If Manitoba Colony members are accused of a crime, they are brought before the congregation at church and judged. For serious offenses like incest, they may be excommunicated, but if they ask for forgiveness, they can return a week later. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky (noahfr.com))
Mennonite families watch the rape trial in May 2011. After discovering the rapes, Manitoba Colony leaders considered locking the accused in shipping containers for years but eventually called in the Bolivian police. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky (noahfr.com))
Eight men went to prison, the media gaze moved on, and colony life resumed. But the saga of mass rape in the Bolivian corner of our family of faith is far from over.
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.
“As part of my probation conditions, I have to stay away from places where there are families,” says Joe Patterson, “so that made finding a church hard.”
Eight members of the Manitoba and Riva Palacios Mennonite colonies accused of raping more than a hundred women and girls were found guilty on Aug. 25 after a two-month trial. A ninth, Jacob Neudorf Enns, escaped from the Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz some time ago and remains a fugitive.