HEUVELTON — The father of two Amish girls who were kidnapped and allegedly sexually assaulted said the family has been offered mental health counseling services, but at this point he believes both his daughters are doing well.
Mose J. Miller said he and his wife, Barbara, have not seen outward signs that lead them to believe the sisters need counseling as a result of their Aug. 13 ordeal.
“They’re sleeping good, eating good and they’re playing,” Mr. Miller said. “We’re keeping close tabs on them. If we need to get counseling, we’ll get some. We have access to it.”
The girls, ages 7 and 12, were abducted from their roadside vegetable stand and missing from home for about 24 hours before their alleged kidnappers dropped them off in the hamlet of Bigelow. The girls ran to the home of Jeffrey M. and Pamela L. Stinson, who drove them about 15 miles back to their family farmhouse at the corner of Route 812 and Mount Alone Road near Heuvelton.
Mr. Miller said his family appreciates the offers that have been extended.
“We’ve been offered it (counseling) a few times, but in our way of thinking, if we think they seem all right, we might not take it,” he said.
Noting that his daughters are not accustomed to speaking with strangers, he said, “We feel the girls might relax better without it.”
The insular nature of the Amish community emphasizes healing through prayer, time with family and a return to the daily rhythm of chores, meals, Sunday church services and other routines.
While the Amish have some level of interaction with their “English” counterparts, they perceive themselves as separate from the outside world and strive to maintain that boundary in many aspects of their lives. The north country’s Swartzentruber Amish are among the most conservative groups.
James A. Cates, a psychologist in northeast Indiana, has counseled several Amish victims of sexual crimes as well as Amish sex offenders.
He has been following the Heuvelton kidnapping case and said he believes it’s important that counseling be offered to the girls, but not forced upon the family, because that could cause even more disruption.
“The girls probably have some trauma, but respect for their culture and the way they deal with trauma, how they want deal with crises in their lives, is equally important,” Mr. Cates said. “It can be counterproductive to force counseling.”
Each situation is different, but he said it also may be beneficial to give the girls more time to process the situation before pursuing counseling. In cases involving Amish, counseling is often provided to the family rather than on an individual basis.
“A lot of times people aren’t ready to deal with the trauma right away. Some need to have some breathing space,” Mr. Cates said. “There is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Amish and non-Amish need to handle trauma at their own pace.”
St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain said the Millers are aware that counseling services are available at no charge. The family can choose its own counselor and the cost is covered through the state’s Office of Victims Services.
“I told them it’s totally free. They said they would use it if they felt it was necessary,” Mrs. Rain said. “I have explained to them what services are available.”
Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, a SUNY Potsdam anthropology professor who has written extensively about the Amish, said the parents’ judgment should be respected. She has known the Miller family for several years, and said she’s confident the Millers will do what they feel is necessary for their daughters’ well-being.
“These are parents who love their daughters very much and they are doing what they think is best for them,” Ms. Johnson-Weiner said. “I think we have to trust their judgment.”
In the past, some local Amish families have traveled to Amish-affiliated mental facilities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
Others have been willing to receive help locally from non-Amish counselors.
“Different members of the community have been involved with mental health professionals of the north country,” she said.