The internet has been buzzing since police reports were made public on Thursday, May 21st detailing charges that Josh Duggar molested five minor females on multiple occasions in 2002 and 2003. Josh is the eldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the parents of the large and well-known Duggar family who star in TLC Network’s hit series 19 Kids and Counting. The family is known both for their large size and their conservative Christian beliefs. You can read the Duggar family response here (source: People).
HISTORY OF ABUSE
This is not the first time the Duggar family has sparked a controversy worthy of headlines. Their outspoken views on homosexuality, birth control, and abortion have pushed them into the forefront of the public’s attention on more than one occasion. Normally, the Duggar family, their actions and the resulting headlines are only a minor blip on my radar. Today’s news, though, evoked an immediate visceral reaction for me. It was a punch to the gut, triggering memories of my decades-long battle with feelings of worthlessness.
I’m not upset for the same reason I see many people tweeting and commenting. They are rallying around the hypocrisy of the Duggar family because they easily condemn other’s lifestyle choices but apparently have little problem with their son’s sexually molesting minor children. But that isn’t what felt like a body blow for me. No, my concern is for those five young girls, who are now young women, he molested and how they were thrown under a proverbial bus in his parent’s obvious desire to shield their son from consequences for his actions.
The police reports state that in 2002 one of the minor girls (who are never identified in the report but the predominant speculation on the internet is that these children were his sisters) told Jim Bob Duggar that she had been molested by Josh while she slept. Making inquiries led Jim Bob to learn that multiple girls had been involved. In response, Josh was “disciplined” but they didn’t take any further steps. No reports were made to the police or the local children’s services agency. Josh’s access to the girls was not blocked.
This “discipline” was apparently ineffective, as in March 2003 several victims again made reports that Josh had molested them. It has escalated at this point, as sexual offenses often do, to his fondling them not only while they were sleeping but while they were awake. How did the Duggars respond this time? They took him to see an Arkansas State Trooper, a purveyor of child pornography now serving a fifty-six year sentence, who gave Josh a “stern talking to.” Contrary to the law, this gentleman did not file a report about the crime. Neither did the church elders that Jim Bob spoke with after the second set of molestation charges. (Source: Gawker.)
The family told police that they then sent Josh to a Christian treatment facility for four months where he received counseling. However, Michelle Duggar admitted to police that the treatment facility was actually another friend of the family with a home remodeling business.
I have news for the Duggars: home remodeling does not cure sex offenders.
PROTECT THE PEDOPHILE
In December of 2006, a police investigation was opened after an anonymous email sent to Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studies, prior to a television interview with the Duggars, was forwarded to Arkansas’ Department of Human Services, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar consented to be interviewed and they allowed the victims to be questioned. But they refused to allow Josh to be interviewed. Apparently, they were unconcerned about putting the girls through the trauma of reliving their molestation, but were vehemently opposed to their sex offender son being questioned. Charges couldn’t be filed because the statute of limitations had expired. (For specifics on Arkansas’ statutes, click here).
If it’s apparent to me, a bystander, that the girls were given little protection while Josh, the offender, was given massive protection I guarantee that the victims can see that even more clearly. And if they don’t feel the injustice of that obvious favoritism in the depth of their being now, I doubt that they will later on in their lives. Trauma is a relentless beast. It will knock on the door to those girl’s minds for years into the future.
Josh Duggar issued a statement on Thursday admitting his guilt. But it’s apparent he doesn’t understand the weight of what he’s done to his victims. He says, among other things, that “I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”
Well, whew! I’m so glad his life wasn’t negatively impacted by his sexually molesting five girls over the course of at least two years. That would be such a shame.
Really, Josh? Why are you concerned about the impact on yourself rather than the horrible impact your sexual offenses had upon the girls you molested? That attitude is unfortunately reflected in the thinking pattern of many sexual offenders. They worry more about how their lives will be impacted if others know of their crimes than they do about how those crimes impact the victims. I can see where he learned that attitude though, as his parents clearly demonstrated that they too worry more for Josh than they do the victims of his crimes.
