The best thing you will read today

This piece, about widespread rapes in a Mennonite community in Bolivia, is a truly incredible piece of reporting by one of my favorite journalists, Jean Friedman-Rudovsky. It’s disturbing and heartbreaking, but a fascinating look at how a culture of silence and shame not only allows rapes to be widely perpetrated, but prevents survivors from getting the help they need.

Author: has written 5281 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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44 Responses

  1. Barnacle Strumpet
    Barnacle Strumpet August 9, 2013 at 1:00 pm |

    solar panels light homes

    (Manitobans aren’t connected to the power grid, so at night the community is submerged in total darkness.)

    …There is such a thing as oil lamps. (Just pointing this out because I’m curious if the author actually knows they are submerged in total darkness, or is assuming this based off of the information that they’re off-grid). Considering one couple is described as checking the gas cannister after going to bed (something that surely needs light, and which you *so* wouldn’t want to take a candle to check).

    The colony thrives economically off its members’ supreme work ethic,

    A curious and quick young woman who learned Spanish from the family’s Bolivian cook

    Supreme work ethic, like hiring brown people to do your work for you?

    “Why would they need counseling if they weren’t even awake when it happened?” Manitoba Colony Bishop Johan Neurdorf

    Well gee, we can see why he’s the leader of 2500 people, right? Not.

    One of the saddest and most disturbing pieces I have read. So many people being subjected to truly disgusting actions.

    1. ashley
      ashley August 10, 2013 at 1:26 am |
      A curious and quick young woman who learned Spanish from the family’s Bolivian cook

      Supreme work ethic, like hiring brown people to do your work for you?

      You’re looking at this from a very different economic/cultural standard. My partner’s Aussie mother initially resisted having house staff when she moved to Mexico because she felt uncomfortable with the class/power dynamics, but she learned very quickly that running your own house is seen as cheap. If you can afford to give someone else in the community a job, why wouldn’t you hire someone who needs the work. I’m assuming this is standard in Bolivia as well. Just shocked that the colony abides by it, since so much of their ongoing struggle seems to be to keep away from the outside world.

    2. amblingalong
      amblingalong August 10, 2013 at 2:09 am |

      Supreme work ethic, like hiring brown people to do your work for you?

      Agreed; that’s why I try to convince my friends to only hire white people, so as to avoid being racist.

      1. yes
        yes August 10, 2013 at 1:56 pm |

        I want these two comments to have a baby.

      2. Barnacle Strumpet
        Barnacle Strumpet August 10, 2013 at 2:20 pm |

        Sorry, but if you’re a white person and you hire PoC to do all the menial labor for you, while you sit back and take all the glory for having a supreme work ethic, then I am going to side-eye you.

        Especially if you are talking about your super work ethic as something that sets you apart from other cultures, such as the cultures of the non-Mennonite Bolivians.

        Sorry, I don’t want to hear about what hard-working farm families they are, when chances are the non-Mennonites in the area are working just as hard, without the luxury of paid servants.

        There are a lot of cultures where people are still farming without tractors or mechanized aid at all–and yet we’re supposed to buy that the Mennonites are so especially pure and hardworking with their tractors than the PoC that still farm without any of that at all?

        Sorry, I don’t want to hear it. I’ve seen nothing that suggests that the members of the Mennonite community actually are any more hardworking than other farming communities, and I find it skeevy to try to paint a culture supposedly steeped in old European ways as harder working than the rest of the world.

        Manitoba Colony, which was formed in 1991, looks like a relic of the old world dropped in the middle of the new: a pale-skinned, blue-eyed island of order amid the sea of chaos that is South America’s most impoverished and indigenous country.

        Ah yes, a white island of order surrounded by the chaotic PoC. Nothing creepy about painting that picture at all.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune August 10, 2013 at 2:33 pm |

          a pale-skinned, blue-eyed island of order amid the sea of chaos that is South America’s most impoverished and indigenous country

          Just wanted to note that it’s some kind of pale-skinned, blue-eyed order, anyway.

          Also, the lulz of that contrast, when it’s not the “impoverished and indigenous” “sea of chaos” that’s having rape gangs assaulting half the families around them. I guess brown people are just automatically chaotic, while the nice paleskin blue-eyes are automatically peaceful and admirable, right?

          Fuck that.

  2. Radiant Sophia
    Radiant Sophia August 9, 2013 at 1:24 pm |

    I liked the article, though I do have a problem with “Though it wasn’t by design”. Everything about a community like that is by design. It is designed to isolate every member from every other member to maintain social control. No amount of rape or incest should be allowed to threaten the authority of those in power, and the society is designed to do just that.

    When the book that forms the basis of your religion, which in turn forms the basis of your community is suspect, you are denying a relationship to the divine to your community members. I don’t think it’s to hard to understand that any spirituality that a community like that once had has been replaced with worldly desire.

