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It had never even been a secret.
Shortly after Rebekah began to be sexually abused by her older brother at the tender age of 6, her brother confessed to raping his sibling to their older sister Meg.
“He told me that he raped her and he was crying and he seemed to feel really bad about it,” Meg said in the new Peacock docuseries “Sins of the Amish,” which examines patterns of sexual abuse in several highly conservative and insular Amish communities in the U.S.
But it’s what came next that continues to torment Rebekah—who later left the Amish along with her sister and mother, Anna.
After Meg divulged the abuse to their parents, Rebekah said she was woken up and called into the living room, where her parents sat waiting on the couch.
“They looked so angry and the first words out of my mom’s mouth were ‘Well, why did you do that?’ and so she blamed me for my older sibling molesting me,” Rebekah recalled. “She was just so angry and she just kept asking me, ‘Why did you let that happen?’ And it hurt because I was like ‘What do you mean?’ because I didn’t even understand at the time what was happening to me and I didn’t process that until I was a teenager.”
After making sure she understood that she “shouldn’t have let that happen,” Rebekah was sent back to bed and although her older brother moved out of the house, he continued to be welcomed into the family’s home.
“Even after my older sibling confessed to my parents about it, it wasn’t long before the abuse started [again],” she said.
Now an adult, Rebekah continues to harbor feelings of anger toward her mother, who she believes turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse.
“Even when she eventually had the chance to stop it, she chose not to, and so then the abuse would keep happening,” Rebekah said. “But because of the conversation we had as a child, I was so scared she would be angry, so of course I never said anything.”
The family’s story is complicated by a disturbing past history of physical and sexual violence that began not long after Anna married her husband Eli, just after her 18th birthday.
Eli, who was 10 years her senior, had started to court her when she was just 16 years old.
“I was sort of scared because I mean, I was 16 and he was turning 26, but I felt sort of flattered he would want to date a 16-year-old,” she said. “At 26, he would normally have been married and have several children already, so it was sort of unusual.”
While Anna said that Eli had grown up in a violent home himself where his mother had once chased his father with a kitchen knife, she said he’d made a promise that he was never going to mistreat his own wife.
“I believed him, which was my mistake,” she said.
On their wedding night, Anna—who had no prior knowledge about sex— said she was surprised when her husband grabbed her, told her “I own you” and then demanded to have sex.
“He had no patience with trying to help me understand,” she said through tears.
She recounted another chilling incident almost nine months later after the couple’s first child, daughter Meg, was born at their home with the help of midwives.
“When Meg was born, I really started bleeding and finally it all calmed down and (the midwives) waited a couple hours and it seemed like I was ok and so they went home and as soon as they left, he just came in and he ripped away the bloody pads,” she said. “I tried to beg, but I was so exhausted I couldn’t even move.”
Meg—who was also a victim of sexual abuse herself—described living in a home where from the age of just 2 years old, the children were beaten if they didn’t follow instructions, like clapping on demand or saying “please” and “thank you.”
“If the 2-year-old just didn’t do it, they would get a couple swats and then it would escalate,” she said.
One beating session went on for four hours, she said.
“We were expected to take a beating without crying, being hit and usually on bare skin without clothes on. I guess that inflicted more pain,” she said. “My dad would usually use a paddle that he had made out of like a really thick board.”
Anna said her husband had used the Bible to justify the abuse.
“He would always just tell me, well, see what it says in Proverbs, it says you’re not going to kill a child by spanking it. It’s the law. The Lord commands it,” she told her daughters as the three pored over an old family photo album. “He would just tell me that over and over and over to try to convince me that he wasn’t doing something wrong, but it always felt wrong.”
While the family was reliving their violent past, Rebekah finally got the courage to confront her mother about not intervening to stop her sexual abuse.
“I feel like I hold a lot of anger and resentment towards you because the night that you pulled me out of the room and confronted the whole situation, the only thing I really remember about that besides being scared, was you being angry at me and asking me, ‘Why did you do this?’ Because you said that to me,” Rebekah told her mother. “As I got older and it kept happening, and other family members abused me, I didn’t say anything to you, and even after he left home, you still would allow him to come back and visit, and it was like you choosing him, again and again and again and you just ignored me.”
Anna tried to mumble “I’m sorry” before a tearful Rebekah stormed out of the room into the backyard of the home.
After Rebekah was consoled by Meg, who told her she was “so proud” of her for confronting their mother, the siblings returned and Anna addressed her daughter’s feelings.
“Bekah, I’m sorry I didn’t protect you,” she said. “There’s no excuse for me to give. I’m so sorry.”
Anna said that although it was “complicated” because of her own past of being abused, she realized she had also become abusive herself.
“I think I am trying to understand and I want to move on and forgive but it’s just really hard,” Rebekah replied during the heartbreaking exchange. “I’m trying to figure out how to do that but I don’t think I’m there yet.”
The conversation ended with Anna telling her daughter that she hoped she could “find healing.”
“That’s all I want,” she said.
The family’s story was just one of the accounts from former Amish women included in the two-part series who say they were sexually abused in isolated and male-dominated Amish communities, where modern technology and conveniences are rejected in favor of strict religious views and a minimalistic lifestyle.
The harrowing stories of abuse include a woman who remembered her own brother taking the hinges of her locked bedroom door to sexually assault her, an Amish woman who learned her husband had been secretly sexually assaulting three of her daughters and another woman who was sent away to a psychiatric facility as a teenager for speaking out about her own abuse.
To learn more, watch “Sins of the Amish,” streaming now on Peacock.
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