Sexual Abuse in the Amish Community

"They feel that the use of force, even legal force, even filing a lawsuit is outside the spirit of Christ, and outside the spirit of Christian faith," according to Kraybill.

Kraybill said individuals who confess to offenses -- regardless of the seriousness -- are banned from church activities for six weeks and only restored to full membership in their community if they are truly penitent.

"The Amish church has a very strong emphasis on first of all, the importance of confession, public confession, if you transgress the teaching, but secondly forgiveness for that and then forgetting it, and letting it go," Kraybill said.

"The funny thing is that they view drinking alcohol until you puke as bad a sin as raping somebody. They get the same punishment for either one," Mary said.

But Amish-style punishment was not going to bring Mary the justice she wanted. And for her, the final straw came when she suspected a younger brother, David, was molesting their then 4-year-old sister.

Breaking Community Ties

Mary recalled, "She said to me, 'You know, Mary, David is bad to me.'" Mary said her sister told her their mom, Sally Kempf, said she shouldn't talk about it and that she should forgive her brother.

So, Mary did something that drew more shock from her community than the sins of her brothers. She called authorities outside the Amish community, and she let them use her to gather evidence against her own brothers. She visited her brother Johnny wearing a wire and he admitted freely that he had sexually abused her.

Don Henry from the Vernon County, Wis., Sheriff's Department said he had enough evidence to make an arrest in the case. When he spoke with Johnny, he freely admitted to raping her. The only question was how many times, according to Henry.

Henry said, "He wanted to know how many times she had said, and with him alone she said it happened between 100 and 150 times. He thought it was too many and that he thought it was between 50 and 75 times."

Greg Lunde, Eli's lawyer, said Eli admitted to more assaults than Mary had alleged. " I think Mary's allegations against Eli were 12 or 13 times. By Eli's own admission, it was 15 or 16." David also confessed to authorities.

All three brothers pleaded guilty.

David, charged with second-degree sexual assault of a child, was sentenced to four years in prison. Eli, charged with second-degree sexual assault of a child, and with a prior misdemeanor conviction on his record, was given eight years in prison. Johnny Byler's sentencing brought out the largest crowd -- and the most tears -- not in support of Mary, but in support of the confessed rapist.

The community's reaction did not go unnoticed by the judge in the case, Michael Rosbrough. "The thought occurred to me," he said, "How many of you have ever cried for Mary Byler? … You may have prayed for her, I don't doubt you have, but how many of you cried for her? For the loss of her childhood."

Viewing Victim as Villain

The community viewed Mary, not Johnny, as the villain, because they had already punished Johnny within the church, according to Garrett. "He went through that process. He was sorry for what he had done, so to the Amish he was forgiven and it should be forgotten," she said.

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