How I Would Have Responded as a Parent to the Josh Duggar Sexual Abuse Scenario
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Eduardo Sánchez.
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on May 25, 2015.
This past week has been a whirlwind with the Josh Duggar sex abuse allegations from 12 years that recently surfaced. Josh Duggar is the eldest child of Patriarchical family and model ATI (Bill Gothard’s homeschool curricula) family. Josh Duggar and his family star in the popular reality show on TLC, 19 Kids and Counting. As this story has been brought to light, I have found myself caught up in intense debates, even with very close friends, on how this case should be handled, how we as Christians should be responding to this specific case, and how we as parents should respond if our child sexually abuses another child.
I recently posted the following (slightly revised) as part of a discussion with a Christian friend on Facebook. We came from very different sides, but because my response was so radically different from hers, I thought it might be good to post for discussion. I never mind push back, so if you disagree with me, please respond. I am open to the challenge and will consider your words just as I have been challenged to rethink many of my former ways/beliefs.
At the end of the post is a highly recommended article that helps to explain the culture and teachings which shaped the Duggar family. It will help to explain why these young female victims are true victims to more than just sex abuse.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my heart which is invested in the ministry to abuse victims. I probably would not have given you this same answer 10 years ago, or even 6 years ago.
I do not believe that Josh’s parents responded appropriately. I believe they did the best they knew at the time and their intentions and heart were right. However, since working the last 5 years extensively studying spiritual abuse and abuse in the church, networking with Boz Tchividjian (founder of netgrace.org), and many other professionals who deal with abuse in church, I am concluding that the Duggars could have done better.
Jim-Bob found out in March of 2002 and waited over a year before reporting. When police tried to interview Josh, Jim-Bob intervened and did not allow that to happen. The statute of limitations then kicked in and Josh was free from any civil repercussions.
I believe this was not a good witness to Christ. What does this tell the world – that Christians get to walk free and don’t need to go by the law? Repenting of sins does not remove someone from the consequences of the laws of the land. Scripture says that God is the one who ordained civil authorities/law. Knowingly harboring a sex offender without reporting is illegal in some states. Not only that, I believe it is circumventing what God has established for cases like this:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
Because of the statute of limitations, no civil court had the opportunity to intervene, convict, give recommendations on his criminal activity. Could this public outcry against Josh and his parents be sovereignly planned as God’s judgment as implied in the above Scripture? Could Josh’s defenders be interfering with God’s judgment or the natural consequences of his sin?
You asked would I report. Yes, I absolutely would report my sons to authorities if they were sexually abusing. I would allow the civil authorities to bring justice to the offender. This would send a very strong message that sin/sex abuse has consequences and will not be tolerated. And to the survivors, it would send a message that we believe them and the abuse they incurred was worthy of strict punishment. I’ve seen the tremendous burden lifted off of victims’ shoulders when they see perpetrators punished for their crimes.
I would also promptly seek qualified professional treatment specializing in sex abuse for the offender and their victims. I know about the lasting consequences survivors face. If not dealt with timely and by trained professionals, young ladies often have difficulty choosing good spouses, have difficulty with relationships, intimacy, etc. For the offender, it may be uncovered in treatment that he was previously molested. Trained professionals can be helpful in getting to the root issues.
I’m struck at how much time is spent defending Josh, and such little time focused on his victims. It’s disturbing to even discuss whether he touched them over/under their clothes (I read the police report and it’s not clear on all of the interviews). That has no bearing on the suffering the victims face/will face.
Throughout scripture God speaks of protecting the oppressed and defenseless. How is it protecting them when we are outwardly and vocally defending a perpetrator (even if he has repented)? Our first response must be to those who have no voice. You can be sure that sex abuse survivors all over are watching this case and observing how people respond. Any time a survivor hears of another abuse, it brings them back to their own story. We must think of all victims in our responses and model Christ’s love because many times they are questioning why God allowed this to happen. We must not be a stumbling block to the weak and oppressed, but a soothing balm, sharing with them the love of the Father.
The Duggars were the key family chosen by ATI/Bill Gothard to represent Bill Gothard and his homeschool curriculum. I read that they spoke even this year at an ATI conference (they are slated to speak by video tomorrow in Nashville, and later in Twin Cities, and Sacramento ATI conferences). You can be sure they hold to his teachings and it is important to understand these teachings in order to fully comprehend what the victims have faced. I encourage you to read the following and try to grasp what the victims have faced, the ones whom God dearly loves and wants to defend and protect. Here’s how the Duggars’ patriarchal homeschool world teaches kids to shame sex abuse victims
Thank you for reading. Grace and peace!
