Saturday, December 05, 2020

Ask Aunt Dorcas--A Discovery, and A Mennonite Girl's Fears

First, a fun discovery:

The Aunt Dorcas title originally came about because I wanted to distinguish my advice-column posts from the others. Since I’m an aunt, by birth or marriage, to over fifty people, and most aunts have opinions about what people ought to do, it was an easy choice.

This week I was astonished to discover that there’s actually an Aunt Dorcas character in literature. Despite loving Beatrix Potter and nearly memorizing some of her books, I had no idea that she wrote a book called The Tale of Little Pig Robinson in which this pig lives with two aunts named Aunt Dorcas and Aunt Porcas.

I seldom run across my name in literature, so to find not only Dorcas but also Porcas, which I’ve been called many times, not only in elementary school but also in my adult life, by people who called Paul and me Doll and Porcas—well, that was, as I said, astonishing.

I even kind of fit the description: "Aunt Dorcas was a stout speckled pig who kept hens."

So now I want to not only keep the title, but use this for the profile picture--

Aunt Porcas is on the left and Aunt Dorcas on the right.

Now, a less-fun discussion:

Dear Aunt Dorcas,

What is your opinion on all these recent abductions and kidnapping attempts of teenage girls,especially Mennonite or Amish girls? Are there things that we girls should be doing differently, so that we aren't so vulnerable?  

Miss Fifteen

Aunt Dorcas replied by email:

Thanks for the question. I will give it some thought.

So I know about Sasha Krause and Linda Stoltzfoos. Are there other kidnappings or attempts that I haven't heard of?

Miss Fifteen said:

I heard about quite a few attempts besides Sasha and Linda. I just want to be careful because I found out some of these stories through Budget readers and chatline listeners (hotspots for rumors! ) and can't assure you that all the details are correct.

Such as an Amish girl in PA who went to the hardware store with her dad and wasn't around when he was ready to leave. Two men had already gagged and drugged her but were caught before they could get out of the store.

A worker at Glenwood Foods in PA saw a man taking pictures of her coworker and told her boss.When her coworker went outside to leave two men were waiting for her . They were caught but their phones showed they had  already sold her.

There are more stories along the same line. I was just bothered by the fact that most of the victims were Mennonite or Amish.

Dear Miss Fifteen—

I don’t blame you for being alarmed. Linda and Sasha’s stories shook us all, and I would imagine it was worst for young women such as yourself. Having your sense of safety shattered is a cruel experience. Suddenly, everyone you see is a potential attacker, every car and corner hold a threat, and everyday places and activities no longer feel safe or fun.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Many of us were taught that dressing modestly would protect us from evil men, and wearing a head covering gave us another level of angelic protection. If we dressed right and behaved ourselves, all would be well.

Also, we lived far from big cities and all their vague dangers and sins. We took walks alone and went on long bike rides on country roads.

Then, in two highly publicized cases, young, head-covered, modest Mennonite or Amish women, doing normal activities, far away from the big city, were abducted.

In addition, as you said, other stories circulate. As you recognized, some are unverified by the news media but might well be true. It's scary.

Things have changed.

There’s a bizarre fascination with Amish and other Plain people. It wasn’t like this when I was your age, back in 1977. It’s not only tourism in Holmes County and dozens of best-selling “Amish” novels. It’s also lots of people with a weird obsession that makes them try to look Amish or get to know Amish people. Sometimes they send me gushing facebook messages or emails. They just looooove the Amish, they say. They want to see my house and be my friend—even though I’m not Amish and haven’t been for many years.

It is weird.

I have reason to believe this obsession extends into the underworld of sex soliciting and trafficking as well. If so, this means that the very things we were taught would protect us, actually make us more of a target.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't dress modestly, only that we need to change some of our thinking.

Another difficult truth about the world is that men have a lot more upper-body strength than women. With most other traits, such as fine motor skills or musical ability or pain tolerance, one sex might have a bit of an advantage, but there’s a lot of overlap. Upper-body strength is the exception. The average man, says our son Matt, is as much stronger than the average woman as a silverback gorilla is stronger than the average man.

This makes good-hearted men excellent protectors, but it makes evil men a serious danger, and women at a serious disadvantage.

You’re a young Anabaptist woman. What do you do?

