Why Dan Savage’s Call to Redefine “Duggar” Will Only Further Hurt Josh Duggar’s Victims
Dan Savage. CC image courtesy of Flickr, soundfromwayout.
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
The Duggar family tragedy has received widespread media attention over the last couple weeks. At least five young girls were allegedly molested by Josh Duggar, the oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. The family waited several years to report the crimes. When they finally did so, they only told a police officer who was a family friend, who himself was later convicted of child pornography.
The tragedy has prompted claims of hypocrisy due to the fact that both Michelle and her son have repeatedly decried LGBT* people as potential child molesters when in fact her son — held up by the Religious Right as a paragon defender of traditional family values — was an actual molester, according to a recently revealed police report. Even more ironic is that Jim Bob Duggar, during his 2002 campaign for U.S. Senate, called for executing sex offenders during the exact same time period in which Josh allegedly was committing sex crimes against fellow children.
The plight of the five young girls has provoked a vast array of responses, with conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Matt Walsh jumping on soap boxes to defend Josh and liberals like Mike Luckovich gleefully asking the Internet to redefine “Duggar” in a way that invokes sexual abuse. In the midst of all these reactions, sex columnist Dan Savage offered a moment of sanity and compassion on NBC’s All In With Chris Hayes. On the show, Savage gave the sober reminder that, “We have to remember as we talk about this that five little girls — at least five little girls — were abused and molested and there’s nothing here to take delight in or celebrate.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Dan Savage on this point. Because not only am I a survivor of child sexual abuse, I am also a homeschool alumnus who was homeschooled in a Christian environment my entire life, much like the five young girls and their attacker. I also am the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and education about child abuse, mental illness, and other issues within Christian homeschooling. My work has led me to connect with hundreds of homeschool children and graduates around the United States who have experienced abuse within homeschooling, much like Josh’s victims. And our collective pain is not funny nor should it be reduced to punch lines by the media. I appreciate that Savage realizes the seriousness of the situation.
This is why I was surprised today to see Savage has now joined in the call to redefine “Duggar.” Savage previously experienced great success with redefining “Santorum” to cleverly punch up at Rick Santorum’s anti-LGBT stances, a moment in Internet history that I found humorous.
However, Santorum never faced charges of abusing other people in his family who share his last name. But Josh Duggar does.
I do not want to further violate Josh’s victims’ privacy (In Touch did a good enough job with that). So suffice it to say that several of Josh’s victims also share the name “Duggar.” Which means that these efforts to brand Josh with his crimes will also brand all of his victims with a permanent reminder of the horrendous pain inflicted upon them.
For homeschool alumni like myself, the Duggar tragedy is a watershed moment for us. We have fought for several years now to bring attention to the abuses and problems within religious homeschooling. While we have had some minor successes, it has taken the sex crimes of a television star to thoroughly break down the walls and shine a light upon the rotten nature of these high-control, Christian educational subcultures. For some of us, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. For others, it’s bittersweet that it took this — five young girls being molested — for the U.S. at large to finally care about our and our younger peers’ plights.
The very least that the media can do — and the very least that celebrities like Dan Savage should do — is handle these stories (our stories) with compassion and sensitivity towards survivors and victims. Please don’t make our pain into punch lines and please don’t start campaigns to permanently brand fellow survivors with memories of their attackers. Put your energy instead into further helping us expose what’s going on behind the doors of many Christian homeschooling families.
Help us bring to light the fact that just because a homeschooling family is on TV, all smiles and politeness, doesn’t mean that family is safe.