Dissecting the Duggar Family: A Lesson in Child Sexual Abuse

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Slip back in time. You’re sitting in your high school biology class. The boys are waiting excitedly for the teacher to come out from the back room, most of the girls are squeamish and giggling –I’m not touching it! The long awaited–or dreaded–class is here, when each lab table receives a preserved frog to dissect.

Today I’m going to “dissect” the Duggar family. There are many reports, interviews and blog posts to read about this family. My reason for chiming in is not to reiterate what everyone else has said or to pontificate. I view this case as the perfect teaching moment.

Speaking pic 3

My objective is to have readers learn some basic facts about child sexual abuse. If you’re already well versed on the subject, please share this post. There are many misconceptions about child sexual abuse. As survivors, we can and should help others gain knowledge and understanding.

Lesson 1: More than 90% of children sexually abused know and trust their abuser and more than 60% of those who offend are family members.

Although the statistics may seem staggering, they certainly make sense. Perpetrators groom their victims over a period of time gaining their trust, making them feel special, and instilling the idea that this is “their little secret” never to be shared. The fact that Josh Duggar chose to abuse his own sisters and a family friend is not surprising.

The first lesson to remember: Most children who are abused know and trust their abuser.

Lesson 2: Child sexual abuse can happen in any socioeconomic, ethnic or religious group.

Upstanding families and members of the community; clergy, coaches, teachers, medical professionals, and “good” people, abuse children. It’s not Who you are it’s What you are–a pedophile. Whether you agree with their beliefs or not, the Duggar family, was viewed as an upstanding family. If you’ve read my book, Say it Out Loud, you know that my family was an upstanding family in the eyes of the community and yet I was sexually abused over a period of ten years by my father, and my mother supported his actions.

What we learn from this: Don’t let the status of a family or person deter you from reporting suspected child abuse.

Lesson 3: Any inappropriate touch is bad!

The Duggars claim their son Josh touched the girls over clothing, minimizing the effect. If you were at a party and someone grabbed your breasts through your dress would you say, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad, it was through my clothing?” Never! The thought is absurd. When a child is touched inappropriately they are being violated and it is psychologically damaging. Children become confused and feel shameful, guilty and dirty.

The lesson here: Any act of abuse is damaging, whether it happens once or over a period of time, whether it’s on bare skin or through clothing, it is abuse.

Lesson 4: Reporting abuse doesn’t mean you’re choosing the abused over the abuser or in the case of the Duggars, one child over another.

The Duggars raised that question, “How do we choose one child over another?” in an interview with Megyn Kelly when discussing why they didn’t report Josh to the police immediately. If the abuser is a family member or close friend, it can be difficult to report but in reality you are choosing to help both parties; abuser and victim. In the case of the Duggar family, Josh supposedly told his parents on three different occasions about his actions. The very first time he told was a cry for help. If they acted on that first disclosure their son could’ve gotten the professional help he needed and their daughters would have been spared future acts of abuse.

The lesson to take from this: By reporting abuse we’re choosing to help all parties involved. It’s the only right choice to make.

Lesson 5: It’s natural for a child to protect their parents.

In an interview on Fox, two of the Duggar girls defended the actions of their parents and brother, resulting in some viewers believing the girls were not harmed. What we saw in that interview was a natural reaction to protect. Children whose parents are substance abusers or criminals, who abuse each other or their children, don’t tell. For most it’s the fear that their parents will be incarcerated or that the children will be put in foster care. They believe by telling, they’ll be responsible for the family separation. I suspect what Josh’s sisters are saying publicly is very different from what’s going on internally.They may not yet realize the harm caused by the abuse. At some point their scars of abuse will need to be addressed and healed.

The final lesson: Don’t assume a child has escaped emotional damage because they defend their abuser.

I hope this “class” has been helpful. The points are basic but important to understanding and working to end child sexual abuse.  That’s my mission. I hope you will make it yours. Roberta


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