The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia

The perpetrators were caught, but the crimes continue

August 6, 2013 | Web First
By Jean Friedman-Rudovsky | VICE--reprinted with permission
Editor's Note: For a closer look at the ongoing scandal in Manitoba Colony, check out their documentary, The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia, airing this month on
<p>All photos by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky. Noah Friedman-Rudovsky also contributed reporting to this article.</p>

For a while, the residents of Manitoba Colony thought demons were raping the town’s women. There was no other explanation. No way of explaining how a woman could wake up with blood and semen stains smeared across her sheets and no memory of the previous night. No way of explaining how another went to sleep clothed, only to wake up naked and covered by dirty fingerprints all over her body. No way to understand how another could dream of a man forcing himself onto her in a field—and then wake up the next morning with grass in her hair.

For Sara Guenter, the mystery was the rope. She would sometimes wake up in her bed with small pieces of it tied tightly to her wrists or ankles, the skin beneath an aching blue. Earlier this year, I visited Sara at her home, simple concrete painted to look like brick, in Manitoba Colony, Bolivia. Mennonites are similar to the Amish in their rejection of modernity and technology, and Manitoba Colony, like all ultraconservative Mennonite communities, is a collective attempt to retreat as far as possible from the nonbelieving world. A slight breeze of soy and sorghum came off the nearby fields as Sara told me how, in addition to the eerie rope, on those mornings after she’d been raped she would also wake to stained sheets, thunderous headaches, and paralyzing lethargy.

Her two daughters, 17 and 18 years old, squatted silently along a wall behind her and shot me fierce blue-eyed stares. The evil had penetrated the household, Sara said. Five years ago, her daughters also began waking up with dirty sheets and complaints of pain “down below.”


See the 2018 series, “Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal”: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and “Mennonites talking.”

All photos by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky. Noah Friedman-Rudovsky also contributed reporting to this article.

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Canadian Mennonite, what is going on? First the horrible one-sided story about MCC work in Mexico and now dredging up from the corners of the internet a story from a source as reputable as

Dear Canadian Mennonite

I would like to thank the reporter Jean Friedman-Rudovsky for her brilliant, brave, sympathetic and insightful reporting of the horrific story of the horrific so-called "ghost rapes" in the traditionalist Mennonite community of Bolivia. She does not vilify the Mennonites or their traditionalist project, but rather zeroes in on the specific systemic factors that contribute to the making of such a pervasive community horror. The factors she lists include:

"a lack of checks and balances, warped use of forgiveness, lack of sexual and reproductive health education, and a religion that tells them that their time on earth is meant for suffering so when something bad happens, you just accept it rather than raising a fuss, particularly if you are a woman."

Friedman-Rudovsky further reflects that "whenever you have a group that sees itself outside the limits of the rest of society and that values the reputation or integrity of the group over the safety and protection of the individual, that community is more likely to be prone to sexual abuse."

I hope the Mennonite church-based communities of North America take this story and insightful analysis as a challenge and opportunity to embark on a serious process of self-reflection and wide scale internal revisioning - since these "systemic factors" and attitudes (and harmful effects on the intimate and social lives of women and men, even if not as dramatically expressed as in Bolivia) are widely prevalent throughout the Mennonite world.

Di Brandt

For more information, follow these links:

An insightful interview with Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, who broke the story to the NY TIMES and the Huffington Post:

the original story:

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