By Tammi Pitzen, Director of The Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County
I have been sitting back and reading about the Duggar family and the recent publicity around the oldest son and his sexually abusing (Yes, that is what it is — not a sexual indiscretion, not just a “teenager’s mistake” and certainly not something to be forgotten) and trying to form some kind of opinion about what has happened.
I still have questions. Did Josh Duggar actually go to counseling or did the family just handle it?
Most families, even those who have professional expertise, cannot just handle sexual abuse. It is too easy to blur lines and allegiances. In order for recovery to be successful, the children abused need unwavering support and belief. The offender needs 100% accountability at all times. If you are a parent and both are your children, it is nearly impossible to be able to give both what they need.
It is not a judgment. It is just an observation. It is hard. You love both. You gave birth to both. It is not fair to either to try to “handle it” in the family.
And by counseling, I mean by a licensed therapist with special expertise in sexual offender treatment. Not manual labor. Not a stern talking to by a police official. Not a camp.
The counseling may have been received. I cannot find where anything that I know to normally happen in these cases, when they are handled appropriately, has happened in the case of Josh Duggar.
When teenaged offenders get appropriate treatment, much of the research shows that they do not generally re-offend sexually. (Disclaimer: The research with which I am most familiar was unpublished and was regarding a local program of which I served on the Board.) However, there is risk to re-offend sexually if appropriate treatment is not received. Many of the adult offenders who have crossed my path in my career started out with an issue as a minor that was not addressed.
Do I think that transgressions made when you are a teen should be left behind and that teens deserve a second chance?
Yes. Maybe. Maybe not.
Did they have one victim? Did they have multiple victims? Did they successfully complete sex offender treatment? Did they take responsibility or did they blame the victim or someone else? What were the circumstances for the sexual abuse? Were there aggravating circumstances? Did they have a sex offender assessment and what did that recommend?
This forgiveness that seems to be a thread running throughout all the social media coverage — how did that come about?
One of the most devastating things that can happen is for the abuse to be uncovered and then sit a victim and an offender in a room with a minister or other authority figure and have a discussion about forgiveness.
I am not saying forgiveness is not possible but it MUST be on the victim’s terms not on the offenders. It must be on the victim’s timeline. Not the offenders.
Forgiveness is not a requirement for victim recovery. It is for an offender. But is it the victim’s responsibility to make things right for the offender just because they say they are sorry? My own personal belief is no. I think most people reading this would say no.
Then my next question is, how is it that we are still allowing offenders to ask for forgiveness instead of letting the victim give forgiveness when they are ready? It is a power issue. It is a control issue.
In our world, something that plays over and over again is that offenders of sexual assault are the ones who get sympathy, support and understanding. While the victims get judgment and blame. You can say that it is not true. But I see it every day. In real live cases. With real live child victims.
To be clear, I have never watched the Duggar’s T.V. show. I also am not weighing in on what should or should not have been disclosed when working with the networks prior to the show’s airing. A background check generally does not tell about offenses of any kind committed as a minor.
If I am honest, I am pleased by the reaction of the sponsors who have taken a stand and will not support sexual offenders by paying to advertise their products during the airing of the show.
Do I think Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar are terrible parents? I don’t know. Again I don’t know them or haven’t watched their show to make a judgment on that.
- I find it disturbing that they cannot recall the name of the therapy program they sent their child to for counseling regarding his sexual offenses.
- I find it disturbing that the dad says treatment and mom says they actually sent him to a friend to work in construction.
- I find it disturbing that the trooper they turned to for help is in prison for crimes related to child pornography.
- I find it disturbing that every comment I have read has been made in support of the offender and little about what has been done for the victims—some of which are their daughters.
I have read some reports that state Josh Duggar actually sued the Department of Human Services in Arkansas. Most likely to change the outcome of their investigation. The records are sealed due to confidentiality. But that tells me, if it is true, that he has not likely truly been successful in treatment. Part of successful treatment is taking responsibility for what you have done. Not minimizing it. Not changing outcomes.
I see a missed opportunity. What if instead of just cancelling the show and stopping all reruns of “19 and Counting”, The Learning Channel did a series of documentaries on the impact of child sexual abuse?
What if they used this as an opportunity to help victims find their voice? What if they used this as an opportunity to help parents have hard conversations with their children about sexual abuse? What if they used this opportunity to education parents about how to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse happening to their children?
LET ME SAY THIS LOUD AND CLEAR. I AM IN SUPPORT OF THE VICTIMS.
I don’t care about any other part of this story.
I hear this story and in my mind’s eye, I see a 14 year old boy in a room, with a small little girl, demanding forgiveness. I see standing behind this 14 year old boy, a mom, a dad, a state trooper, a church elder. I see a little girl being raised in a culture of total female submission to the males in their lives.
What would you do? I would do whatever they asked me.