I woke up yesterday to all of the news outlets that I follow and various friends on Facebook posting about the Duggar Sex Abuse Scandal. I was completely shocked by such news. I’ve followed the Duggars since I saw one of their TLC Documentaries back in 2005. I had a Yahoo! Mail alert set up to let me know when the next bit of Duggar News (usually Michelle’s next pregnancy) broke. I actually turned off that alert later because I had no more use of it because of social media. I’ve watched their show a little bit.
I made a brief post expressing my shock at how quickly the scandal had blown up (with no mention of the details) on my personal Facebook account, which subsequently erupted into a flurry of comments. I have a diversity of friends from a diversity of backgrounds…thus there were a diversity of opinions expressed on the post.
Some people’s response was like:
Others were like:
And a few were like:
The point of this post isn’t to sit and debate every aspect, every perspective, every point that pertains to this case. There are way too many different perspectives with valid points. God said it best in Proverbs 18:17:
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
-Proverbs 18:17 (English Standard Version)
It would be a great exercise in braining to synthesize and analyze every fact and every viewpoint on this and then discuss it here. But then all of that would just be super interesting, but also pretty lengthy, so people would just be like tl;dr (too long, didn’t read).
I will take the time to express some general views/sentiments:
First of all we have to acknowledge that this is a complicated multifaceted issue. There are no black and white answers for how one should think or feel about it, whether we should even be discussing it, and how to understand and interpret what happened and what should or shouldn’t happen now and what should or shouldn’t have happened in the past.
Secondly, I think that it’s wonderful that the perpetrator in this case made the choice to repent and ask forgiveness for their sins both to God and to at least some of those who are involved. I strongly believe that God has the ability to cleanse us from our sins no matter how horrible they are. However, I also think that there are natural consequences that come as a result of our sin that we might have to deal with indefinitely. It doesn’t make the sinner any less forgiven, but it may mean that their sin results in certain boundaries being set in their lives.
Thirdly, sexual abuse (or any abuse) isn’t the unpardonable sin. I believe that abusers and their victims can be reconciled. I believe that abusers can be rehabilitated and restored. But people have the right to set boundaries and limitations on how they interact with an abuser. Abuse is a violation of trust. Broken trust has to be repaired, and it may never be fully restored.
People who choose to trust someone who has committed acts of abuse shouldn’t be judged and shamed for that decision. They aren’t stupid or deluded or anything else. People who choose not to trust an offender shouldn’t be labeled as unforgiving and lacking in knowledge of the grace of God. People have the right to pick who they trust.
So why does the Duggar Sex Abuse Scandal matter? Why should we even talk about it?
1. It matters because the Duggars are public figures. I put this one first, because I believe that this is actually the weakest reason. However, the Duggar family made the decision to live a life in the public eye. By doing a reality TV show, they’ve automatically opened their lives up to scrutiny by others. The events in question happened several years before their first documentary with TLC and several more years before their TV show…so they’ve spent the last decade with this secret and it’s potential to be made known.
They chose to be in the public eye with this skeleton in their closet. Unfortunately, they don’t get to just ‘tap out’ when stuff gets bad. Not because they don’t have the right to tap out, but because it’s not very possible to do so. Furthermore, there are all kinds of issues of liability and disclosure that arise because they are public figures who had contact with other families because they were public figures.
2. It matters because survivors are watching. I’m not talking about the survivors of this particular incident, but survivors of abuse in general. Survivors are watching and listening to the discussion that’s taking place about this. How we talk about it or if we talk about it at all matters.
It matters because there are survivors who feel that they have no voice because they’re encouraged to ‘forgive and forget’ or ‘move on’ from what happened to them. They’re afraid to speak out because people make excuses for their abuser.
Conversely, there are people who have rebuilt trust with people in their lives who have committed acts of abuse and they feel that they don’t have a voice because of the lynch mob that tends to flock around these kinds of issues.
As with all sensitive conversations, we need to talk about sexual abuse with grace and consider how what we say might affect others. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have the conversation at all. Sexual abuse thrives on silence and secrecy. We shouldn’t be silent about abuse. Instead, we should work to talk about abuse in a way that empowers survivors while simultaneously protecting their privacy. How we discuss this issue could affect whether or not a survivor comes forward to report or speak out about what happened to them.
