A MUM who was raised Amish has revealed how women and kids were subjected to horrific sexual abuse and "shunned" from their families if they ever broke the rules.
When Emma Gingerich, 36, fled the only life she had ever known at the age of 18, she only had a Year 9 education, barely spoke English and had no idea what sex was.
America’s secretive Amish shun technology in favour of hard-work, family, and devotion to their Christian faith.
Emma, who is now married with a baby girl, slipped out the door on one cold January afternoon in 2006 armed with a mobile phone and the number of an ex-Amish woman who could help her.
She left a note for her parents which said: "The time has come for me to leave, I am not happy here anymore. I am sorry to do this to you but I need to try a different life."
After spending her life surrounded by 13 siblings and helping her mum around the house with cooking, cleaning and gardening, Emma was thrust into a world on her own.
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While there were aspects of her life she liked, rampant incest and criminal behaviour cast a shadow over the community.
It took her a long time to feel comfortable in the world outside the confines of the German-speaking Amish community in Eagleville, Missouri – and it was seven years before she settled with a boyfriend.
Now living in Texas, Emma met her husband on the Bumble dating app and works in the business department of a hospital, fully embracing the freedoms of the non-Amish world.
Growing up, Emma said she always felt different to everyone else and often questioned the strict rules of the Amish community.
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And soon after she left, she found out about the sickening sexual abuse committed by her grandfather, who died in 2011, and how many of the women and girls she grew up with had been subjected to similar abuse.
A shocking new documentary recently showcased how 11-year-old girls in the Amish community were given "incest guides" and told it was their fault if they got raped.
Sins of the Amish uncovered the decades-long sexual and physical abuse of young girls living in the religious community.
The Amish are a tight-knit and secretive group, and they don’t like to deal with authorities, so it’s almost impossible to know what’s really going on inside.
But Emma previously revealed the Amish community hide "a lot of bad things" – including incest and criminal behaviour.
She said they simply "sweep it under the rug" after the culprits are forced to confess their sins at church.
Emma told The Sun Online: "I know the Amish drink, there is a drinking problem – some of them make their own wine or moonshine.
"There's a lot of sexual abuse – which you wouldn't see from the outside. It's been going on for a very long time.
"It's a problem for children and women. Kids are sexually abused. For a long time, nobody did anything about it.
"If it does happen in the Amish community, they hide it so well.
"But now there are more people leaving, they are starting to speak out and they are starting to get law enforcement involved. There's more awareness now.
"I didn't experience it from what I can remember. I didn't know anybody had experienced it until after I left – a lot of women have come forward to me about it after they left.
"They lived in the same place as me. I was wondering, 'how could I not notice'. But they hide it so well."
A DARK FAMILY SECRET
After spending her formative years without technology, it was the Internet which help Emma discover a dark secret about her family.
"My grandfather sexually abused his daughters," she said.
"When I left the Amish, I Googled my grandfather's name and there were articles written about him and that's how I found out about what he did to his girls. It made me really sick.
"I felt uncomfortable all my life around him – I hated visiting my grandparents and I never knew why until then."
Emma finally escaped after 18 years – but when she left, she spoke little English and found life on the outside difficult to adjust to.
"As I was growing up, I felt like something was missing. I didn't feel like I fitted in, I felt like I was different to everybody else," she said.
"The thing that I struggled the most with was feeling inadequate, feeling like in my gut there was so much missing.
"I couldn't understand the rules – some of their rules just don't make sense.
"I was often shamed for asking questions or told that 'this is just the way we do it' and that I need to be the Amish woman that they were raising me to be.
"Once I was 18, it was expected I would get baptised in the church – when you promise to follow the Amish rules and obey the elders – and then get married soon after.
"There's just no way I was going to get baptised, so as soon as I turned 18 I left.
"It took me a really long time to be comfortable after I left the Amish.
"I didn't have a boyfriend until I was 25 after leaving at 18 – I met my husband on Bumble.
"The Amish don't teach the kids anything about sex. I didn't know anything about sex until after I left – I had no idea."
Emma said life in the Amish community made up of a series of strict rules – and if you didn't follow them, the elders can vote to shun you.
She was banned from booking a taxi to go food shopping or hiring a driver to go on a holiday and she was always forced to use public transport.
"If you don't follow the rules, they can vote to shun you, which means you're not allowed to eat at the same table as your family," she said.
"Even if I was married and they shun me, I would be separated from my husband for a period of time – maybe six weeks.
"If we did get a ride from somebody to go somewhere, there were neighbours who would tell.
"There would always be gossiping about what we did and they made it sound like it was an awful thing."
For Emma, the treatment and lack of freedoms Amish women face is something Emma never wants her young daughter, Sadie, to experience.
Teenage girls must start dating at the age of fifteen and she describes a "huge pressure" to stick with a man even if she doesn't like him.
'WOMEN HAVE NO LIFE'
When the time came for Emma to start dating, she knew she needed to escape the Amish life.
"The women have no life. They are just at home," she said.
"There was this pressure of having to start dating at the age of fifteen.
"There is this huge pressure to have a boyfriend and start thinking about settling down at the age of sixteen.
"Every time I had a date with somebody, I would have this awful feeling, thinking 'this just isn't going to work for me, I can't live this life'. I knew I couldn't live the Amish lifestyle.
"Dating is sort of arranged – the women stay at home and there's a group of guys who pick out a potential date and they will bring that guy to the women and ask her if she would have a date with him.
"On a first date, you are expected to say yes.
"After that, you can make your own decision if you want to continue. But there's so much pressure for women to have a date – they will often just continue dating him regardless of whether she likes him or not.
"My mum questioned me one time after I stopped seeing a guy. I just couldn't form the words to tell her how I was feeling."
Once the girls have settled down with a chosen partner, they are expected to have as many children as possible – and questions are asked and suspicions are raised if you don't fall pregnant quickly.
"You are expected to have as many children as possible. If you go too long without getting pregnant, then the church will start asking questions," Emma said.
"There are a few women who never had kids and from what I have seen, they get looked down upon like there is something wrong with them.
A lot of my childhood feelings and emotions were suppressed and I have such a fear of raising my girl in a way she will feel inadequate like I did.
"They think there is an 'evil' problem – like the devil has a hold on them."
Now Emma has her own daughter, she's careful about making sure Sadie has the freedom and opportunities she missed out on as a child.
"I have a very different perspective now I have a little girl. I do not want her to be raised like I was," she said.
"A lot of my childhood feelings and emotions were suppressed and I have such a fear of raising my girl in a way she will feel inadequate like I did.
"I'm fearful and I want to be really careful about how I raise her.
"In terms of the values, I do want to teach her how to cook and how to garden like I was taught. But I want to give her opportunities and freedom.
"My family still have a wall up when they're around me, but it's definitely getting better.
"I think they are happy for me, but they are always worried about what other people in the Amish community will think when I'm around. That's a huge hurdle for them.
"They don't want to show too much happiness for me, because someone else in the community might consider leaving."
But Emma said the tide is turning with lots of the Amish leaving the community for a better life.
It is common for young people who grew up with the strict lifestyle to leave for a time known as “rumspringa” – to experience the modern world before deciding if the strict lifestyle is something they want to formally adopt for themselves.
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"Nowadays, there are a lot of Amish people leaving – even married couples with kids. When I left, there was hardly anyone leaving, especially women," Emma said.
"But now, it has progressed a lot more and more people are leaving – whole families."
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