Fourhourworkweek has an interesting couple posts written by a woman who grew up Amish, and then escaped. A quick excerpt:
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
-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)
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.
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.
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.
My dad got the daily paper, and my mom caught me reading it once. She beat me for what she deemed open signs of rebellion. Following that, I’d wait until my mom took her nap and then I’d read the paper from cover to cover.
I guess none of this should be particularly surprising. I’ve read about small insular communities in the past that have all kinds of problems – but people on the outside don’t know what’s going on. In these kinds of small insular communities, it seems that the “rule of law” isn’t a principle that is followed. Rather, one man, a few elders, or men in general end up being the law, and that gives them plenty of leverage to abuse people under them. This seems to get pronounced more strongly in small religious communities – where “God” has defined a social order (e.g. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:22) or one person has a special role as prophet or leader (as in cults / Mormon sects). Another recent example is from the Parcairn Islands:
The remoteness of Pitcairn (which lies about halfway between New Zealand and Peru) had shielded the tiny population (47 in 2004) from outside scrutiny. If present admissions and allegations were to be believed, the devout Seventh-day Adventism practiced by the islanders had for many decades masked a tolerance for sexual promiscuity, even among the very young, with a corresponding tacit acceptance of child sexual abuse. Three cases of imprisonment for sex with underage girls were reported in the 1950s.
A study of island records confirmed anecdotal evidence that most girls had their first child between the ages of 12 and 15. “I think the girls were conditioned to accept that it was a man’s world and once they turned 12, they were eligible,” Tosen said.
On 30 September 2004, seven men living on Pitcairn Island (including Steve Christian, the Mayor), went on trial facing 55 charges relating to sexual offences. On 24 October, all but one of the defendants were found guilty on at least some of the charges they faced.