The exposure of molestation charges involving the reality TV Duggar family (of 19 Kids and Counting), has been the topic of ongoing discussion and debate on social media sites recently. There have been two main camps, those who have reacted with disgust and those who have sought to defend the actions of (former Arkansas politician) Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, parents of Josh Duggar, who admitted to molesting younger girls as an adolescent. While the details of the response and actions of Jim Bob and Michelle have been inconsistent and unclear, they along with Josh Duggar (and his wife, Anna) have made public statements affirming that Josh fondled several younger girls when he was around the age of 14 years. Conflicting reports have been provided regarding whether or not Josh Duggar received counseling regarding the perpetration of sexual abuse and the provision of counseling services to the victims involved. All three of the main participants (Jim Bob, Michelle, and Josh) in this drama have indicated they sought religious counsel and Josh has expressed remorse regarding his actions.
Why Should We Care About the Duggar Drama?
While the family has been lauded by some for their acknowledgement of the inappropriateness of Josh’s behavior and their seeking forgiveness through their religious belief system, others note that the actions of Josh constitute criminal behavior and as such, should have been handled through the criminal justice and the Child Protective Services systems. Should it matter to others if the situation was handled and actions taken to protect past and potential future victims? There are a few reasons it should matter.
1) The laws of the state and nation apply to all persons, regardless of celebrity status or their religious affiliation. If we allow some persons to craft their own treatment and/or punishment, we become a lawless society, in which the rights and protections of all citizens are not guaranteed. Many have cited the strong religious beliefs of those involved as an acceptable alternative to a formal judicial response. However, if this is acceptable in this circumstance, would/should it not be allowed for any other perpetrator? Who decides when it is acceptable?
2) The legal and child protective systems have been established in order to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of all and the protection of vulnerable individuals. While one person may consider sending the perpetrator to work with a family friend and prayer as an effective treatment and safety mechanism, many would not. The lack of documentation and accountability of these approaches leaves open the potential for future victimization.
3) Treatment of both perpetrator and victims should be based on sound, empirical, therapeutic approaches to ensure the health and well-being of all involved. There is ample research on the efficacy of established response and treatment protocols in cases of juvenile molestation and access to persons specializing in treating offenders and victims. In the absence of the provision of such services, it is impossible to predict the future actions of a person who has displayed predatory behaviors.
4) We must thoroughly analyze the systemic failures (and successes), in order to better protect children. Clearly the system was circumvented in this situation. If we are to improve systems and ensure the protection of vulnerable children, we must continuously study and understand systemic issues that allow children to be exposed to unnecessary risks.
In this case, several persons reported to have knowledge of the abuse are identified by state statute as mandatory reporters of child abuse. These include law enforcement officers, clergy (ministers), and counselors. The family has publicly stated that they sought the advice of persons in two of these categories. (Conflicting reports have been provided regarding counseling of Josh and victims.) The potential violations of state laws by multiple parties must be examined to correct deficiencies and protect children from future abuses of systemic weaknesses. If deficiencies occurred, action must be taken to reduce the likelihood of future systemic failures.
As a ‘litmus’ test, I would encourage you to ask yourself the following question: ‘If my son/daughter/niece/nephew/grandchild went to one of these individuals to disclose sexual abuse, would I be satisfied with the same response?’. If the answer is no, there is work to be done.
5) The long-term adverse health consequences for victims of sexual abuse are clearly documented by extensive research. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) studies have linked childhood abuse with a wide range of health and behavioral consequences well into adulthood. These studied confirm the need to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable children and the importance of timely, therapeutic interventions.
Why Should We Stop Talking About the Latest Duggar Family Drama?
This really should read, ‘why should the media stop talking about the latest Duggar family drama?’. We must not lose sight of the fact that there are victims involved in this drama, innocent victims. While we don’t know for certain how much the victims have been exposed to this media attention, it is unlikely they’ve been completely shielded from it. Even assuming they are young adults now (which they likely are), the emotional toll of the on-going media attention cannot be supportive of their recovery. Some news outlets have gone so far as to speculate and name the probable victims. This is totally inappropriate. States and the federal government have gone so far as to enact legislation specifically protecting the rights of victims, shielding their identities, and ensuring systems do not compound the effects of abuse. Victims’ names are routinely redacted from public records. Our role, as a society, is to protect and treat victims to minimize the potential of long-term, negative consequences of childhood abuse. We must ensure that victims are not re-victimized by societal response to their abuse.
Many have attempted to make this a political drama. Certainly, the Duggar family has been involved in politics at the state and national levels. However, we must not forget that, at its core, this is a sexual abuse case and as such, deserving of discretion and respect for the privacy and rights of the victims, in addition to taking appropriate corrective actions to address the inappropriate behaviors. While it is important that we all, as a society, respond to and learn from such events, we must be mindful of the well-being of those who suffered abuse as vulnerable children and who continue to live with the consequences of that abuse daily.
After writing this post, I ran across a transcript of an interview that (I feel) articulates the issues and difficult decisions parents face in dealing with abuse by a child very well. I’m posting a link here to the article, Savage Love Letter of the Day: What Should the Duggars Have Done? The person being interviewed is a Licensed Therapist who works with minors who have committed sex offenses. She compassionately addresses the complex emotions and thought processes associated with parental response to abuse by a child/teen in this interview.