Have you been asked to write an Impact Statement?
I can help you wade through the difficult memories and put your thoughts into the most powerful, concise statement possible. Your statement may affect the court's decision, and it will be an official piece of history in the justice system. You don't have to do it alone. Contact me if you need helping writing your statement at no cost.
I am sharing my story with you today because I was shamed into secrecy for 30 years. That secret is why we’re here today. C.S. and the Amish community are now hoping you will allow them to continue this secrecy for future generations. I have forgiven C. and the Church that protected him, but I can not forget the children I left behind. Seeking justice is my closure. I can’t go back in time and tell the 14-year-old girl I was in 1989 that it wasn’t her fault. I can’t tell her that it wasn’t okay for a man she trusted to rape her dozens of times. I can’t tell her to come forward and seek justice. I can only do what’s right today. I’m now doing everything I can to stop the cycle of abuse for my Amish brothers and sisters. Your Honor, I’m asking you today: Can you please help me?
Your Honor, I am trusting you to send a message that I couldn’t: that no one is to blame for their rape. I believe that you can help me stop the cycle of abuse poisoning generations of Amish children. Healing can begin in this courtroom today if you use the power bestowed upon you to show that mercy belongs to the abused and not the abuser. I need your help to teach other victims that rape and shame are NOT just a part of growing up Amish. Even the night he raped me of my virginity, I didn’t know it would change my life forever. Only now, looking back, I can see the damage he has done.
As an Amish child, I walked to a one-room schoolhouse in my bare feet. I felt guilty if I took a long break from my chores. I was taught I had no right to my own opinions, and I certainly had no knowledge of, or interest in, sex. I had never worn makeup, been to a party, had a boyfriend, tasted alcohol, or broken a curfew. I had never received any sex education. I didn’t even know where babies came from because talking about it was forbidden.
I was used to living with my own family and sharing a room with my sister. I dreamed of playing with baby kittens, not getting slammed into a wall and penetrated. I dreamed of learning to sew my own dress, not being raped in a buggy. I dreamed of exploring the mountains and getting good grades, not being shunned from the only life I’d ever known. I dreamed of someday falling in love and giving my virginity to my husband. All that ended the night C. raped me.
At 14 years old, I was denied a high school education and forced into modern slavery. C. paid my parents a few dollars a week to live with him and his wife as their domestic servant. It was my job to wake up before dawn and help them take care of their home, four young children and farm, until after dark. C.’s supporters would have you believe that at 14, I was a sophisticated home-wrecker. To this day, they still call the rape an extra-marital affair. Your Honor, I want to remind you I was not only a child and a virgin, I was too young to legally consent to anything, let alone sexual relations. C. employed the classic grooming techniques of a child predator: presenting a wholesome image as a father and abiding community member. In secret, he used me for his sexual pleasure and discarded me when he was done. He put me at ease with a gentle and charming demeanor. But there was nothing gentle and charming about him during the rapes.
To this day, I am hurt by my family, friends, neighbors, and church community, both Amish and English, who knew about the abuse and did nothing to protect me. The state of Minnesota has never had a chance to protect me because it was considered a sin to speak to outsiders about Amish matters. And so I was blamed, even by my parents. The adults responsible for me chose to protect the Amish church over the innocence of their own children.
The church still denies the existence of sexual abuse, despite the number of survivors coming forward. You can protect the next generation of Amish children from this devastating cycle of abuse. My Amish family deserve to maintain their way of life without the toxic legacy of abuse and secrecy. In some ways, it would have been easier to stay silent for another 30 years, but they created this secret, which made me physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick.
I’ve realized how many other Amish girls I’d left behind to be abused by men, like C., my uncles, and others in the community who are protected by the church. I didn’t want to report the rapes, but I knew I would never be free of him until I did. Your Honor, I believe that if you do the right thing, we can save future generations of Amish children from the same fate. I respectfully ask that you send a message to C., the Amish community, and all sexual abuse survivors, that no one, especially a child, is responsible for their own rape. I guarantee there are people still in the community today who have been abused and who are still suffering in silence. My hope is that you will tell them it was not their fault, that rape is a crime, and that there are people who care enough to protect them.
Judgement will be served by God, but protection needs to be served by the court. What is more worthy of justice than God’s innocent children? Please help send a message to the Amish community that they are not alone, that they are worth all the protection we can provide.
If the Amish community is not willing to protect their children, then we will. And to the Amish children, I want to say that you are not alone. I am with you, along with all the survivors here in the courtroom today. To us, you are worth the risk of coming forward. To us, you are worth all the justice in the world.