I know firsthand what it feels like for an offender to be sheltered from the consequences of their crimes at the expense of their victim(s). I’ve lived through that personally. I’ve also sat with many other survivors of childhood abuse whose well-being was considered secondary to their offenders. Do you know what message that sends us? It tells us that we aren’t worth protecting. That we didn’t matter, certainly not as much as our molester or rapist.
What do you think it does to a boy or girl, to be told that they have less value than a rapist?
How do you think they see themselves as having any value at all in the face of that statement? I can tell you, as someone who has both lived through that horrific judgment herself, and as someone who has sat with hundreds of other survivors trying to survive the agony of that judgment. It leaves us broken, breathless from emotional pain, and hopeless to ever feel like we are worth being loved or valued by anyone, including ourselves.
I ask you to sit with that thought for just a moment, to imagine what it’s like to be considered by those who are supposed to love and protect you, as having no value worthy of protecting.
Are you even capable of imagining that level of unworthiness? I can. Many survivors can. It has been our reality, and not just for a few moments but for years.
It took me decades to free myself from the belief that I wasn’t worthy of protecting. That complete lack of self-worth drove me into depression so deep I forgot what living in the light felt like. I ping-ponged from psychiatric ward to psychiatric ward, battling the desire to kill myself because I didn’t think I would ever get to a place where I could live with the incredible pain of being worthless. After a near lethal suicide attempt I finally got the help I needed to move toward finding value in myself. But it took another decade of hard work to get to my feet firmly rooted in healthy, positive self-worth.
Something I think few people understand is that the sexual abuse itself is often only a part of what traumatizes us. How our reports of abuse are handled can cause tremendous secondary damage. When we summon the courage to speak up about what’s happened to us and are treated badly, the message it sends to us about our value wounds us deeply. Survivor after survivor that comes into my care has as much work to do to heal their abuse as they do how they were treated by family, friends and the legal system after their abuse was reported. Sometimes, the trauma of being ostracized for our report or watching our abuser be given preferential treatment while we are kicked to the curb causes even more damage than the abuse itself.
WHAT WENT WRONG
None of us deserved to be abused. Nor do we deserve to be treated as unworthy when that abuse is reported. Josh Duggar’s victims are no different. Every step should have been taken to protect them from the moment the first report was made by one of his victims in 2002. There never should have been a second incident, or a third or heaven knows how many additional violations of those innocent girl’s bodies, hearts and minds. Reports to the police should have been immediate.
Instead, Josh’s parents’ actions told the girls they weren’t worth protecting. He was given access to them again. And, as is the case with many sexual offenders who are not separated from their victims, Josh violated them again. Who knows how many times he was allowed to abuse them?
As enablers, his parents bear significant responsibility for their son’s actions.
When the police investigation was underway, those young girls had to live through another round of Josh being protected at their expense. If they had any chance of feeling worthy after their second round of violations, do you think they could have withstood another blow to their self-worth when Jim Bob and Michelle sheltered Josh from being questioned by police, while they were not afforded the same protection? I hope they survived that with their self-worth intact. It would be a feat I have never seen in all of the years I’ve worked with thousands of survivors.
Josh Duggar’s victims deserved better. It’s been more than a decade since they were first molested and nine years since the police ‘investigation.’ I hope they make it into the rare group of survivors who never feel the full weight of their trauma settle into their heart and mind.
If they don’t make it into that group, I hope they are able to find the help they need to recover from the incredible injustice done to them, on top of the sexual abuse they suffered at Josh’s hands. I hope they come to know that the fact that they weren’t protected is no reflection of their worth, but a result of his parents’ toxic priorities. They, like all survivors, were worth protecting. And they still are.
If you are a survivor and feel triggered by these events, here’s Bobbi’s video addressing ways to manage.
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