The answer is not to hunker down in terror in your bedroom or never do anything the rest of your life. Please know that you are not powerless and helpless before an evil world. Girls like you need a sense of confidence that comes from knowing what to do and not do. You need information, tools, and options. 

First, though, I think our Plain culture needs a complete change of attitude.

When I get Ask Aunt Dorcas questions, I often crowd-source the answers at the dinner table. This one was no exception. My daughter-in-law, Phoebe, told us about a self-defense class she took at the University of Oregon.

Apparently the class wasn’t so much about throwing the right punches and that sort of thing, but about knowing how to discourage a potential assailant. For example, you can say a firm No. If someone is following you in a store and making you uncomfortable, you can even look at him and yell “NO!” as loud as you can. Everyone in the nearby aisles will be alerted, and the person is likely to run away.

The very idea of doing such a thing goes against every cultural expectation that’s ingrained in our bones:

1.      Be nice.

2.      Don’t make a fuss.

3.      Don’t draw attention to yourself.

4.      Be quiet.

5.      Be sweet.

6.      Smile.

7.      Be kind.

8.      Don’t say no.

9.      Be obedient.

10.  Be submissive.

11.  Be ladylike.

12.  Don’t stand your ground.

13.  Don’t push back.

So, it seems the first step of dealing with this new threat is to change our attitude. We need to recognize what makes us uncomfortable and be willing to speak up about it. Often, we've been taught to minimize or deny what we see and feel. We need to be in tune with our senses that pick up danger, and we need to be ready to do or say something.

My daughters all worked at the local discount grocery store and learned to deal with customers behaving inappropriately. There was a double barrier to pushing back, said Jenny. First, there was the Mennonite emphasis on being nice and compliant, and second, the expectation in retail jobs that the customer is right and must be appeased.

They never yelled No, but they learned to draw lines, such as not engaging in customers' attempts at flirty conversation and not giving their phone number. They told the manager and owner, if needed.

As I said, it's time for Mennonite girls to gain a lot more confidence, information, tools, and options.

Let me emphasize, though, that knowing more won’t magically keep bad things from happening to you. As Phoebe said, “Assaults are caused by the presence of an assailant.” If you are threatened or hurt, it isn’t your fault. No one should ever say, “Well, why didn’t you just run? Or throw something? Your skirt was too short. You should have just . . .”

The sin is the fault of the person who sins.

However, knowing more would give you choices of something to do in dicey situations besides freeze in fear, and that would be a good thing. Knowledge gives you tools and options.

You need to learn common sense tips that every college girl knows, such as locking doors, carrying your cell phone in your hand, walking with a buddy, and knowing which parts of town to avoid. Some of us are shockingly naΓ―ve.

Recently my daughter Jenny was on a walk on a country road when a pickup passed her and then stopped. Immediately, she assessed the situation, held her cell phone ready in her hand, and decided to confidently walk on.

Then the person in the pickup called her name. She kept her distance but had a conversation. It all turned out fine. I was proud of her for having a plan and knowing what to do.

Jenny could decide that it’s too unsafe out there and she should stay home or always walk with a buddy. But she feels like she needs a daily walk for her own physical and emotional health, especially with doing her senior year of college online from her bedroom, because of Covid. So she weighs the risks, makes a decision, and learns safety measures.

You can learn from books, classes, or knowledgeable people about personal safety the same way you learn fire safety or driving safety. I’m not giving lots of particulars here because I’m realizing how little I know. But I can learn.

Working at being safe doesn’t violate scriptural principles of nonresistance or femininity.

Also, accept protection from good men. Having volition over your own life doesn’t mean you don’t let your dad and brothers show their concern for your safety or go across town with you to buy something off a Craigslist ad.  Ask a store employee to walk you to your car if you have misgivings. Know that a good man will want to keep you safe without controlling you.

Remember that while the stranger-abduction stories get the most attention, you are far more likely to be assaulted by someone you know than by a stranger. Here, again, girls need confidence and resources. You are allowed to push back, speak up, and act on your intuition.

If you have ever been molested or assaulted by someone, even a family member, you need to tell and keep telling until someone believes you. It should be reported as a crime. You are allowed to say out loud what happened to you.

Again, this goes against our cultural tradition of being quiet and not making a fuss. It’s time for this to change.

Mostly, I want you to know that you don’t need to be frozen with fear. You don’t need to feel helpless and vulnerable. While none of us can be sure that nothing bad will ever happen, you can gain information and tools that will give you confidence and help you make wise decisions. You are not powerless.