I am a sexual abuse survivor and I have found some of the rhetoric being used in the debate absolutely shattering. Every time people defend the perpetrator instead of the victim and cry out for forgiveness and understanding – ‘after all we are all sinners’ – I feel a familiar mix of anger and helplessness. If Josh had faced his actions in an appropriate and legal way I would still be disturbed by the incident but I would be much more willing to be reassured that he has been provided with the tools and counseling he needed and i would find the current interest in the case far more morbid and inappropriate. As it is it simply highlights another area where parents and churches are sometimes just not educated well enough in to know how to respond. I wish I could say this incident doesn’t make me glad I left Christianity – but to be frank the ‘forgive your abuser” doctrine was one of the more damaging and hurtful that I came across in my Christian walk. I know all Churches and Christians are not the same and I wish incidents like this wouldn’t keep leaving such a bitter taste in my mouth.
JoannaB, My heart goes out to you. I find that doctrine you describe to be so damaging. Thank you for sharing. ~Julie Anne
“I’m struck at how much time is spent defending Josh, and such little time focused on his victims.”
Yep. Who is telling us to care about this dumb-dumb’s class 3 felony? Folks, there were WAY more kids sexually abused in my city in the past week alone. Who cares about Josh Duggar? He doesn’t matter. Seriously. (Unless you like their TLC show, I guess…?)
I get it, we all want to Tweet/blog indignant stuff about a reality TV dude who we’d love to shame. The victims are who matter.
I don’t give a shit about forgiving an abuser–God forgives, but thankfully state laws pretty much don’t. Do something, anything (send money?) for the victims. They matter, and they TOTALLY need good vibes right now. From us abuse survivors. They need it like we needed it—remember that time?
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As an incest and rape survivor myself, let me say that I have realized something because of this scandal. Christian parents, YOU REPRESENT GOD TO YOUR CHILDREN. When you value your own reputation, or your son’s reputation, or the family’s reputation, over the spirit, soul and mind of your daughters, what you are teaching them is that GOD HIMSELF DOES NOT CARE FOR THEM. Your completely innocent daughters involve your full support and that means you bring the rapist to justice. You don’t hide their shame (they have no shame, that is the rapists and maybe yours). You get justice for your daughter. You remove the predator. WHEN YOU DO NOT DO THIS, YOU SET YOUR DAUGHTERS UP FOR REJECTING GOD. Your daughter will see that you, as the representative of God in her life, does not value her. She will see that she does not matter. And eventually, maybe years later (as in my case), what you fear most may come upon you. Your daughter may decide that she regrets the God who did not care about her.
As an incest and rape survivor myself, let me say that I have realized something because of this scandal. Christian parents, YOU REPRESENT GOD TO YOUR CHILDREN. When you value your own reputation, or your son’s reputation, or the family’s reputation, over the spirit, soul and mind AND BODY of your daughters, what you are teaching them is that GOD HIMSELF DOES NOT CARE FOR THEM. Your completely innocent daughters DESERVE your full support and that means you bring the rapist to justice, and remove him from their home and lives. You don’t hide your daughter’s shame (they have no shame, that is the rapists and maybe yours). You get justice for your daughter. You remove the predator. WHEN YOU DO NOT DO THIS, YOU SET YOUR DAUGHTERS UP FOR REJECTING GOD. Your daughter will see that you, as the representative of God in her life, does not value her. She will see that she does not matter. And eventually, maybe years later (as in my case), what you fear most may come upon you. Your daughter may decide that she rejects the God who did not care about her. And she may reject you as well. And that would be fair, and just.
@sartrewasanoron – Absolutely. My parents are finding this out now, almost thirty years later. Idk how, but I managed to marry a man who has shown me the love and protection my parents did not. As I’m able to see more and more of the ways they damaged me, I remove them farther and farther still from my life, and the lives of my children. Who do they blame? The man whose love is showing me the truth in love and unintentionally revealing the lies in their parenting. It never even occurs to them to apologize, they just hide behind “we did the best we could”. Why do people think that defends or excuses inadequate choices? If you need to tell yourself that you did “the best you could”, but it’s glaringly obvious that that wasn’t good enough, is it so hard to follow up with, “but that wasn’t enough, and the actions I took hurt you more deeply instead of saving you, and I’m so sorry that I failed you. I can see now that I should have done this, this and this, instead.”?? Validation and understanding can change everything.
Sorry, Mom and Dad, I’m doing the best I can, too, and that involves protecting myself and my children from your f#$ked up worldview. If you’re lonely and in need, call my brother.
It’s awesome that you woke up and you are doing what is best for yourself and for your children. I wish both of us the best and a healed and productive future. 🙂
What you describe happens commonly. There is first the initial abuse, and then when people in a position to help fail, I believe that is secondary abuse: emotional/spiritual abuse. Church leaders must understand that the way they respond to survivors will have a direct impact on your spiritual and emotional life as well. I’m so disgusted by so many leaders who fail in this area. They spend so much time and energy in programs, evangelism, looking all good and Christianese, but they fail their own and abandon them when they don’t handle cases of abuse appropriately.
I’m so sorry!
