Over the course of four years, 130 females of a Mennonite colony in Bolivia reported that they'd woken up with raging headaches, bits of rope in their hair, pain "down below," memory loss, and blood and semen stains on their sheets. For the townsfolk there was no other explanation: a demon was raping their women.
Well, actually, that's not entirely accurate. Initially, no one even believed the women. They chalked it up to "wild female imagination." Then, when too many incidents occurred to too many families to continue denying the problem, they agreed it was a "plague from God" before settling on the demon/ghost theory.
Secluded from the rest of society and inexperienced with supernatural sexual assault, the Mennonites of Manitoba Colony, Bolivia didn't know what to do. So they did nothing. And the females continued to be raped, repeatedly (so often that some lost count), between 2005 - 2009.
Of course, it wasn't a ghost or a demon committing the serial rapes. It was a group of nine men in the community, ages 19 - 43, who used a spray—concocted by a veterinarian to anesthetize cows—to essentially roofie entire households in the dead of night. Two of them were caught trying to enter a neighbor's home in 2009 and they ratted out their cohorts. They were turned over to the Bolivian authorities and, in 2011, they each received 25-year prison sentences for their crimes, which were harrowing, to say the least:
Victims ranged in age from three to 65 (the youngest had a broken hymen, purportedly from finger penetration). The girls and women were married, single, residents, visitors, the mentally infirm. Though it’s never discussed and was not part of the legal case, residents privately [said] that men and boys were raped, too.
Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, who initially reported on the serial rapes for Time, went back to Manitoba Colony for a follow-up piece, published in Vice, and what she found was depressing. Not only were the victims denied professional counseling (by the men in their colony) after the crimes and the trial, but the entire community is discouraged from speaking about it at all, as though nothing ever happened. But it's worse than that.
[O]ver the course of a nine-month investigation, including an 11-day stay in Manitoba, I discovered that the crimes are far from over. In addition to lingering psychological trauma, there’s evidence of widespread and ongoing sexual abuse, including rampant molestation and incest. There’s also evidence that – despite the fact that the initial perpetrators are in jail – the rapes by drugging continue to happen.
Of course it's still happening. And it's indicative of a few things.
1.) The Old Order Mennonites—with their conservative doctrines prohibiting electricity, cars, or higher education—are unable to sustain their desired "simple" life in a world that's far too complicated.
2.) Progress is a good thing.
With all the evils to which one can be exposed in a secular life, there is evidently just as much opportunity to sin in a sheltered one. And maybe our advancements in technology can distract us from more meaningful time spent with our families, but our advancements in other areas—like women's rights, for example—can help keep us safe.
Living a 19th-century life, the Mennonites in Manitoba are, by definition, sexist. Girls finish school a year earlier than boys "because females have no need to learn math or bookkeeping." Women are not permitted to vote for their elected leaders. Old Order Mennonites believe that a woman's role in life is to "obey and submit to her husband’s command."
What's very sad about the situation for the women in Manitoba is that they have no one to turn to in cases of sexual assault.
[B]efore Old Colonists migrate to a new country, they send delegations to negotiate terms with the governments to allow them virtual autonomy, particularly in the area of religious law enforcement.
Other than cases of murder, the Bolivian government does not require Mennonites to report crimes and police have no jurisdiction inside the colony. If someone has a problem, they take it up with the church leaders.
But a girl would be unlikely to even be able to do that. Because sex is such a taboo in the community, most women are never even taught the proper names for genitals. And without even the most minimal sex education, they aren't taught the difference between "good touching" and "bad touching." So most women in that community would not possess the language for, or the understanding of, sexual assault.
And if they did realize that they were assaulted, and they did report it, they are forced to forgive their attacker/rapist/molester. And once that person receives apologizes and receives her forgiveness, the perpetrator can go on with their lives, without punishment. For many women, this means that the father or brother who raped them is allowed back in their home. And will continue to rape them.
But if one woman didn’t want to forgive…she would have been visited by Bishop Neurdorf, Manitoba’s highest authority, and "he would have simply explained to her that if she didn’t forgive, then God wouldn’t forgive her."
How do insulated communities like this continue to operate under the guise of religious freedom? It's not like these women are choosing to join up with these people. They are born into a culture that conditions them to believe that they don't deserve basic human rights. They are purposely kept in the dark—literally and figuratively—so that they don't know enough to question how fucking stupid, unfair, and arbitrary their rules are. (For instance, why are they required to dress so conservatively in regards to some parts of the body but wearing flip flops is OK? There are plenty of people out there with foot fetishes! Some of them are probably Mennonites. And they're getting a free show!)
Governments should mandate a minimum level of standardized education for women (and people in general) regardless of their church doctrines. And if you believe that is religious persecution, well, then, I have a ghost rape story to tell you.
THE GHOST RAPES OF BOLIVIA [Vice]