We all have a lot to learn. You and I can even learn to shout NO! in a grocery store if someone is following us. Imagine that.

That’s what I think.

Aunt Dorcas

P.S. Phoebe adds:
Some examples I would give of non-violent assertiveness strategies we learned are: 

—firmly saying “No” (could be yelling, but maybe in a setting where yelling seems more reasonable)
—repeating the gross thing some creepy person muttered at you out loud so everyone can hear and calling attention to them as the speaker
—telling the person directly what they should be doing/not doing (“Stand over there. Don’t touch me!”)
—interrupting their plan of attack (for instance in a case where someone is running toward you menacingly, throwing keys or a handful of change at them, or waving a jacket in their face. The idea here is that you’re signaling that you aren’t going to comply with their plan.)
Here's a related article.


  1. Something really practical I learned when I was in college was to get my keys out of my purse before leaving the building. No more endless digging in a deep purse in a dark parking lot.

    You handled this topic well. Thank you.

  2. Beatrix Potter's Aunt Dorcas looks so solicitous, like she just can't wait to towel off that little piglet, rescuing it from the more severe-looking Aunt Porcus...

  3. Ooh I didn’t realize that a Dorcas was in a Beatrix Potter Book! My friends called me Porcas too, when I was in school. πŸ˜‘πŸ˜œπŸ˜‚

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  5. Sherry Phillips12/06/2020 7:06 AM

    I have a small canister of mace attached to my keyring. I go to work at 4am and have to walk across the parking lot. I position the mace in my hand ready to use as I walk.

  6. When I was driving truck, I used to have a pry bar in my truck down on the floor by the driver's seat. Plus my trainer taught me to carry my truck key in my fist with the key pointing out between my fingers in case I ever needed a weapon. I always checked my sleeper berth whenever I got in my truck, just in case. You should always check the back of whatever vehicle you're driving before you get in. Plus if you ever break down you want to ask a truck driver for help. They're usually more willing to help. Although try to get the biggest and scariest one because they're probably the nicest. That's just what I learned, as a woman in my early 30's, out on the road going to Chicago and other major cities by myself in my truck. I hope this helps.

    1. Good tips, and you are a courageous woman.

  7. I recommend the book, "The Gift of Fear," by Gavin De Becker(but probably not to a 15 year old). As the title suggests, the author believes that true fear is a gift from our subconscious, warning us that something is wrong. We need to pay attention to it and see why it is signalling us. In some cases, we will see that it was mistaken and so we go on without fear. In other cases, it alerts us to true danger and we can find safety. But don't ignore it.
    Also, don't live in anxiety. Anxiety comes when we try to deny that there is danger. There is danger. It's ok to be afraid fo dangerous things. This is a gift to keep us safe. Anxiety keeps us from being relaxed and noticing what is going on around us. It muffles the fear signals.
    It was very good for me, a Menno born and raised, to hear this. I realized how often I ignored my surroundings and my fear in an attempt to be more holy (because fear is sin after all! Right? Right?!?!?) But meanwhile I lived with a lot of anxiety. (Also sin! Tsk, tsk.)

    He also tells people to listen to their intuition. In one case this might mean talking to the perpetrator, in another screaming, in another attempting to escape, etc.

    And he spends a lot of time debunking the myth that there is no way we could know that acts of violence were about to happen. Usually there are signs. It's up to us to pay attention.

    It also makes me think of a story I read about a gal who had just gone through some non-violence training who ended up talking an assailant out of his plan and helping him find help. I think sometimes we underestimate the power of our words and our spiritual life.
    I would love to see a list of resources (books, articles, trainings etc) for people who want to know more.

    1. Good stuff here. I know that I learned to deny what I saw and felt because it somehow wasn't spiritual. It's hard to unlearn that, but truly the truth sets us free.
      I like what you said about paying attention to our fear and what it's telling us.

  8. My Dad taught us to go for the eyes and the groin. Since we drove as teens he also taught us that if someone got into our vehicle to drive straight into a light pole or tree. Our oldest daughter was constantly asked for her phone number when she worked the drive thru at BK as a teen and she gave Dad's cell phone number. We have to teach our girls to not be nice in a dangerous situation! Trafficking is a huge problem here soon me we are 3 hours up a major interstate from Atlanta. Citizens are encouraged to take classes so that we can recognize it and call the police. At least once a month 30-40 girls are rescued in our area.

