Turn on the TV, open a newspaper or surf the internet and it’s impossible to avoid stories about the Duggar family. The family made famous by their reality show depicting their 19 children has become a household name thanks to the sex abuse scandal circling now adult son Josh Duggar. Police records have been released that indicate Duggar molested five victims while he was in his teens and the family handled it internally, failing to report it to the police until a year after the allegations were made.
While many people use this story to criticize the family, it is more important to look at the bigger picture of what this story represents. Josh Duggar is not the only teen that has molested younger siblings or other known children. In fact, 18 to 24% of all cases that flow through Child Advocacy Centers, organizations that assist in the investigation of child abuse and neglect, involve an offender under the age of 18.
The first lesson this story should teach is that no abuse is insignificant. In an interview aired on Fox News June 5, 2015, two of Duggar’s sisters/victims said that the molestation was “very mild” compared to other victims. Expert in the treatment of childhood trauma related to abuse, Heather Eberth-Teike, MSW, LCSW from the Indiana Center for Children and Families says, “any childhood sexual abuse can be a strong predictor of substance abuse and symptoms of psychiatric disorders.” No abuse should be minimized as all sexual abuse is serious and can cause trauma.
The second lesson of this story is that appropriate treatment and timely reporting are key. Duggar allegedly molested girls for over a year, including incidences after he had confessed to his parents. He needed and deserved immediate treatment to interrupt the behavior at its earliest point of revelation. Early treatment can result in fewer victims and fewer repeat incidences for existing victims. Parents may think they are keeping their child protected when not reporting such instances, but in reality they are delaying the help their child needs. Delaying not only leads to increased victimization, but it can also result in escalating behaviors.
Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) are also invaluable in these situations. CACs work with a multidisciplinary team of investigators, which includes law enforcement, the Department of Child Services, prosecutors, and medical and mental health personnel, to conduct child-friendly forensic interviews and coordinate interventions for alleged child victims.
CACs typically have a Child and Family Advocate and/or Victim Advocate either housed inside the center or in close contact with the center. These individuals are experts in finding resources for the children and families. With the use of a CAC, situations like the Duggars’ could have been identified and set on a positive path. The lack of shame- inducing secrecy, immediate and accurate action could have set the victims and Duggar himself in a better direction.
People are divided over who to blame in the Duggar situation. Many condemn the parents, many Josh Duggar, and some the media for bringing it to light. The better reaction would be to not focus on blame, but instead look to the lessons presented. With the right information, future families will know how to react and where to turn should this scenario happen to them.
For More Information about Child Advocacy Centers, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, or Forensic Interviewing of Alleged Child Victims of Crime, please contact Susie’s Place Executive Director, Emily Perry, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 317-272-5696.