Working with Lizzy Hershberger on her Victim Impact Statement in Mabel, MN.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak about how this crime has affected me. While the crime itself was traumatic, I wasn’t prepared for how much it would affect every aspect of my and my family's lives. Although the physical act of the crime is over, Ervin Leid is still making attempts to manipulate and gaslight me and my family. He continues to go to great lengths to smear my reputation, as well as my family’s, and shows no remorse or acknowledgment of any wrongdoing. Instead of apologizing or trying to make things right, he hides behind the church and attempts to portray me as the perpetrator. As a result, I am repeatedly interrogated and forced to relive the memory of his crime again and again, even questioning myself in an attempt to understand his perspective. His lies have caused my family, friends, and church to question my integrity. He tries to make me question everything I know in my heart to be true.
Forcing himself on me wasn’t enough for E. He has spent his time and energy making sure I feel responsible for his actions and their consequences. He’s made sure I feel threatened and powerless. Ultimately, he’s destroyed my sense of safety, as well as trust in myself and others. He’s still working to leave deep scars that will stay with me and my family forever. Unfortunately, neither the defendant nor the court can ever return all that E took from us. We will have to spend a lifetime finding it for ourselves. It’s my sincere belief that E hasn’t learned his lesson and will continue to commit these crimes. I now leave it up to you, the court, to help protect other girls from E and to use this case as an example to other Mennonite men that their "religion" won't protect them from the law.
I grew up in a Mennonite home in A., Wisconsin. From my earliest years, I was taught that a girl should dress modestly and be reserved around men. I also assumed that men and boys within our church were safe and could be trusted. After all, our leaders were men and they were supposed to be safe. I’d read stories about abductions and sexual assault, but assumed that only happened in non-Mennonite settings. I’d always felt safe. I realize now that I was too trusting.
I felt safe when I took the job at the greenhouse where I met E. It was a business owned and operated by members of my church. Why should it not be safe? Within my first month working with the defendant, that trust lay shattered at my feet. For the first time in my life, I didn't know who I could trust. I didn't know what to do with the feelings coursing through my body. I had no idea how to handle my emotions and didn't know how to express them. I panicked. I felt alone. Utterly alone. But the defendant told me: "If you leave me or tell anyone, I'm going to kill myself." And so every time I tried to sort through my feelings or thought of telling someone, I heard those words.
For the first time in my life, I hated going to church. I dreaded facing anyone. I couldn’t stop wondering: “What if they know what he is doing? What if they do the same thing to me? How many people do this type of thing?” All the while I was trying to process this, I kept going back to work at the greenhouse and Ervin got more aggressive. He was a smooth talker. He knew what to say and do to confuse me further.
I had, and still have, nightmares about E. I began locking my bedroom doors, afraid he'd come at night. I woke up at every little noise -- usually drenched in sweat and crying. I was tense all the time. I remember my chiropractor asking what I was doing that my shoulders were so tight. I almost told her what was happening, but I kept hearing his words, "I'm going to kill myself."
I thought, if he kills himself I will be a murderer and thus responsible for someone's death. I felt trapped. So trapped. I was on the verge of falling apart. I panicked over the smallest things. I panicked if I was in the church basement alone. I panicked if a man was behind me at the check-out counter in a store. I panicked if a man talked to me. I didn't trust anyone. I was scared to death.
Then everything came to a crashing halt. E's sister walked in on him attempting to assault me in the greenhouse. She called me that evening and said, “If girls would stay in their place, this type of thing wouldn't happen." Maybe I should have anticipated her reaction, but it shocked me. She told me I needed to quit working at the greenhouse. I felt a flood of new emotions: relief, overwhelming relief to be out of the grip of someone who could toy with my emotions. But I also felt horrible guilt. I thought it was my fault. I felt exposed, scared, and alone. I was sure he was going to kill himself and that I was responsible. I waited anxiously for his family to speak out. To blame me. Surely they would tell the bishop. That's the way it works in our church. The ministry finds out, they ask for a meeting, they do their little investigation, and they believe whomever they want, usually the one with the most powerful parents. Then they punish as they see fit, push it under the rug and forget about it. I was so scared. I didn't want a meeting with the ministry. I knew my parents would be horrified once they found out. I tried to forget, but battled with flashbacks and horrible headaches, which I’d experienced every day since the assault. I was barely surviving on eight Ibuprofen a day.
