In rural Bolivia lies Manitoba Colony, an ultra-conservative Mennonite community who live in perpetual retreat from the non-believing world. Mennonites are similar to the Amish in that they reject technology and modernity. While some Mennonites live modernized lives with cell phones, televisions, and cars, the Mennonites of Manitoba Colony have chosen to remain true to the “old ways,” rejecting modern technology and contact with the outside world. Men are forbidden to grow facial hair; girls and women must wear identically tied braids at all times, and members are shunned for the freedoms we take for granted, such as buying a motorcycle or owning a vehicle with rubber tires. The Mennonites in Manitoba Colony believe that there is only one true path to salvation, and that is through leading simple life.
Now imagine living in this world, believing it to be the true path to heaven and believing yourself and your family to be safe, but waking up morning after morning with a pounding headache, soiled bed sheets, and no idea what happened the night before. This horror is exactly what occurred to members of this Manitoba Colony Mennonite community. In 2005, the women and girls of Manitoba Colony were repeatedly drugged and raped by members of their own community. Eight years later, the nightmare has not yet subsided. It all began in 2005 when the women and girls of Manitoba Colony began waking up with dirty sheets, pelvic pain, blinding headaches, and sometimes even with rope still tied around their ankles. Each family who fell victim to the strange happenings stayed quiet, thinking they were the only ones, until the weight of it became unbearable. Women began telling their sisters and neighbors, but as word spread, so did the rumors that the women were making it up to cover affairs, or that it was all just “wild female imagination” or a “plague from God.”
Then it happened. In June 2009, two men from the community were caught trying to break into a neighbor’s home, which led to the arrest of nine Manitoba men, ages 19 to 43. Although they later recanted, the men confessed that they had been raping Colony families since 2005. The shocking details explain that the men would spray a chemical used to anaesthetize cows into the home in order to incapacitate the entire family. They would then enter the home and rape the women and girls (and sometimes men and boys) sleeping inside. The victims ranged in age from three to 65 years old. At sentencing, the veterinarian who created and supplied the cow anesthesia was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The rapists were sentenced to 25 years each. The official number of victims reached 130, though it is widely known in the community that many victims did not come forward. The Manitoba Colony Mennonites were left to heal.
In a follow-up article to “Drugged and Raped in Bolivia: The Crimes,” I will explore the aftermath for the families and the future of the Colony.