Difficult topic. No culture or religion that I am aware of is immune to the horrible situation where children are sexually molested by older children or adults. There is a lot to say about this so I refer you to this very complete reference. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_sexual_abuse
What we know from the Catholic priest pedophilia disaster is that in strict religious environments where sex is not discussed there is higher risk of unreported abuse. In many religious communities sex is considered highly sinful, a high power disparity exists where leaders are not to be questioned, and people have learned not to stick there necks out. When people are punished for criticizing leaders there is less willingness for parents to stand up for their children. Also in some of these settings there is a tendency to sidestep laws such as mandatory reporting of suspected abuse to state authorities.
There are many people who have alleged sexual abuse on the Bruderhof. It is rare for such a person to take the huge personal, emotional, family and financial risk of taking legal action. Recently the hof has adopted a policy to try to reduce future abuse but it is unclear whether this is for legal protection or out of true dedication to stamping out abuse. We can only hope it will be successful.
Scenarios that have been alleged in the past include a servant misusing their power to sexually molest boys, medical personal misusing physical exams for their own sexual arousal, adolescent teens molesting younger children, parents sexually molesting their children.
Often children are not aware that abuse has occurred. They often believe that any sexual interaction was their choice. Often the abuse is so disturbing that memories are suppressed.
The important thing for you to know is that if you were ever touched sexually or inappropriately by an older child or adult, this is wrong and it wasn’t your fault.
People who have been abused should report this to their state’s child protection services. They should arrange to see a therapist on a regular basis. They should seek out others who have similar experiences so that they have social support around these isssues. All this is hard to do and often none of this happens, but they are good goals.
If you need help with any issue you can reach out to us and we will try to connect you with support and advice. [email protected]
It is important that you find people to talk with early on. Your entire life has been packed with people and things to do and all of a sudden your built-in 1000 friends are gone.
“I have a lot of family outside the Hof. People who don’t may have no one to actually turn to. Obviously this website is a help and I also found non-family, non-former-Bruders to help as well.”
If you don’t have a good family member on the outside to turn to, consider asking for a mentor. “Talking to an ex-Hofer and comparing your story is not only therapeutic but also helps organise your own thoughts. You start actually seeing how ludicrous the whole thing is and move on slowly. Also when kids start figuring out college,etc they will have someone to advise them. And no one is better at doing this drill than those who did it before.”
Reach out any time to [email protected]
“The hardest thing for me to deal with was the emotional part of being alone and having so little to do with my time that was constructive. I was really lonely and although I quickly developed a routine of going to the gym and hanging out with coworkers or walking by the river, I honestly had no idea how I would possibly move on from that. I cried every night for a month. I got really good advice from outside family to basically cut out all the sentimental bull shit and move on. The sooner you can move on the better and stop thinking about it”
That’s from a very recent leaver. Old timers will say that decades later you will likely still be dealing with it and that at some point processing it with other people who have left the hof is very useful. You can’t just bury a problem like this. Like Jack’s magic beans it can lead to a whole heap of trouble! (maybe that is what that story was about!) But in the short run, make yourself get up and do something useful. Look forward, not backwards for the most part.
If you think it would be useful to have a mentor/friend who has been through this just write to us and ask. [email protected]
Unlike most people who move away from home, you are going to have to adjust to a very different relationship with your parents.
One recent leaver said “I spoke with mine a lot because I could but very easily argued with them. When I left, I was not super honest in saying that I was never going back. My parents didn’t even want me to think about that. Make sure leavers realize that however they feel at the time, they may eventually want a good relationship with their parents and the easiest way to maintain that is to not talk about anything consequential. You don’t have to tell them everything anymore. Also, you will never justify your choices or change your parents minds so don’t even try. Resist the temptation to ping off angry emails to anyone back on the Hof.”
That’s good advice. Most other leavers have soon figured out that the best thing to communicate with your parents about is non controversial stuff like the flowers and birds outside your window. They will not be able to handle many of the things you do and the choices you make so spare them the details.
And whatever you do, don’t expect anyone there to apologize or even recognize anything they did wrong leading up to your leaving. That kind of humility doesn’t seem to be in their toolkit.
Begin to build a new support group outside the hof made up of new friends or other leavers who know exactly what you are going through in a way no one else possibly can.
You will need credit to function well in life. The first step is to have a job that pays you something. The volunteer setups the hof often arranges are nice but if you plan to make it on the outside, get a real job. Next start a bank acccount and start saving money.
When choosing a bank, ask if they have starter credit cards. These require you to maintain a balance of ~$500 and may use the card up to $500. Use the card heavily for small things like food but pay it off each month religiously! You can set up your account to pay the minimum each month automatically in case you forget to make a payment, which is terrible for your credit. But don’t just pay the minimum, pay it off completely. This means treating your new credit card like a debit card, it’s not for spending money you don’t have.
