America Lets Amish Sect Leader Get Away With Rape
Mullet and fifteen of his followers were convicted Thursday of federal conspiracy and hate crimes for a series of beard- and hair-cutting attacks that created mass panic in the Amish community of eastern Ohio.
No one, however, has bothered to press charges or to even acknowledge the far more heinous crime Mullet repeatedly committed as leader of the Amish community he founded outside Bergholz, Ohio. That crime is rape.
During the trial, federal prosecutors successfully convinced jurors that since the hair-cutting attack victims were targeted based on religious differences, and since the hair and beards of the Amish are so centrally important to their religious identity that to cut them is a disfigurement, the actions of Mullet and his followers constituted violent hate crimes. It didn't hurt the prosecution's case that the attacks involved home invasion and the use of physical force against the victims.
What was perhaps most compelling, however, was the sensational testimony of several Amish men and women against Mullet's character. Witnesses described Mullet's domineering and unorthodox practices as sect leader, such as changing the traditional caps worn by Amish women and confining people in chicken coops as punishment for their sins.
The testimony that has been given the most media attention, however, was that of Mullet's daughter-in-law, Nancy Mullet. Mullet forcibly subjected his daughter-in-law to “marriage counseling” after her husband began having psychiatric breakdowns. This counseling began first with Mullet instructing her to sit in his lap and kiss him, but quickly progressed to forcing her to sleep with him.
Or, at least, that's the language the courts and the New York Times use. It's really just a rhetorical substitute for sexual assault. Mullet used his position of power in the Bergholz community to coerce a woman to have sex with him. He manipulated the Amish values of marriage, hierarchy and obedience to put Nancy Mullet in a choiceless position; she did not consent. Sex without consent is no ordinary departure from traditional Amish practice. It is rape.
What is shocking is that the media is crawling with Nancy Mullet's testimony. At least four articles published by the New York Times alone accuse Mullet of having “had sex with married women in the community.”
But never were his actions called rape. Never was it brought up in court that Mullet was guilty of anything more than hate crimes. This is despite the fact that, as written in one article, Mrs. Mullet said, “I didn't want to do it, but I was afraid not to.”
Using fear to coerce sex? Still rape. But the court and the media moved right past it, as if Mullet were merely a jerk for sleeping with other men's wives. Only Mullet's defense lawyer, Edward G. Bryan, went so far as to say that Mullet had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior and that “it was wrong.”
Nice try, Mr. Bryan, but you get zero credit for being a sensitive human being. Mullet's behavior was not just wrong—it was criminal, misogynistic and disgusting, and he's not even getting a slap on the wrist for it. “Inappropriate sexual behavior” means cheating on your partner, or engaging in sexual activities in public—performing consenting sexual activity in a manner publicly deemed inappropriate. Forcing women to have sex with you because you know they have no choice but to—that is rape.
As a woman living in America, I am shocked and terrified that nothing is being done about such a blatant case of sexual assault. How can so many people, educated in the law, and supposedly educated in equal protection and human rights, ignore an incontrovertible violation of a woman's body? How can they dismiss rape as nothing more than an indication of poor character?
Perhaps this kind of outrage would be expected in a private court, unbound by the principles of American law. Perhaps if the Amish had tried Mullet and his followers, the assaults would have been covered up to protect the Amish reputation and uphold their tradition of privacy.
But this case was tried in a public court in Cleveland, with federal prosecutors. Neither the judge, nor the jury members, nor the lawyers, nor the court marshals were Amish. Nancy Mullet's story has been plastered all over cyberspace. What kind of state is our country in when sexual violence is a matter of national news, but goes unnamed and uncharged?
The problem is that America, in its ignorance, thinks misogyny has been “fixed.” We think the progress for women's rights made over the past few decades is enough. We think that rape is something that happens in a dark alley in a bad neighborhood—we won't acknowledge the sexual violence happening daily that is tolerated on a widespread level.
That's why women who are abused by their husbands and boyfriends have such a hard time speaking out. That's why the thousands of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses each year get blamed on a girl's BAC. That's why many women can't walk to school or work in a big city without getting sexually harassed.
As a woman living in America, I want to feel safe. But stories like Nancy Mullet's suggest my hopes may be too high. They tell me that not only is protection not guaranteed, but in the case that protection fails, justice is not guaranteed either. America seriously needs to wake up and stop letting blatant examples of sexual violence circulate the entire country without anyone saying "boo." Otherwise, all that stuff about equality, democracy, respect for the human person? They're just empty words.
Reach Columnist Francesca Bessey here.