MEET TORAH BONTRAGER
Torah Bontrager (BON-tray-grrrr), raised Amish, grew up with no electricity and cars, and speaks English as a second language. She literally escaped in the middle of the night at age 15, with only what she could carry: the clothes on her back and $170 in her pocket. She’s the author of An Amish Girl in Manhattan: Escaping at Age 15, Breaking All the Rules, and Feeling Safe Again (a memoir) and the first, and so far only, Amish person to graduate from the Ivy League. Her story’s been featured on MTV, Tim Ferriss’ blog, Forbes.com, and HuffPost, among other outlets.
Torah’s journey of growth and self-empowerment took her through nearly 30 countries, a 3-year break from college, and a philosophy degree for answers about why bad things happen to good people. In the process, she learned to take back her voice and feel safe again, despite C-PTSD (post-traumatic stress from childhood trauma), Stockholm syndrome, and attacks on her life. She had given up everything—family, security, community—in the hopes that one day her dreams might come true; and along the way, she had attempted multiple suicides when the odds were so high that she couldn’t figure out a way through.
A recurring sexual assault survivor, Torah’s dedicated the remainder of her life to ending rape culture, starting with her Amish people. She believes that women and girls hold the keys to bring about a sweeping transformation and therefore, her work is focussed on female empowerment, entrepreneurship/leadership, and health.
As an Amish child, Torah was relegated to less than second class status simply for having been born the “wrong” gender. She spent her childhood demonstrating that girls are just as capable as boys. At 11 years old, she realized that she’d never have a voice: as long as she remained inside the Church, her talents and abilities wouldn’t be recognized and appreciated. That was when she made the decision to escape. “I fought the bullies on the playground all through Amish school,” she says. “No one stood up for me. No one fought on my behalf. We women need to find each other and do what’s necessary to make this world safe for our children and the generations to come.”
Torah hosts an iTunes + YouTube podcast the Amish Entrepreneur Show, with the goal to collect 1,111 stories of sexual assault survivors—from all walks of life. The podcast launched in 2017, before MeToo, at a time when she had to use the word “trauma” instead of “rape” or “sexual assault” in her marketing because the latter terms made
her audience too uncomfortable. Thanks to MeToo, the culture of sexual assault and undervaluing women is becoming too costly to ignore. Through her nonprofit The Amish Heritage Foundation, speaking, writing, and podcasting, Torah is determined to create a world in which the scales of justice are balanced and women fearing for their safety and security is no longer possible. She hopes that others will join her in that commitment. Self-care is key to Torah’s daily routine for remaining sane amidst the heavy work of trauma. She loves gardening and cooking and feeds herself and her parakeet babies a non-GMO diet.
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