After 6 months of religiously using and paying off your card ask your bank to move you to a regular credit card or increase your maximum, but keep paying it off religiously. Later a car purchase or student loan will continue to build your credit rating. Not paying a utility bill like phone or heat will destroy your credit rating.
Credit rating means how much people trust you to pay back loans. It’s not based on knowing you personally, its computer generated. Any missed payments, very easy to do, reduces your credit rating. There are sites that allow you to look at your credit rating but beware, these are money making sites and they want to sell you more than you need.
Over time, if you always pay your bills on time and never default on a loan or bill, and don’t maintain high balances on your card, you will have a good rating and be able to buy a car or a house when the time comes.
No one but you should decide how you interact with your family. That being said, so often it is entirely out of your control. It can be heartbreaking to see your connection or lack thereof dictated by the Church. It is easy to be angry with family still in the community. After all, they made a decision that led to extreme separation, by giving up their freedom of choice through baptism. But then, so did I. I chose to leave, knowing I would likely have little to do with their daily lives in the future. I was fully aware of the way they treat leavers. I decided I would put myself through the pain of separation for the sake of personal agency. Even if I were still within the community, there’s no guarantee I’d be living on the same commune as my mother. It’s always going to be painful, but each individual has to decide if the separation is worth it – if the cost of choosing your own career path, the people you surround yourself with, the way you dress and where you live – if the ability to make these choices for yourself is worth letting go of a relationship that ultimately strangles your sense of self. One can also keep hoping they revamp their policies towards leavers. Perhaps one day people will be able to come and go freely on the communes, promoting the healthy family unit they claim to support. Until that day, there are hundreds of people out here willing to step up and be a family to those like us who have essentially lost ours.
Be wary of people’s motives! The community didn’t teach me much about stranger danger or how to advocate for myself. I found myself in uncomfortable and even dangerous sexual situations throughout my first year of college because I didn’t know how to say no to people. I had to teach myself to be assertive. Being selfless and self-effacing might work in the Shalom group but it has no place in the social sphere of today. It will only make you look like prey to unscrupulous men. Own your weaknesses and strengths and learn to use them. I no longer worry about feeling rude when I am uncomfortable with a situation. I speak my mind and make an exit. I’d much rather be known as a bitch than a pushover.
With regard to friendships – some people may want to accessorize you when they hear your story – i.e. “This is my cult friend!” That type of behavior makes me uneasy. I do not like to be reduced to my background, especially when that is such a small part of who I am today. Friendships should be supportive and uplifting, and involve a mutual give and take. Don’t feel bad about being selective with whom you give your time to. You don’t need negativity to bog you down while you are building your new life. Say adios to the haters and don’t look back.
Use your story. What you have done with your life thus far is a remarkable feat, and admissions and financial aid will view it as such. Don’t be scared to go straight to the top – ask to speak to the Dean, for example, if the underlings aren’t able or willing to help you. I got my financial aid family contribution waived by a yearly meeting with my Dean, where she checked up on how I was doing and reviewed my case.
Your story may sound fantastical to white bread America. If you find people disbelieve you, there are plenty of us willing to vouch for the hardships you have gone through to get to where you are.
There are good genuine people out there, and I hope you find them all. But there are a lot of terrible things that can happen if you don’t look out for yourself. Don’t go to unfamiliar places by yourself and at night. If you must travel alone at night text a friend or family member that you are en route or keep them on the phone with you. Do not listen to music while you walk, put your hair up or wear your hood/hat, and adopt a masculine gate. Keep your head up and your vision wide. There is no shame in crossing the street if you are scared and maybe speed walk if you can.
Contraceptive (avoiding pregnancy) is on you. Get on the pill or get an implant and carry condoms with you. It’s your body, so don’t trust its health to anyone else but you. If your sexual preference is to go out and sleep over with people you recently met, have a survival kit in your bag: The morning after pill, condoms, vaginal wipes, comfy shoes, toothbrush, portable phone charger, and emergency cash.
Learn to trust your gut! If something doesn’t feel right, get out of there and put a stop to it. The worst thing that can happen is you are wrong. There is no shame when it comes to protecting yourself. Be aware that in this culture it’s better to watch out for yourself first and be vocal about your opinions. Subtle sexism is a thing, and when you’re programmed to be seen and not heard it’s difficult to get respect.
Think what you – YOU – want, like, feel etc. You do not have to ‘fit in’ by going into bars, clubs, etc. That might be too harsh a learning ground. You can look at joining an athletics club, yoga, swimming etc. There are ALL SORTS of ways to begin to integrate into the outside world without compromising your own good judgement and taste.
For any significant other of a recent leaver, you should understand that they will be in the middle of a major culture change for many years. Try to learn as much as you can about where they come from and stay in close touch with how they are feeling. You may be close to your family and be confused about why they have limited contact. They often have conflicted feelings about relationships, sex, marriage. Rushing into a commitment in the middle of this process may be problematic. At least have your eyes wide open. Many have found it problematic entering a serious relationship with a recent leaver. Others have done it well.