And then I turned 18. I’d always looked forward to this birthday, but now I dreaded it. I was afraid a man would ask me out on a date. What would I say? The last thing I needed was alone time with a man. But then my emotions would go into a crazy spin again. As much as I hated men, I also hoped they'd fix all my problems. I hoped somehow they would meet my needs and fill my desires, and I wouldn't feel this way. Oh, how I hated being messed up. I hated myself.
Then I came up with a brilliant plan. I'd jump out my bedroom window and end my misery. That way I'd never have to tell my future husband that he wasn't the first person to kiss me. I'd never need to tell him he wasn't the first man to hug me. I'd never need to tell him the awful truth about my past. I'd never need to have these awful emotions that I couldn't sort out. I’d never need to worry about the church finding out.
I wrote a note to my folks and told them I loved them. I told them it wasn't their fault. I told them not to ask anyone any questions. I didn't want them finding out the truth of what drove me to suicide. I didn't want them to know the horrid details. That day, my sister and I had a conversation. I don't remember everything we talked about, but I do remember her telling me, "Whatever you do, don't try anything dumb.” I remember staring at her, but once again my emotions were out of control. I remember thinking: "I don't care. They don't care. The church doesn't care. No one wants you. No one loves you. They all hate you. You’re scared. You’re alone. No man will ever want you. You’re scarred. You’re only a victim." And the thought I couldn't say aloud: "You were sexually abused."
These thoughts ran through my head as I sat on the window ledge dangling my feet and staring at the ground below. But I couldn't do it. I heard my sister's voice, "Don't do anything dumb" ring clear over the other jumbled words. But then I heard another voice say, "I'm gonna kill myself. I'm gonna hang myself in front of the church house." I screamed and threw myself on the bed beside the window. I cried and cried. I said out loud: "I need help. I can't go on like this. I need to get rid of these memories. It’s all your fault." I was spent. I was tired of being messed up.
I threw everything into work. I made friends with my other coworkers. I pretended nothing was wrong. All the while I was losing weight and not sleeping well. I tried to tell myself I was doing better, but I really wasn't. I told myself, the less I have to do with church folks the sooner I'll forget. But it didn't work. Every Sunday I went to church. Every Sunday I'd see E. and his family. Every Sunday I'd remember.
In March of 2020, I was listening to a friend pour her heart out about her situation, similar to mine. "You don't understand," she cried. I froze and whispered, "But I do.” And for the first time I told someone my whole story. I said it all. I talked about the crazy emotions and hating all men, but at the same time wondering if they would ever take care of my emotions. I talked about the fear, anger, and yes even the hate. I told her about my fear of the church. We understood each other. I was overwhelmed. I got off the phone, crying and shaken. I finally told someone. I suddenly felt very scared, but relieved at the same time. I was still scared the church would find out, and what they'd say or do to punish me. In my heart I knew how it would play out. They would find out, take his side, and blame me. They would very likely excommunicate me. I still trusted one man in the ministry and thought maybe I could tell him. But first, I called an older friend from another state and told her a bit about what I was going through. Instantly, she said this was a crime that needed to be reported. "No!" I wanted to yell. “No! No! If he finds out he's gonna kill me and himself. No, I can't do that.” I didn't know what to do. Why had I talked at all? Why did I need to go through this?
My family had always been close, but the assault changed all that. As word about the assault got out, everything changed. The church instantly took E’s side. It really didn't surprise me, but it hurt. The ministry called a number of men's meetings, spreading the story in their words. This exposed me even more, sending my emotions in a whirlwind. I told myself: "I can't face anyone ever again." I felt like the person the ministry was discussing wasn't me. I heard stories about what was being said at the men's meetings. I couldn't control the lies people said and heard about me, and I couldn't control what people believed. I felt terrible. I knew people believed I was at fault. I tried to tell myself I didn't care, but the whole thing was too real. For the first time I was telling my story. For the first time I had people who both didn't believe me and those who did.
My dad stood firmly by my side. My mom swayed drastically. She would agree with me until someone from church called her with a different story. None of these stories made any sense. I got phone calls from the ministry crying for meetings, meetings, and more meetings. They always wanted more details. I was not at all in the right state of mind to talk about it. All I wanted was to be heard and believed, and then left alone. But the ministry kept asking for meetings. At last, I got into the habit of calling law enforcement or my advocate to ask whether I should actually have a meeting with the ministry. I tried to do what they advised, but I second-guessed every decision I made. I also heard the rumors that I was being resistant and misusing the law to protect myself. This bothers me since being agreeable and settling matters peacefully are important to me.
One day, as I was trying to sort through my emotions, I wondered if I was hiding behind the law. I didn't know anymore. It's an awful feeling once you have to admit you don't know if can trust your instincts. But this time I told myself, “If I'm using the law to protect myself and I need protecting, then whose fault is it? Isn't it the fault of those who are accusing me of using the law to protect myself?”
