Saturday, August 27, 2011

Victims of Mennonite “Old Colonies” in Bolivia

In a trial that ended with eight convictions Aug. 25 in a Bolivian court, prosecutors said that in 2005 a veterinarian in the isolated community altered a substance that sedates cows for use on humans. He and a gang of eight, the suit claimed, spent the next four years terrorizing the community by spraying the concoction through bedroom windows at night, drugging entire families and raping any females inside.

It would be a shocking accusation for any community to handle, but it has threatened to divide one of the world’s few remaining Mennonite “Old Colonies”: 130 women and girls from ages 8 to 60 have come forward as victims, affecting about one third of the community’s families. And the crime, the way the community has responded to it, and the trial itself point to much deeper troubles for women in such reclusive sects.

An Old Colony woman’s place is in the home. Her schooling ends at age 12, and while many of the men eventually learn Spanish through their inevitable contact with the outside world, few women learn to speak anything but Low German.

Deeply entrenched patriarchy pervades this scandal. The victims told their husbands or fathers of foggy memories and pains, but the men didn’t believe them, and no investigations were ordered, allowing crimes to flourish for years. The scandal did not finally blow open until June 2009, when one woman caught two of the defendants entering her house.

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