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Critical Lessons From the Duggars’ Fall From Grace

May 29, 2015

It’s been just over a week since Josh Duggar (of the popular reality show, 19 Kids and Counting) publicly admitted to sexually abusing 5 young girls (some of them his sisters) when he was 14 Family drawing.jpgyears old. Much of the news coverage has been directed toward the impact of this news on Josh’s current life and career, on his famously fruitful parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, and especially on the likely demise of their popular reality TV show.

Wishing not to add to the sensational attention aimed toward the squeaky clean, pretentiously pious, and indeed, too good to be true Duggar family, I have resisted the urge to write about this story. However, as more details emerge regarding the Duggar parents’ behavior at the discovery of the abuse over 12 years ago, I believe there are some critical lessons that warrant our attention.

In fact, the actions of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar read like a tutorial on what NOT to do in the wake of the discovery of the sexual abuse of a child. According to reports, after the discovery that Josh had sexually abused one young girl, they waited a year to report the abuse and then only after several other molestations were reported. In that year, they claim to have sought counseling for Josh and “for those affected by his actions.” As it turns out, counseling for Josh involved sending him to do construction work for a friend of the family, believing that hard work would provide a solution to his problems. One can only wonder at the “counseling “ the young abused girls received.

The Duggar parents’ treatment of the entire situation is nothing short of negligent. The Duggars’ grossly minimize their son’s sexual abuse of 5 young girls, some of it committed against their very own daughters, as “a teenage mistake.” Leaving the gas tank empty in the family car is a teenage mistake. Hosting a raucous party when parents are out of town is a teenage mistake. The sexual abuse of a child is not a mistake—it is a crime—a reportable crime that necessitates intervention. As difficult as it may have been, it was clearly the responsibility of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar to properly report the abuse and seek help. Admittedly, it takes strength and a measure of courage to speak up to acknowledge the discovery of the sexual abuse of a child, especially when both perpetrator and victim(s) are family members. As difficult and uncomfortable as it may be, however, the potential of continued abuse and a lifetime of suffering to the victims far outweigh any amount of discomfort to the person reporting the abuse.

Possibly even more devastating, at least to the health and well being of all of the children involved in this situation (including the adolescent perpetrator), is the Duggars’ meager attempt to seek professional and competent help for their children. Although it is well known and accepted that the effects of sexual abuse in childhood often last a lifetime, if an abused child is believed and is given appropriate and professional help, the long term effects of the abuse are significantly mitigated. When sexual abuse is addressed upon discovery, the chances of healing for the victim are greatly increased. When the abuse is not acknowledged or treated (which is sadly most often the case), the effects of the abuse compound and will most certainly create a ripple effect of pain well into adulthood, significantly increasing the likelihood of life altering problems such as depression, anxiety, self-harm behaviors and relationship problems.

Beyond the sensation of this news story of the duplicitous Duggar family, there is a groundswell of heartache that will likely never be revealed. The news will fade from the headlines, but the reality of child sexual abuse, occurring every day in every community will continue on. Sadly, the story of this reality TV family that has generated so much sensation is replicated in homes across every demographic, culture, age-range, or family, no matter how clean cut, upright or virtuous they may appear. If there is the possibility of good to come from this family’s very public fall from grace, it may be the beginning of shining the light on the pervasive, insidious and hidden epidemic of child sexual abuse and the critical need to speak up.

Janice Palm, MA, LMHC



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