At this point, no one was physically harming me, but they were tearing me apart emotionally. At last, I realized I needed to cut all ties with the church. This was very hard. I’d spent the last ten years of my life with this church. It was all I knew, but it wasn't a safe place anymore, so I withdrew my membership. But withdrawing my membership wasn't good enough for them. The A. Mennonite Church decided to excommunicate me. They also pressured my family to turn against me. When my dad lent me his car to go to a different church, the Athens church went into an uproar because they didn’t want my father to support my decisions. They held more men’s meetings to criticize my parents and anyone else helping me. Eventually, my parents began questioning my decisions. That's when I lost it. The church may take the man's side. They may blame me. They may tear down my friends. They may call the deputy a hot head. They may do what they want to me, but once they touched my family I couldn’t take it. It's not my family’s fault that I am where I am today. It's not their fault my life is scarred by the words “sexual assault.” None of this had anything to do with them. It hurt to see them hurting, but I didn't know what to do about it.
Your Honor, if I may I would like to address the defendant directly. E., never did I imagine that those months working in your parents’ greenhouse would ruin my family's lives. Never did I imagine that what you did to me those months would impact the rest of my life. Never did I imagine that it would come to this. Even though some of what you heard me say earlier was about emotional abuse by the church, I want you to know I remember that it all comes directly because of the choices you made. I wouldn't have needed to go through this, and my family wouldn't have gone through this, if you hadn't made the choices you did. Do you realize how drastically you changed my life? Do you realize that for more than two years you controlled my whole life? You controlled my emotions. You placed fear in my heart. You controlled my health. You controlled how I related to my friends, and how much trust I placed in those I should have fully trusted. You caused me to second guess all my decisions. I say this all in past tense, but all of this is still true in the present tense. I'm going to have to work on this for the rest of my life and try to find the true me. To find my emotions and find my voice. I am no longer controlled by you. I will be my own person and I will speak from my heart. I also want to say that I am trying to forgive because I know it's the right thing to do, but it's not easy.
Your Honor, I've asked myself many times if I would have spoken up if I’d known how much doing so would change my life. If I would have known how much it would affect my family, would I have done it? The answer is no. Maybe a year, or two years, or even five or ten years from now that answer will change, but I lost more than I gained and my answer is no. Due to my speaking out, my parents have a strained relationship. The friendship between my parents and the defendant's parents was ruined. My oldest brother barely spoke to me for a time, and he even made the remark that I was no longer part of the family. My sweet 5-year-old brother barely speaks to me and I have no connection with my former youth group. I had to move out of my home, and away from all the things and people familiar to me. Now when I visit my folks, everything is different. I’m flooded with memories. Mostly, they’re bad memories, all the traumatic memories and emotions I described earlier.
I’m sure everyone knows someone, or more than one person, who has a story similar or maybe vastly different from mine. But they have a story of sexual assault. You likely look at them and believe what a lot of people believe about me. You likely look at me and think, since I'm here and speaking out, I must be okay. I feel the word “okay” is a horrid word. If you say I'm ok because I’m trying to move on, just remember, you don't see the flashbacks. You see me moving on with my education and career, but remember my driving force is my past. If you see me going back to work and helping out in my community, you may assume I’m okay to a certain degree. But remember, you don't see the nightmares. You don't see the arrows that go through my heart when I meet up with a man. You don't see the fear that grips me when I hear another person talking about sexual abuse. Simply put, you don't see the part of me that's not okay.
And so, Your Honor, that's where I am today, living about two hours away from my family. My emotions are still all over the place: fear, anger, relief, guilt, mistrust, and yes even hate. I lost so much and it could have been prevented. I just want to say that even though I want justice in this case, I’m sorry it had to come to this. I also want to say to all the victims out there that I know the message you received from the A. Mennonite men's meetings. I know you follow the command to be silent, but I have another message for you. You have a voice. You have the right to speak up. I know I said I wouldn't have come forward if I’d known what it would cost me, but I trust someday I’ll look back and see it was more then worth it. You might lose everything, but you'll find a sense of freedom. You'll find people to stand with and support you. Stay close to those people and don't pay attention to those who don't support you. Speak out! Even if it doesn't look like it in the beginning, it will help you heal. At the end of our journey, I pray we'll all be thankful we spoke up. This cycle needs to be broken. I respectfully ask the court to help us break that cycle today.
Working with Ryan Beiler of Never Stand Alone to assist abused women and children from Plain communi