    I remember when I was told I was not allowed to read the bible. It was my father’s job, or my future husband’s job to interpret it for me.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune August 10, 2013 at 1:48 am |

      Seconded. I’ve got nothing more to say that I feel safe talking about right now.

  3. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar August 9, 2013 at 4:52 pm |

    This sounds very much like Rulon Jeffs and later Warren Jeffs and their fundamentalist Mormon compound. Somewhat different religious tradition and no polygamy, but all the same rape and incest, all the same control by the men in power interpreting the religious rules, all the same internal politics and silencing of dissenters.

    1. Alexandra
      Alexandra August 9, 2013 at 11:08 pm |

      I agree. There are these consistent echoes in Christian fundamentalist sects, ranging from larger and more mainstream groups to the most dangerous cults, where a small group of men exercise strict control over a large group of followers using two main types of control: fear of hellfire in the next life and fear of excommunication and the loss of one’s family in the present life.

  4. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable August 9, 2013 at 5:09 pm |

    Can someone please assure me there’s a culture where rape victims are taken seriously?

    1. Echo Zen
      Echo Zen August 9, 2013 at 6:54 pm |

      The Ashanti and Mbuti people allegedly boast low rape rates — which isn’t necessarily the same as taking rape seriously, but we can assume a correlation between the two. The most predictive factor behind a society’s rape rate is whether women are considered equal economic contributors to society or not.

      1. amblingalong
        amblingalong August 10, 2013 at 2:07 am |

        The Ashanti and Mbuti people allegedly boast low rape rates — which isn’t necessarily the same as taking rape seriously, but we can assume a correlation between the two.

        Not really.

        1. Echo Zen
          Echo Zen August 10, 2013 at 6:31 pm |

          I say this because countries with high rape rates tend to be pervasively dismissive of the notion that rape is an issue (or exists). So whilst the reverse isn’t necessarily a one-for-one corollary, it stands to reason generally that less rape is connected with better attitudes. Have you seen anecdotal evidence to the contrary?

        2. PrettyAmiable
          PrettyAmiable August 10, 2013 at 9:43 pm |

          I’d be skeptical if only because most US colleges try to boast low rape rates.

          Bah.

          Scared to start googling because I really don’t want the answer to be no, so happily taking this at face value.

        3. Echo Zen
          Echo Zen August 10, 2013 at 10:49 pm |

          I mean *actual* versus *reported* rape. If we were talking the latter, then everyone knows rape rarely ever happens in pious, faithful places like Riyadh…

    2. yes
      yes August 11, 2013 at 3:23 pm |

      There are no cultures where all rape victims are taken seriously.

  5. DragonBreath
    DragonBreath August 9, 2013 at 11:13 pm |

    The best as in well written and laying out the facts but not as a feel good thing which is what i first thought after reading the title. And god approves too, it is ok for those women to be raped and the girls to be molested as it is a woman’s lot in life, barf, another reason for a low opinion of many religions.

    1. Echo Zen
      Echo Zen August 9, 2013 at 11:25 pm |

      Yeah, when I saw “best thing you will read today”, I first assumed that meant it would be uplifting and inspiring. Well, maybe this was today’s best article, but inspiring is not quite how I’d describe it… :-/

      1. Fat Steve
        Fat Steve August 10, 2013 at 6:52 pm |

        Yeah, when I saw “best thing you will read today”, I first assumed that meant it would be uplifting and inspiring. Well, maybe this was today’s best article, but inspiring is not quite how I’d describe it… :-/

        Same here, based on the headline, I was expecting this to be the brave story of the women who took on this community…but I suppose it doesn’t say “The best thing you will read ABOUT all day”

  6. Sally Archer
    Sally Archer August 10, 2013 at 5:04 pm |

    The excellently investigated article ends on a note about a culture where the women’s mind-bindings include believing that this life (as if we can be sure of another) is to transcend suffering, all part of the man-god’s plan. It is not only the Mennonite renegade community where women have been taught those beliefs, because they exist on a sliding scale from fundamentalist to liberalized wherever man-made monotheisms (or practices) with male-deific linguistic imagery or male-form statuary abound. In other words, the world over.

    How can we expect women to honor, respect and protect themselves from male violators when their supreme being or highest exemplar is male, not female, and those leading their spiritual practices are predominantly if not exclusively males who require forgiveness of male violators?

    The article highlights the woman-hating use of “forgiveness” by man-made culture. These points, existent also among the predominant cultures around the globe, and identified to sad extent in the article: “…God chooses His people with tests of fire,” he told me. “In order to go to heaven you must forgive those who have wronged you.” The minister said that he trusts that most of the victims came to forgiveness on their own. But if one woman didn’t want to forgive, he said, she would have been visited by … [bisphop] highest authority, and “he would have simply explained to her that if she didn’t forgive, then God wouldn’t forgive her.”

