Victim Impact Statement
Read by Lizzie Hershberger
In Fillmore County Court, MN
I am sharing my story with you today because I was shamed into secrecy for 30 years. That secret is why we’re here today. C.S. and the Amish community are now hoping you will allow them to continue this secrecy for future generations. I have forgiven C. and the Church that protected him, but I can not forget the children I left behind. Seeking justice is my closure. I can’t go back in time and tell the 14-year-old girl I was in 1989 that it wasn’t her fault. I can’t tell her that it wasn’t okay for a man she trusted to rape her dozens of times. I can’t tell her to come forward and seek justice. I can only do what’s right today. I’m now doing everything I can to stop the cycle of abuse for my Amish brothers and sisters. Your Honor, I’m asking you today: Can you please help me?
Your Honor, I am trusting you to send a message that I couldn’t: that no one is to blame for their rape. I believe that you can help me stop the cycle of abuse poisoning generations of Amish children. Healing can begin in this courtroom today if you use the power bestowed upon you to show that mercy belongs to the abused and not the abuser. I need your help to teach other victims that rape and shame are NOT just a part of growing up Amish. Even the night he raped me of my virginity, I didn’t know it would change my life forever. Only now, looking back, I can see the damage he has done.
As an Amish child, I was used to living with my own family and sharing a room with my sister. I dreamed of playing with baby kittens, not getting slammed into a wall and penetrated. I dreamed of learning to sew my own dress, not being raped in a buggy. I dreamed of exploring the mountains and high school math, not being shunned from the only life I’d ever known. I dreamed of someday falling in love and giving my virginity to my husband. All that ended the night he raped me.
As an Amish child, I was denied a high school education and forced into modern slavery. C. paid my parents a few dollars a week to live with him and his wife as their domestic servant. It was my job to wake up before dawn and help them take care of their home, four young children and farm, until after dark. Until then, I’d known nothing but religious life on a small farm. I walked to a one-room schoolhouse in my bare feet. I felt guilty if I took a long break from my chores. I was taught I had no right to my own opinions.
I certainly had no knowledge of, or interest in, sex. I had never worn makeup, been to a party, had a boyfriend, tasted alcohol, or broken a curfew. I had never received any sex education. I didn’t even know where babies came from because talking about it was forbidden.
C.’s supporters would have you believe that at 14, I was a sophisticated home-wrecker. To this day, they still call the rape an extra-marital affair. Your Honor, I want to remind you I was not only a child and a virgin, I was too young to legally consent to anything, let alone sexual relations. C. employed the classic grooming techniques of a child predator: presenting a wholesome image as a father and abiding community member. In secret, he used me for his sexual pleasure and discarded me when he was done. He put me at ease with a gentle and charming demeanor. But there was nothing gentle and charming about him during the rapes.
To this day, I am hurt by my family, friends, neighbors, and church community, both Amish and English, who knew about the abuse and did nothing to protect me. The state of Minnesota has never had a chance to protect me because it was considered a sin to speak to outsiders about Amish matters. And so I was blamed, even by my parents. The adults responsible for me chose to protect the Amish church over the innocence of their own children.
The church still denies the existence of sexual abuse, despite the number of survivors coming forward. You can protect the next generation of Amish children from this devastating cycle of abuse. My Amish family deserve to maintain their way of life without the toxic legacy of abuse and secrecy. In some ways, it would have been easier to stay silent for another 30 years, but they created this secret, which made me physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick.
I’ve realized how many other Amish girls I’d left behind to be abused by men, like C., my uncles, and others in the community who are protected by the church. I didn’t want to report the rapes, but I knew I would never be free of him until I did. Your Honor, I believe that if you do the right thing, we can save future generations of Amish children from the same fate. I respectfully ask that you send a message to C., the Amish community, and all sexual abuse survivors, that no one, especially a child, is responsible for their own rape. I guarantee there are people still in the community today who have been abused and who are still suffering in silence. My hope is that you will tell them it was not their fault, that rape is a crime, and that there are people who care enough to protect them.
Judgement will be served by God, but protection needs to be served by the court. What is more worthy of justice than God’s innocent children? Please help send a message to the Amish community that they are not alone, that they are worth all the protection we can provide.
If the Amish community is not willing to protect their children, then we will. And to the Amish children, I want to say that you are not alone. I am with you, along with all the survivors here in the courtroom today. To us, you are worth the risk of coming forward. To us, you are worth all the justice in the world.
If you are a victim of abuse, domestic violence, or sexual assault in need of assistance writing an Impact Statement, please reach out for reduced-cost or free services.