Thanks for caring. After waiting a long time to tell anyone, I decided to share a little bit with the pastor to see how that would go. Do you think the first thing he said, was “i am so sorry” or “that is terrible” or “tell me more” or “how are you”? LOL no. HIs FIRST words to me was that I was extraordinarily angry and bitter. Ya think? He kept saying over and over that I was in sin, which broke my heart and made me feel hopeless.
Had I been in a car accident and was crushed and physically broken I would have elicited compassion from him for my brokenness. He would have helped me, called an ambulance, whatever. But because my wound is spiritual/sexual/emotional/whatever, he want’s to tell me how I am sinning for being angry. Does he think that in that moment, when i screwed up all of my courage yet again to finally ask someone for help, that what GOD was most concerned about was my anger? Id like to think God was concerned for my pain and brokenness, and in that moment he understood my anger and was more concerned about the sins of my rapist and molester than my own anger. I had to thank this Calvary Chapel pastor though. His response set me on a path where I truly finally understood that there was no God, there could not be a God, because no God lets this stuff happen, and then pastors like him that would help you if there actually were a God and christianity, wound you more. So I am thankful for that.
dear moderator, can i ask that you post the second iteration of my post and not the first (i sent both a few minutes ago), if you should decide to post either? as a survivor myself, this duggar sexual assault has retriggered me in so many ways, but it is teaching me things also. thanks for your consideration.
Julie Anne, thanks for this post. I feel the same way and wrote about it here: http://watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-duggar-story-thoughts-and-links.html ~~ Virginia
Good for you, Virginia. You have long been a voice for survivors. I appreciate the work you do!
I have some complicated thoughts on this. I can believe the Duggars handled the situation terribly, and I do, but I must confess that I am not sure what I’d do. As far as calling the police- I know too much about the juvenile justice system to have any faith that they are equipped to provide real help. The justice system in America is not about rehabilitation. Juveniles who enter it leave worse than they were before. Should my son go to prison, he will certainly be raped and assaulted repeatedly by prisoners and guards alike, destroying any shreds of boundaries he had. And let’s look at the resources the Duggars had in 2002- a family of meager means, hours away from the nearest town, in a state with very little social infrastructure compared to where I live. Most counselors around would be religiously based and thus biased. It was more than the Duggars “doing the best as they knew how.” It was also “doing the best with what they HAD.”
What I do not excuse them for is their failure to see the connections between how they were raising their kids and the abuse that occurred. They should have seen that they were in over their heads, and stopped having children in order to better parent the ones they already had. They should have understood that “modesty” is no shield for abuse. They should have seen ATI for the hoax that it is. It didn’t work. A great evil materialized in their home. THAT is where I think they truly failed.
I think you’ve got it backwards. Even in non homeschooling, non patriarchal and small non fundamentalist familes, incest happens all the time. I don’t know that anyone can prevent it in all cases. So I’ll give the duggars a pass for not being able to prevent the abuse, when it first began. That is not the failure that bothers me or that caused the most damage. They failed because they did not remove their son from the home, so that four more of their own children were molested even after josh was caught and “dealt with”. They failed because they did not remove their son from the home, so that their daughters could then feel safe and protected in their own home. They failed because they cared more about the reputation of their family and son than they cared about the lives and hearts of their five daughters. And that is just off the top of my head.
@Sartrewasamoron, replying to your reply to my reply ( 😉 ) … Yes! Healing and so much productivity and flat out joy right back at you! Thanks!
Also, I too was repeatedly told that essentially I had no rights and no one was going to help me while I was so bitter and angry. They didn’t see me as a victim, they saw me as the instigator. That used to confuse me (as a literal child) and i thought maybe they didn’t understand what had happened. After seeing this Duggar nightmare, i realized they actually believe it’s my fault, that i, as 7 year old, brought this on myself. Nauseating. Your metaphor (? Is that the right word?) of how things would’ve been different had our wounds been physical and obvious is spot on. How did they think we could began healing when they refused to treat our wounds?! Argh.
I’m so sorry we share this hurt. I’m so thankful we’re both able to speak out against this abuse and about our experiences. ❤
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I, too, am a sexual abuse survivor, by late my brother. But I knew the children who abused him and saw that at least to an extent, he was also a victim. When children molest, there are ONLY VICTIMS. My parents didn’t know until we were adults, but I can’t imagine them not trying to protect *both of us* had they known… me from him, AND him from the often lifelong legal ramifications of what he did. And in hindsight, I couldn’t blame them if they had. Were they supposed to choose between us? Kick him to the curb? He was still their child too.
So while I can understand maybe wanting to avoid legal penalties… real therapy for all involved would have been a must. As it was, only I got therapy, for unrelated reasons, but it gave me the tools to cope and to process and parse the abuse. My late brother never got therapy and he was never really whole.
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Calvary Chapel has it’s share of child molesting ministers that are protected by other ministers. As someone who grew up in Calvary Chapel since day one, I wouldn’t put much faith into this chain…. Tons more to CC than people will ever know