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Time: The Mennonite Rapes: In Bolivia, a Trial Tears Apart a Religious Community


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The Mennonite Rapes: In Bolivia, a Trial Tears Apart a Religious Community

Katarina Wall remembers little about the worst night of her life. She recalls waking up in her bed, seeing a man on top of her and feeling her arms too heavy to lift in resistance. The next thing she knew, it was morning — but her pajamas were torn, and the sheets beneath her and her sleeping husband were stained with blood from her vagina. "It was like a terrible dream," Wall, 36, tells TIME in her native Low German, weeping as she stands outside a courthouse in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

But the nightmare appears to be all too real. Wall is among 130 women and girls of the Mennonite colony in Manitoba Colony, who claim that from 2005 to '09, the same cloudy horror visited them. They're the victims of what is allegedly one of the ugliest sex scandals in the history of the Mennonites, a pacifist Christian Anabaptist denomination founded in Europe in the 1500s, if not Bolivia and South America. In a criminal trial now under way in nearby Santa Cruz, Peter Weiber, 48, a Mennonite veterinarian, is accused of transforming a chemical meant to anesthetize cows into a spray to be used on humans. For four years, Weiber and eight other Mennonite men allegedly sprayed the chemical through bedroom windows in Manitoba at night, sedating entire families and raping the females. One of the men is a fugitive, the others have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, each faces a maximum 30-year prison sentence.

The criminal charges detail depraved acts few would expect inside a supposedly upright sect like the Mennonites. "When there were no grown women" in the houses that the men allegedly targeted, says Wilfredo Mariscal, an attorney for the victims, "they did what they wanted with the kids." Court-ordered medical exams reveal a 3-year-old girl with a broken hymen (most likely, doctors note, from finger and not penis penetration). The formal indictments list victims ages 8 to 60 years old, including one who is mentally retarded and another who was pregnant and sent into premature labor after allegedly being raped by one of the men — her brother.

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30 years seems rather low when you consider 130 women and girls were raped. That's less than 3 months per victim. These monsters should never taste freedom again if convicted. Then again I have no knowledge of the Bolvian prison system... perhaps few would last 30 years.

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