “GAY” community. LOTS of Amish guys have MAJOR questions about sexuality & lots have serious Scriptural concerns as well. We have the answers -in fine detail.

    For more general info, -G00GLE g0ys (g0ys is spelled w. a zer0).

  70. I’m currently taking a class on the Amish, and my professor is the leading Amish scholar in the world. I have read almost 3 of his books and 2-3 by others on the Amish. And many of these are written from personal experience with the Amish (i.e., he has lots of local Amish friends). This girl’s experience is saddening but is NOT a generic, standard Amish experience. I’ve talked to people who have left the Amish because it was stifling and those who love the community and are very dedicated to their way of life.

    “Amish” is NOT a dialect. In Pennsylvania and some other states, they speak Pennsylvania Dutch, which evolved from German.

    Amish youth DO have a choice to stick with the Amish or not. They are pressured to remain but there are a good number (although a small proportion overall) who leave.

    Although, as in any culture, you will find Amish who are argumentative or otherwise “non-peaceful,” the Amish are largely a peaceful folk who keep to themselves. Read the book Amish Grace, written about the Nickel Mines shooting. The Amish exhibit an amazing ability to forgive VERY quickly.

    Yes, there are situations where Amish life seems far from ideal or fair. But is modern society perfect? FAR from it. Do not assume that one girl’s experience applies to all Amish.

    1. I dont think you can rely on any book to over look what this young woman has experienced, also at the end it states that this is her experience in one community….

  71. Amish Forever – The Stranger, is my latest release of Amish fiction, co-authored with Crystal Linn. It is a serialized publication, much like the old radio series (for those of us old enough to remember those). We plan to release a new volume on Amazon about once a month, 4,000-6,000 words in length. I’m having a ball writing it, and am trying to get the word out.


  72. Thanks for your story Torah.

    I live in the midst of a large Amish community (Seymour MO) and am thankful for your insight. I do feel for the lack of a worldly education (not a guberment education) that the Amish do not get. My Amish friend sprays Roundup in his garden all the time and had not heard anything about roundup causing cancer or being dangerous. They have no means to learn about many important things. It makes me sad at times. But then again many of my English friends are not educated at all even with all the opportunities they have.

    And as you said there are many wonderful things about the self sufficient life style. I think in the coming hard times I am going to rely on the knowledge of the Amish a lot.

    God Bless


  73. If you think about it the whole idea of no photos can be taken of the. Its a perfect idea for how to keep people outside from evidence. The clothes cover everything up but more than anything what fear does to the mind.

    Its the perfect way to run a cult.

    I’m not say’n that’s how they all are because I don’t know. Each amish villiage is different based on church that group decides onwhats right & wrong.

    I know many mennonites & all but 2 are the best of people. The other 2 were just the really old really grumpy men.

  74. A real eye opener, we had questions about the amish because we were studying them and this link is going straight to my teacher because so far all the facts are written by outsiders who document and its great that you have been able to share your life story with us…. Can I ask a question though, do you keep in contact with you family?

  75. I am so glad u shared ur story. I am a God fearing woman and have always wondered what it would be like to be Amish

    And was looking it up tonight in serious consideration thinking it would bring me closer to the Lord….now I do not

    See how they even call theirself christian!!!! I pray for them and am thankful for your freedom. Rape and incest!!?? I feel so sorry that there are so-called christians that behave in such a manner. I am Baptist that also came from anabaptist, wow, is all i can say and my prayers are there for all who are blinded by man.

  76. Actually the Amish do have a choice whether they would like to continue on with their religion. When they become teenagers they have the option to go on Rumspringa, which is an Amish tradition where the teens leave their society for 6 months in order to go get a taste of the real world. After seeing everything the outer world has to offer they go back to their families and make a decision. Most of them come to the conclusion that the our technological world is extremely corrupt and they decide that they would like to continue on with their much simpler Amish lives.

    1. It seems to me there is too much misinformation in too many of the comments made on this website. A grain of truth makes misinformation more believable, but it does distort the truth.

  77. Many thanks for sharing and publishing this story. I was a taxi driver for an old order community. I fell in love and married an amish man who didn’t like his religion but did want to live simple. Perfect! I don’t like religion either and I also enjoy a simple life style! A few years and a couple children later I asked for marriage counseling and he filed fo

    r divorce. Moving my family forward has been a constant turmoil, which includes a court that has favored him because of his Amishness. If my family can get through this, I want to start a non profit to help others, especially women and children. It seems like the more modern the world becomes,

  78. Great article, thank you.

    I occasionally attend a Mennonite church (for the last 5 or so years, not for religious reasons but because I am very “green,” and was interested in the simple lifestyle options), and there is a free counseling ministry offered by a husband and wife pair with academic backgrounds in counseling. The female of the pair has been holding women only sessions, and has told me about the statistics on incest coming into her practice. About 70% of the women have suffered incest in the past or currently, and half of those are “plain,” ie. Amish or Mennonite. So – 35% of the women in her sessions are plain women who have endured or are enduring incest. That figure stunned me, still does. I am “English,” and had the usual conceptions about the Amish, all the “peaceful, gentle stuff.” But I’m also an animal advocate, and that’s how I learned about the animal abuse and puppy mills. And then the incest. So, to say the least, the last 5 or so years have been a rather traumatic eye-opening on this culture. Also see Good videos, some actually quite funny in a dark sort of way.

  79. I have been researching much about Amish evil behaviour and am so sorry to hear of the pain you suffered. Praise God you had the courage to leave and find a better life.

  80. Reading Torah’s story surprised me. My conclusion is that Amish practices must differ from area to area, because her story does not jive with what I’ve heard from Indiana Amish. I’ve dealt with Indiana Amish from time to time, and all speak perfect English, as well as their own tongue, which is Pennsylvania Dutch, or High German?

    When I lived in Texas, in the 80’s, on a ranch owned by a missionary group Y.W.A.M, There were several ex-Amish there. I was friends with several. Two that I knew well, [R. and J.] [Moderator: full names withheld.], talked extensively about their childhood. Both were from Indiana, and did in fact have a choice to leave the church during their ‘Rumspringa’. Both left, and joined Mennonite churches and ended up at YWAM to work in the mission field. Both were still able to visit their Amish families, and were not shunned. But they did talk about some others being shunned. [J.] told me that Amish people are no different from other Christians, there are drunks, wife beaters, molesters, and just general POS’s like in any group of people, along with all the good people. The difference is simply the way they live and dress.

    When [J.] became engaged to [P.], their wedding was set to be in Nappanee, IN. I was invited as were others of our friends from Texas. A group of us went up for it. The church was a mennonite church, but there were two pastors leading the service, one mennonite, and one Amish. There were lots of Amish there, horse and buggies etc.

    So I think Torah was part of a group that did not practice normal Amish ways. If there is a normal Amish way? I remember in the news a few years back, some Amish group, was angry at another Amish group, and was attacking them and cutting their beards off. Some were arrested by the police and spent time in jail. So, they’re just human. They are not more holy than any other sort of Christian, they just live and dress differently.