This opinion piece was written by Mary DeMuth, the author of 30 books, including “Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.” She writes at marydemuth.com.
After Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar shared their story this week, my mind wandered to all those children, now adults, who may be feeling marginalized today. They’re asking questions like, “Well, yeah, it was no big deal, so why do I still struggle sexually? Why does what my brother-father-uncle still mess with me today? And why won’t my family ever talk about it or seem to care?”
We should use this story to bring these kinds of issues to light with empathy and belief of the victim, not to circle the wagons and fight what brought the Duggar sexual abuse scandal to light in the first place.
As the Duggar girls share their vulnerable story Friday night, let’s let their disclosure open up long-needed dialogue about childhood sexual abuse, its ramifications, its reality and how we can walk with intelligence alongside victims. We should strive for a society where justice and healing for victims trumps hiding dark secrets.
But there are four reasons why the Duggar parents’ official™ response disturbed me, and all have to do with this loaded word victim.
- The girls are barely victims.
In their interview, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar seldom mentioned Josh Duggar’s four sisters or the babysitter, except to minimize their abuse. “As parents you’re not mandatory reporters,” Jim Bob explained.
They say it was only touching (except when it wasn’t). Jim Bob Duggar said, “There were a couple instances where he touched somebody under their clothes, but it was like a few seconds.”
Other families had worse situations with “actual” rape, so they painted it as less serious. “But as we talked to other parents and different ones since then, a lot of families have said that they’ve had similar things happen in their families,” Jim Bob Duggar said.
Ironically, Josh Duggar touched them more salaciously than any courting boy would be allowed. Their dismissive statements ignore, diminish and sideline the girls who did not choose to be touched.
- Josh Duggar is a victim of his own mistakes.
After Josh Duggar touched the girls, he confessed, according to Jim Bob Duggar: “It was like a few seconds and then he came to us and was crying and told us what happened.”
Instead of camping on the sadness they felt over their daughters’ violation, the parents shifted focus to Josh Duggar. “This isn’t something we wanted to come out,” Jim Bob Duggar said, “but if people can see that Josh, who did these very bad things when he was a young person, that God could forgive him for these terrible things, then I hope other people realize that God can forgive them and also make them a new creature.”
Of all the remorse I saw in the Duggar interview, the strongest empathy rested with Josh Duggar. How sensitive his heart was to confess. How hard it was to let him go work in Little Rock. How painful it was to go to the police. How confused those girls were who most likely didn’t even know he abused them. Josh, Josh, Josh.
- Apparently, we’re all victimizers.
Oh we all make mistakes. Michelle Duggar reiterates this when she said, “I know that every one of us have done things wrong. That’s why Jesus came.” The underlying message is: No one is perfect, so quit throwing those stones, you who want justice. Instead, throw the stones at yourselves.
When statements like this are applied to crimes, they take on a sinister bent. As Elizabeth Esther writes, “When everything is evil, NOTHING is actually evil.”
I’ve read some extremely disturbing comments this week that infer all men have rape fantasies, so, therefore, we should just offer Josh Duggar a little grace since we’re all so awful. This kind of reasoning says, “We’re all Josh.”
I can’t jump inside everyone’s mind and prove this rape theory (nor would I want to), but I can say there’s a world of difference between thinking about something horrific and actually carrying it out. Both are wrong, but one is a punishable crime.
- Actually, the Duggar parents are the real victims.
In the interview, Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar circle the wagons, play the we-are-Christian-martyrs card, then demonize the media who capitalized on their story. Michelle Duggar said, “I feel like this is more about — there is an agenda and there are people that are purposing to try to bring things out and twisting them to hurt and slander.”
It’s a spiritual battle! Us vs. the evil media! In light of Josh Duggar’s crime, oddly, he and his family have now become the unwitting victims of conspiratorial left-leaning media.
Sarah Palin jumped into the fray, writing, “I hate for anyone to go through this game liberals are allowed to play, relentlessly attacking on an uneven playing field until a conservative’s career, relationships, and reputation are destroyed.”
Perhaps there is outrage because outrage is due. Perhaps there is an uncovering of wrongdoing because wrongdoing occurred. Perhaps Oprah got it right when she cancelled their appearance all those years ago.
The Duggar parents, by their own strange decision to be on national TV after covering up this “wrong choice,” invited scrutiny. And scrutiny came. Not a conspiracy, but actual documents gained through proper channels, although they would debate this last point.
They are not victims of liberals (or conservatives). They are simply experiencing the fallout of a very public life after a very sad situation made its way to the light. Jesus confirmed this when He said, “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” Have we considered that this public outing is actually a gift from the creator who loves truth?
On Thursday, I wrote a short story about a family who discovers their six-year-old daughter has been molested by a babysitter. In the scenario, the parents react with horror and grief (normal!), locate a counselor, call the boy’s family, ban him from their home, and immediately call the authorities to report the crime. It was my way of painting a healthy picture of a family in crisis.
It’s what I wish the Duggars (or any family in that horrific situation) would have chosen to do to protect victims and participate in justice: No pointing fingers at the people who uncovered it. No dismissal of the trauma of the event. No Christian clichés that minimize the supreme harm done.
The Duggar situation becomes more personal when we consider what we would do and how we would feel if Josh Duggar touched our daughter over her clothes and beneath them.
Suddenly the much-maligned word victim takes on its proper meaning: a person who was killed or robbed or otherwise had a crime committed against him. Let’s please remember this for the actual victim’s sake.