    1. Good suggestions, and my stars. 30-40 girls rescued every month!

  9. Thank you, thank you for writing this. May many people take it to heart and share it far and wide.

  10. I love your response. I especially love what Phoebe says, that assaults are caused by the presence of an assailant.

    The term "trafficking" is confusing because we hear these HUGE numbers and we think that there is a national epidemic of girls being snatched off the streets. This is still very rare. Less than 1% of those who disappear are abducted by strangers (source: The Polly Klaas foundation.) Most of those who are abducted are taken by family members, usually non-custodial parents. The vast majority are runaways.

    But trafficking just means any time a person is forced into labor or sexual activity. A victim of trafficking doesn't even have to leave home. Victims are often trafficked by people they love and trust, often romantic partners.

    Rescuing victims of trafficking is both very important and very complicated. Being aware of surroundings and learning self-defense is a good idea for everyone. Having self confidence and the ability to say NO is vital in avoiding the kind of relationships that can lead to trafficking.

    Also- if you buy or sell on Craigslist, please just tell the person you are doing business with to meet you at the police station. Most stations have parking spots set aside for these transactions now.

    1. Thanks for providing clarity about "trafficking." Painful stuff to find out, but it can help inform our response.

  11. This response starts out with a bunny trail. Years ago I was frightened by a dog. As I was walking to the post office in our small town, a dog suddenly appeared and barked at me and lunged threateningly toward me. I was terrified and didn’t know what to do. I knew, however, I should not turn my back to him. So I stood there and prayed out loud for protection, not yelling out loud, but in a conversational tone loudly enough that the dog could hear me. Soon two men from the neighborhood heard the commotion and came to my rescue. That dog instantly calmed down. When I retraced my steps in a few minutes, the one man told me that he knows that dog; that is not how Tuk usually acts. The other man asked me if I was OK. I assured him I was OK and that the dog never touched me. I also told the man that he was an answer to my prayer.

    The incident was troubling to me, yet reassuring. The Lord protected me from physical harm. I don’t believe I suffered any lasting harm from the emotional trauma, either.

    Thank you for your advice, Dorcas. I don’t know what I would do if threatened by a man with evil intentions. Perhaps if I was where I could not escape his presence I would pray or sing so that he could hear me. Or I might remind the aggressor that he is tampering with God’s property. I have read about officers with evil intentions who interrupted a church service. As long as the congregants kept singing, the intruders were helpless to harm them.

    In some situations, a “Big Mama” stance might be helpful: spreading out, taking up space. This could be with hands on your hips, one foot in front of the other, or gesturing as if to push him away. These gestures can give a bit of an aura of control, and might buy enough time for a rescue or escape, or they might even dissuade him from pursuing the attack.

    I believe we do have a measure of protection by dressing modestly and wearing a prayer veiling. On a number of occasions I have walked without fear by myself into a prison to visit a family member. Being aware of that layer of protection doesn’t give us an excuse, however, to take chances with or give any encouragement to ungodly men who inappropriately seek our attention. LRM

    1. Thanks for sharing. I admire your clearheaded courage in standing there and praying out loud when the dog threatened you.
      I think we are to obey and trust, and God can decide what He does with that.
      He protects and keeps in different ways at different times.

    2. I’m so grateful that you discussed all of this. Even though I now dress “hoch” I still identify and anyone who knows me better would see me in some ways as Mennonite, with some of the same weaknesses (and yet new experiences to change some things).

      It wasn’t till the last year that my desire to express my individuality with my clothes sometimes sometimes took a back seat to wanting to blend in. For me that meant blue jeans and a neutral, solid sweater. For some people it means wearing black. That can be used for privacy or to not stand out when traveling in a new area.

      I also read The Gift of Fear and learned a lot. The other thing I did was take a self-defense course for women. I’d still like to do more with that. It was only a couple hours but we got on the mats and that really helped me feel more confident. The name of this secular non-profit is The Warrior Forged Project. Both the book and the self-defense training somehow had elements of fear that needed to be processed or shaken off, but I don’t really see other resources taking their place.

      Thank you so very much for writing about this. It’s a significant shock to many of us to hear these stories, if we experienced being plain as being safe.