    Thus a summary of the mental terrorism of men manipulating a female, every female (from earliest girlhood), and boys who are raped too, into believing there’s a God in man’s image who requires her or him to forgive the men who rape her (or him), or else she (or he) will burn in the eternal fire of the unforging man-god.

    I’ve been long ready for global man-made monotheism to fall by its own hubris of the insanity of normality. Reverence for Gaia, the pantheon of goddesses, swirling atoms, anything but the hateful, hurtful evil side of man-made monotheism as still infiltrating the minds of billions of people on this planet. This article makes me even more ready for that fine day.

    1. Radiant Sophia
      Radiant Sophia August 10, 2013 at 6:08 pm |

      Although I agree with much of what you wrote here, I know religious propaganda when I see it.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune August 10, 2013 at 6:25 pm |

        …yeah, I was wondering how to put that without coming off like a jerk. Particularly since I’m sort of pantheist myself.

        1. amblingalong
          amblingalong August 11, 2013 at 4:37 pm |

          When on top, she is actively penetrated by the male on her own terms, but she is penetrated nonetheless. Whatever her position, he is within her, and her root chakra is physically and metaphysically penetrated. Her sacral, or 2nd chakra, is also influenced by this act.

          The woo is strong with this one.

        2. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune August 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm |

          What in the lol of wat oh fuck right off.

        3. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune August 11, 2013 at 4:55 pm |

          Also, is this a good place to mention that the new-agey appropriation of the concept of chakras (and their total lack of giving a fuck about whether they’re even getting it right) really pisses me off as a Hindu?

          I think it’s a good place to mention it.

          Fuck.

        4. Radiant Sophia
          Radiant Sophia August 11, 2013 at 5:02 pm |

          amblingalong, I think we can all read her site for the man-hating, homophobic, transphobic, propagandist space it is. It really isn’t necessary to denigrate her spirituality, especially because it isn’t even hers, and she certainly doesn’t believe in it. It is borrowed, and it only serves as a means to convey her worldly beliefs.

        5. Lolagirl
          Lolagirl August 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm |

          At the risk of derailing further, am I the only one annoyed with how certain radfems taking otherwise fun (and fun sounding) sexual stuff and portray them as THE WORST THING EVAR!?

          Different strokes and all that, but please stop taking my fun sexy activities and and insisting the they can never be anything but the root of all evil for all women ever in the world.

          That is all.

        6. amblingalong
          amblingalong August 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm |

          amblingalong, I think we can all read her site for the man-hating, homophobic, transphobic, propagandist space it is. It really isn’t necessary to denigrate her spirituality, especially because it isn’t even hers, and she certainly doesn’t believe in it. It is borrowed, and it only serves as a means to convey her worldly beliefs.

          Nope. I’m not going to pretend woo isn’t woo because it gives woo-believers a sad.

        7. Radiant Sophia
          Radiant Sophia August 11, 2013 at 7:55 pm |

          Nope. I’m not going to pretend woo isn’t woo because it gives woo-believers a sad.

          I think you missed my point entirely.

    2. Donna L
      Donna L August 10, 2013 at 7:48 pm |

      I’m far from an enthusiast about organized religion of any kind, but somebody has a very Christian-centric idea of monotheism. All that forgiveness and hellfire.

      And, yes, religious propaganda. As if cultures with polytheistic religions including goddesses (or atheistic cultures) have been any more peaceful or notably less misogynist in general.

      1. Donna L
        Donna L August 10, 2013 at 8:49 pm |

        I don’t think anyone here would be surprised by the kind of rhetoric one finds at Ms. Archer’s website, by the way.

        rad-feminist books like Andrea Dworkin’s and Mary Daly’s were being sold at library booksale or cycled into the dead storage stacks at that time (2005) — in the political backlash of transsexism and wombphobia against real women that PC transgender apologists had fomented against real women


        how very grateful I am for the second-wave academics, activists, and writers like Jan Raymond, Mary Daly (who taught Jan), Kate Millett (whose book, “Going to Iran” from decades ago is another case study in why it’s better now to view men as natural disasters, parasites or viruses than to engage in the futility of social-change activism alongside them

        When someone thinks of Janice Raymond so familiarly that they call her “Jan,” it’s time to run for the hills.

        I’d been thinking, yes, well, definitely that (natural disaster) and also men as virus, maybe biologically much bigger but just as debilitating. But parasite from DaughterIsTheSun is a much better analogy, because a parasite usually grabs hold and slowly drains, saps and diverts energy without, in the majority of cases, outright killing the host.

