In last week’s article, I described the crimes committed by Mennonites in Manitoba Colony, Bolivia upon members of their own community. This week, we explore the aftermath of these horrific crimes on the families that were left to heal and move on. But can one ever truly move on from such trauma?
In the wake of the confessions, there was virtually no discussion in the community about what had occurred. Not only were the women and girls, who had fallen victim to the rapists, not offered any form of therapy within the community, the male elders rejected offers of aid by therapists from outside the community. Though the victims would have welcomed some form of counseling, or at least an outlet to release some of their emotional trauma, the male leaders in the community felt it would have been counter-productive. Bishop Johan Neurdorf, the community’s highest authority, asked, “Why would they need counseling if they weren’t even awake when it happened?” According to Abraham Wall Enns, Manitoba Colony’s civic leader, “That’s all behind us now. We’d rather forget than have it be at the forefront of our minds.”
But according to the women and girls who were raped during this terrible time, it is always on the forefront of their minds. How could it not be? Not only were the women and girls denied therapy after the rapes had occurred, but they were not even permitted to be the plaintiffs in their own rape cases. Because women cannot legally represent themselves, the plaintiffs in the trial were five men, selected from among the fathers and husbands of the victims. While the women and girls are encouraged to move on from what happened to them, they are also encouraged, or even expected, to forgive the rapists and perhaps welcome them back into the community one day, if they properly ask for forgiveness. The women of the community, faithful to their core, claim that they have forgiven their rapists, because it is what God expects of them.
Perhaps most disturbing is that the rapes have not stopped. Nine men confessed, subsequently recanted, and were later found guilty of drugging entire families and raping the women and girls. (Though men and boys also, allegedly, fell victim, they were not listed as victims in the court case.) But the crimes continued after the original rapists were incarcerated. Are they being committed by copycat criminals? Did some of the original rapists never get caught? One Manitoba man said, “It’s definitely not as frequent. The rapists are being much more careful than before, but it still goes on.” With no police force, and street lamps and cameras not permitted because they are considered technology, the Mennonites must hope to, once again, catch someone in the act in order to stop these crimes.
With their strong faith in God, but without any concrete plan for healing, the Mennonite community of Manitoba Colony has fared as well as can be expected. All they hope to do now is wait.