Sometimes pretending to sleep is the only way to avoid being forced to participate. Sometimes it's safer to say that you were asleep than to face all of the complications that come from facing off with a perpetrator when you are a little girl child in a fundamentalist family. And sometimes, the greatest betrayal is finding out that someone touched you inappropriately while you were sleeping.
Think about that for a sec. Sleeping, peacefully. Feeling safe. Snug as a bug in a rug. All sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite. Only to find out that you were actually terrifyingly vulnerable in a way you had no context to imagine. Imagine how that might feel.
All of these scenarios are possible, real and, regardless of how Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar try to spin it, a huge fucking deal.
I have a vivid memory of being jostled awake by the rhythmic shifting of my body. In the space between consciousness and unconsciousness, I couldn’t understand what was happening. I opened my eyes drowsily only to slam them shut.
Above me, on my 6-year-old body, was my father.
I was serially raped and sexually abused by my father between the ages of 6 and 8. I remember many things he did to me, but what haunts me most is what I don’t remember because I didn’t wake up.
I listened to the Megyn Kelly interview with Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar and hoped for what many are waiting for from religious leaders. I hoped for recognition of the deep, emotional and physical damage done by sexual trauma. I hoped for an understanding of the healing process of mental health therapy that is supplemented — not replaced — by Holy Scripture and prayer.
Ultimately, their interview left me with the same disappointment we who were raised in a faith community continue to experience when these circumstances arise.
As a survivor and a fierce advocate for the rights of child survivors of sexual trauma, here is my response to the most horrifying exchanges from the Duggars’ interview with Megyn Kelly:
“He said he was just curious about girls.”
Children are allowed to be curious, but they aren’t allowed to use that curiosity to victimize others. If we excuse Josh’s behavior as teenage curiosity, we’d still be left with the fact that he trespassed on somebody’s body to feed his own needs. He didn’t ask his parents or a youth pastor. He didn’t look for a book on human sexuality.
He decided he had a right to the bodies of the young girls around him. Not once to satisfy his curiosity, but several times.
“That’s when we pulled him out of the house.”
Michelle and Jim Bob don’t mention telling Josh that his actions were criminal. They taught him that his actions indicated a problem of faith and dealt with it as such. If Josh would just get right with God, then he would stop sexually abusing the girls under their roof.
For his crimes against his sisters and a family friend, Josh was basically grounded and given more chores while having continued access to his victims for approximately 9 months, several incidents and increasingly more inappropriate contact.
But don’t worry. That’s when they finally decided it was time for him to go.
“The ray of hope was that Josh had come and told us and his heart was still soft.”
Michelle and Jim Bob weren’t exaggerating when they said Josh’s heart was soft. Josh knew he’d done something wrong and he went to the people he trusted to guide him toward becoming a Godly person.
Like someone considering suicide, Josh sent out a clear SOS and his parents barely responded. Instead, they put a dimmer switch on the lighthouse, handed him half a map and told him to paddle harder.
Instead of making a report to the Department of Human Services where trained professionals could provide Josh, his victims and the entire family with resources, they isolated him by sending him to a “training camp” where hard work and prayer were going to “straighten him out.”
This is also the section where Michelle Duggar states some of the girls probably weren’t aware this was even an improper touch.
Probably? Like, you’re not sure as their mother if they were aware someone touching them while they were sleeping was an inappropriate thing?
This grieves me the most. The Duggars missed an opportunity to teach their daughters that they have ownership over their bodies at all times. Whether they are sleeping, looking the other way, wearing a skirt to their knees or one that is just shy of revealing a butt cheek to the world, no one has the right to touch their body without verbal, enthusiastic consent.
Instead, they shrugged and allowed them to accept the idea that it was all fine if they didn’t remember it.
“As parents, you feel like a failure.”
I think the hardest part of being a parent is the fact that you have children.
It is a difficult, thankless, heartbreaking and mind-twisting thing. You often feel like you are doing a terrible job – especially when you are rocking it. It’s that kind of gig. It’s this first-hand knowledge of life with kids that often prevents me from judging parents in situations I’ve never encountered.
Most parents are not qualified to address sexual trauma. It is a complicated issue that often has lifelong consequences for all involved. That is why the Advocates in training at The Firecracker Foundation are required to act as if they are mandated reporters whether or not they are legally bound to do so. Our first priority is protecting children. We rely heavily on the professionals trained and qualified to identify, treat and prosecute child sexual abuse.
Jim Bob boldly announced that parents aren’t mandated reporters, as if the law somehow supports his inaction. That the law allows for parents to decide what’s best for their children. That’s basically true. Unless your decisions are allowing other children in your home to become vulnerable or victimized.
Their own words and the police report all indicate the Duggars allowed children to be vulnerable to their son’s inappropriate touches without reporting it. The only reason it became known is because it was discovered by someone who felt it was their duty to report and protect the children who were being harmed.
There was a fire and, thank God, while the Duggars were busy praying, someone put it out with water.
If my child had cancer, I would take him to see a doctor immediately. We would follow the treatment plan. I would maybe seek a second opinion but I would not try to handle the diagnosis on my own because I am not qualified.
From now on, maybe we should all be treating child abuse as if it were an emergency of devastating proportions. It may as well be, when you consider that the consequences of untreated pediatric sexual trauma includes things like addiction, a higher risk of suicide and eating disorders. These and many other statistical likelihoods are arguably similar to taking the long way to killing oneself.
So, yes. On this one comment, I have to agree. This is an unquestionable, clear as day failure on the part of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.
“It had been forgiven, we moved on with life.”
I believe in the act of forgiveness. I do. I have spent much of my life forgiving my father for the ways in which he damaged my developing brain and body. The trauma comes in waves and with each one, a new lesson in forgiveness arrives.
Forgiveness does not free you of consequences. Jesus can live in your heart in a church, in a therapist’s office and in a jail cell. Any pastor worth his weight in salt will tell you that Jesus will meet you where you are. And sometimes your ass needs to be incarcerated.
I reject forgiveness where power isn’t placed in the hand of the victim. I want no part of a system — faith, legal or otherwise — that doesn’t allow the victim to decide if the perpetrator sits at the dinner table, attends classes or prays at the same altar.
“You do not view Josh as a pedophile?” “No.”
Pedophilia is a mental disorder where adults, typically men, are attracted to prepubescent children. A perpetrator is a person who commits a crime. Not all pedophiles become perpetrators. Some seek treatment and work to prevent themselves from harming children. Perpetrators are not always pedophiles. Sex crimes are often more about power than sexual gratification.
I am not qualified to call Josh Duggar anything other than a confessed perpetrator of illegal sexual contact with his younger sisters and a family friend. I will stick to that term until he is diagnosed otherwise by a trained professional. As should the rest of the world.
“We tried to keep things as normal as we can.” — Jim Bob Duggar.
Because that’s what the world needs: more people normalizing sexually traumatic events in the lives of children.