        1. Donna L
          Donna L August 10, 2013 at 8:53 pm |

          So, any mothers of sons out there, you’d better be careful, because he’s coming to get you, whether as a natural disaster, a parasite, or a virus. So take Ms. Archer’s advice — please! — and follow the chimpanzee model:

          Human males are like male chimps whose violence by all good reports seems to be innate, rapist and murderous whenever a male chimp with the social power to do so (i.e., unlikely to be punished) feels like murdering or raping because he feels his territory (including females) is threatened. Jane Goodall is well-received and well-rewarded by the patriarchy for having seen female chimp violence, too, and not going to the end of the thought — female chimps without a legal system to constrain them will kill a male chimp baby being raised alone by a female mother (disabled by male chimp gang violence and rape), and also kill the disabled mother so she cannot bear more rapist spawn, because they know those babies will grow up to be gang-rapist like the fathers and a real threat to their lives.

        2. Radiant Sophia
          Radiant Sophia August 10, 2013 at 8:57 pm |

          TERF. I’m shocked.

        3. Barnacle Strumpet
          Barnacle Strumpet August 10, 2013 at 9:03 pm |

          This is hilarious in hindsight (I have a comment in mod suggesting it would make more sense to blame men as the Source of all Woe than to blame Monotheism, if one thinks there’s anything to be accomplished by playing that game…

          Apparently Archer agrees…

      2. Donna L
        Donna L August 10, 2013 at 8:54 pm |

        It occurred to me to say this: anything further should probably be taken to the spillover thread.

    3. Barnacle Strumpet
      Barnacle Strumpet August 10, 2013 at 8:14 pm |

      I’m all for a good bashing on Monotheism, but hatred of women has been near-universal (and I’m aware of the historically treated-women-decently cultures, but they’re still a tiny minority of them). It occurs in atheistic societies, polytheistic, pantheistic, it doesn’t matter, it’s been (and will likely continue to be) all too easy for humans to turn against women.

      How can we expect women to honor, respect and protect themselves from male violators when their supreme being or highest exemplar is male, not female

      …If you’re going to go this route you might as well drop the monotheism-bashing, and just go straight to man-bashing misandry or total misanthropy. Why is it so easy for men everywhere to be incited into hatred against half the species? What’s so inherently loathable about being typically smaller and bearing children?

    4. yes
      yes August 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm |

      I can’t be the only person to read this in Frida Waterfall’s voice.

  7. Leah
    Leah August 10, 2013 at 8:26 pm |

    Excellent journalism, and a powerful, terrifying piece. Thank you for sharing this.

  8. bookshopcat
    bookshopcat August 10, 2013 at 11:14 pm |

    content note: abuse, religion, victim-blaming bullshit.

    Ex-Mennonite abuse survivor here. Just yesterday a close relative of mine told me that having the gall to talk about the abuse and refuse to see, contact, or interact with an unrepentant perpetrator are incredibly hurtful actions of which I ought to be ashamed. Apparently my self-preservation instinct is a sign that I ‘lack the necessary compassion’ towards my abuser that would lead me to regret hurting them so awfully. This individual- the interrogator, not the abuser- is a well-respected teacher and guidance counsellor who works in the public school system- nothing like those fundie isolationists on the surface, and yet they’re in charge of students who are the same age I was when the abuse started and rabidly against admitting that I was sexually abused “because that could lead to criminal charges and legal action”.

    I’ve lost years of my life to the aftereffects of this shit, my relationship with my family is in tatters, I live in poverty because I’m too messed-up to work and I’m trying to teach myself everything I can about trauma and recovery because good luck finding a trans-competent specialist in the field… and even if you don’t take into account the resources I have at my disposal, I’m still far better-off than the Manitoba Colony survivors.

    1. Radiant Sophia
      Radiant Sophia August 10, 2013 at 11:46 pm |

      I don’t even know what to say. Everything I could say seems shallow compared to the strength you have to have endured that.

      1. bookshopcat
        bookshopcat August 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm |

        Thanks, Sophia. After almost a decade of trying to come to grips with it, it’s still too big for me to be able to see the whole picture all at once, so please don’t worry about not being able to find words that feel right. You’ve given me more support in two sentences than my entire family’s been able to manage in the last eight years, and that’s a big deal for me.

    2. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune August 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm |

      I am so, so sorry you went through all that shit (and yes, pressure to forgive an abuser is traumatic in itself, and I didn’t go through a fraction of what you did). All the hugs if you want ‘em.

      1. bookshopcat
        bookshopcat August 11, 2013 at 8:35 pm |

        Thank you, mac; I will happily accept ALL THE HUGZ. I’ve been through enough shit that I have a v. difficult time w/ any kind of physical contact [whether offline or on-] unless other people initiate it…

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