3. It matters because we need a theology of forgiveness that allows offenders to be redeemed. Every society has an unpardonable sin. Our society’s unpardonable sin is crimes against children…especially sex crimes. However, the Word of God says that there is no unforgivable sin, except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. No sin can take a person so far away from God that they can never make it back to Him.
In some Christian circles, we’ve decided to play Holy Ghost and have taken away an opportunity for God’s grace to be shown and revealed to offenders. The ground is level at the foot of the Cross. No sin is to big for God. God can heal and deliver. Once again, people have the right to set whatever boundaries they feel are appropriate when dealing with offenders. What I’m speaking about here is a heart posture. What does it communicate about God (especially to non-Christians) when Christians take a graceless approach to sin?
4. It matters because we need a theology that doesn’t silence survivors and those affected by abuse. In some Christian circles, forgiveness and moving on is emphasized to the point that it doesn’t allow for survivors and their families to heal adequately.
Sometimes, survivors end up in the same family situation, school, or church with their abuser and are met with a steady chorus of well-intentioned people who encourage (or demand) them to “move on,” neglecting the survivors’ need to set boundaries and heal at their own pace. Misguided notions of forgiveness and being Christlike are often cited and can do more to hurt the survivor than to help them to rely on God for their healing.
In other situations, the nature of the abuse (or perhaps even the relationship of the victim to the offender) allows for reconciliation and healing to take place. Wounds can be re-opened when people question a survivor’s decision to reconcile with their abuser.
Reconciliation and the rebuilding of trust shouldn’t be forced either way. The healing process is different in every case.
People who don’t feel that they can reconcile with or trust someone who committed a sex crime aren’t being evil people who don’t believe in the grace of God. They’re being honest and saying that they need to set boundaries. Don’t judge.
When someone reconciles with their abuser and trust has been restored, they aren’t being delusional or naive in making that decision. Once again, don’t judge.
5. It matters because we need more understanding about the effects of abuse. We need thorough longitudinal studies to be conducted with abuse survivors from a variety of situations and for the findings of those studies to be made public (while protecting the victims’ privacy) so that we as a society can better understand what survivors deal with.
I’ve found that when most people speak about the effects of abuse, they are speaking from anecdotal evidence or their own limited experience. When you work with a variety of victims and study the psychology behind a lot of what happens in abuse cycles, you find that our society knows both little and much about sex crimes. We need for society to be more informed so that society can create spaces for those who need help to get it and to understand what is needed.
6. It matters because we need a better understanding of those who commit offenses as minors. Once an offender always an offender? Youthful dalliance? We need to have a better level of awareness of the recidivism rates of those who offend as minors. We need to understand why minors offend. Saying that they were molested isn’t enough. There are a lot of people who are survivors who never became offenders.
The Duggar family’s narrative has been that the offenses committed were a “mistake,” that the offender “used poor judgment.” Some have taken the position that the offenses that were committed as a minor should have no bearing on how the offender is viewed as an adult. Others feel that the number of offenses and the number of victims could be indicative of a pathology.
The problem here is that we have no real idea. Not just in the Duggar case, but in general. We have no real understanding (as a society) of how to deal with offenders who are minors. We can either label them as predators forever or pretend that it never happened and hope for the best. Neither option is completely satisfying.
7. It matters because we need better understanding of how sexual abuse within families affects families. Sexual abuse is the dirty little secret hiding in the basement of many families. We need to understand why it happens and what we can do to prevent it. Society needs to be educated about the psychology of this specific type of abuse within the family system. Sexual abuse shouldn’t be the elephant in the family room. Instead, we need to remove the stigmas surrounding abuse within families so that families can be empowered to heal and not just cope.
For me, the most regrettable part of the Duggar Sex Abuse Scandal (besides the actual offenses) is that the police report was made public, and that it is easy to roughly deduce who at least some of the victims were. I’m not terribly concerned about the Duggars’ privacy since the adults in the family are choosing to be in the public eye (the minors should be shielded), but since most of the victims are likely Duggars, it’s a shame that in exposing one issue (that seems to have been resolved at least in part within the family, for better or worse) has likely given life to several more issues that make discussing this particular case and this particular issue difficult.
We have to discuss the issue of sexual abuse. The Duggars are the current face of that abuse. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about a face than to face your own issues. Sometimes talking about a face can be healing, allowing you to face the world.