David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Owning Your Name and Your Secret

Is it really imperative for the media to report “couple sexually abuse Amish sisters”.

It’s not a mystery why women under-report rape. It’s the same reason the majority of victims of sexual abuse do not disclose and report. First, they are humiliated by the rape or sexual abuse. Second, they’re fearful you will think less of them, ashamed you will believe that somehow they invited the rape or abuse and frightened of the spotlight brought upon them by the attorney for the rapist or perpetrator.

Recently two young Amish sisters ages seven and twelve were abducted in upstate New York near the Canadian border.

They were released by their captors and returned safely to their home the following day. A couple were arrested charged with kidnapping the girls from their family’s farm stand.

The media reported the local District Attorney’s comments that they were sexually abused. Why? Of what value was that information to the public?

Several years ago I was asked to assist a family whose young daughter was abducted and safely returned home after several days.  Alive would be a better descriptor than safe.

The family physician briefed me providing me full details of the physical trauma and abuse this young girl suffered during her ordeal. My role was to assist the family with their emotional trauma. Key to such healing was for this young girl to feel safe and protected and maintain a strong sense of self.

I provided guidelines to school principals and teachers what and how to discuss with classmates and for the parents to take a lead from their daughters questions and behavior.

Though this girls abduction was not as widely publicized in the mass media as that of the two Amish sisters it was well known throughout the Jewish community.

Her return home of course brought much relief to her family, friends and community.

And much gossip.

I heard people say “was she sexually abused”, was she raped”.

People didn’t know I was assisting the family. I was able to interject each time as an innocent bystander and say, why is it important for you to know this?

Why do you even ask the question?

How does it inform your life any better?

A well known credo in media is that sex sells. The Amish are well known to live modestly. They eschew modernity and exposure to the outside world.

A stark example was brought home in this abduction when police asked the parents for photos of the two sisters a basic staple in such investigations.

No pictures were available.

This Amish clan shuns all forms of electricity and technology and considers pictures to be immodest. The girls father finally consented to have a sketch artist draw his 12 year old daughter but not of his seven year old daughter. He desperately wanted to protect her modesty an important virtue of Amish culture.

Amish sisters are sexually abused the headlines screamed.

So much for these parents life search for modesty. First they are shattered by the abduction and sexual assault then eviscerated by the media publicity of this tawdry news.

The FBI estimate that one million rapes were  unreported between  1995-2012.

Police departments across the country systematically under-report sexual assaults and rape because they have great latitude to classify a crime. 911 operators have insufficient training to code such crimes and can decide if it was rape or not.

(Professor Rayburn Yung, University of Kansas School of Law).

No such mistakes are made in tabulating murder or stolen cars. They are easier to classify than rape. Just another humiliation  for the victim.

Very few things are actually owned by a person. One may own a home, a car, furniture, a computer and clothing.

But all these are transient.

What does a person truly own?

They own their name. No one can change it for them without their permission.

A person owns their secret. No one should be able to disclose it without their expressed consent.

FBI profilers like to say that every person has some type of a secret. Only some people have disclosed it.

A persons secrets belong to him or her.

That is why they are called secrets.

Owning any object gives you the right to sell it, to discard it, or to disclose it.

The media’s definition of privacy unfortunately has few if any boundaries.

The secret of sex is certainly not one of them.  Gossipers, like the media, hunger.

A secret a person owns that they were raped or that they are a victim of sexual abuse belongs to them not to the media and not to the public.

This Amish family owned very little, a small home, a farm stand, a horse and buggy. They owned no car, no radio or television. All these have little value or meaning to them.

What they truly owned was their name and their secrets.

They owned the innocence of their two young daughters. Now even that was taken away from them. First by the abductors and then widely publicized by mass media for strangers the world over to read.

Rape and sexual abuse is a crime punishable with time in prison. Unfortunately gossip is not.

Just a transient story in the news like a piece of furniture.

A lifetime of healing for these two sisters and their family.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.