It started out as a little blurb buried in the side bar with trending topics on Facebook, something about Papa Duggar calling the police years ago about his son. I’ve never watched their show. I wish no ill-will on them. But I just haven’t watched them.
So I didn’t click.
A day or so later, I saw another blurb in the Facebook news feed about one of the Duggar sons being a sexual abuse perpetrator. Since I still haven’t clicked to read it, I am not sure of the details- when it happened, who it happened to, and what the current status is now.
Today, the updates on the situation continue to surface, and they aren’t just in the trending news. Lots of posts are showing up from friends in my news feed, along with comments.
And I still haven’t clicked.
I don’t need to read it and I don’t need to know about it.
It’s not because I don’t care. It’s not because it’s not a topic that doesn’t merit attention. As a marriage and family therapist, this is a topic I have seen more times than I care to count. Each time, it breaks my heart.
Clearly, it’s a sensitive topic. Sadly, many people have experience with this. Did you know that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18? From being exposed to inappropriate porn as a child and/or being forced to watch it (yes, that does happen), to being forced to witness live sex acts between others, to having to perform them on others, or having to have them performed on them, sexual abuse is all too common.
The scars it leaves behind can be nearly indescribable. No one even remotely connected to the family members on either the perpetrator side or the side of the survivor (I seriously hate the word victim- it adds another layer of victimization by using it) comes out unscathed. When the family is related to both the abuser and the survivor, it only compounds the pain.
In the situation of high profile abuse cases like the Duggars, Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State scandal, or massive situations like we’ve seen with religious priests, there can be mixed blessings that come from the constant bombardment of the topic through the media.
For survivors, it can re-open wounds. Every time I see those posts flood the newsfeeds, my mind immediately turns to clients and friends I know have survived childhood sexual abuse. It can be difficult for them to read comments posted by their friends. They may wonder, “Where was that support when I was going through my ordeal?”
They may think, “Gee, will I ever be able to go a single day without somehow running into this topic?”
Believe it or not, others may read the articles and actually figure out that this is what happened (or is happening) to them. Many victims know that they don’t like what is going on and wish it would stop, but they think that it happens to everyone else. It’s just an unpleasant part of life. They haven't realized that this is abuse.
Law enforcement officers, social workers, attorneys, and advocates can follow along with these high profile cases to learn how to be more effective in their work.
Societies can raise awareness so that victims can identify earlier on that something isn’t right and who to talk to about it. That same connection can help pave the way for more programs to help survivors to go forward and not be at risk for repeating such behaviors themselves.
Sadly, many abusers were once abused themselves, and while the “abuse excuse” does not give anyone a free pass from their own choices, it can make it a bit more emotionally complex for survivors to press charges or to join in bashing.
For them, one of their biggest fears can be going on to repeat any kind of horrible action. Because the abuse process has frequently wired their brain to automatically direct and take many comments personally, sharing judgements and opinions can trigger them to defend the abuser, and thus add to their emotional aftermath.
For relatives of the perpetrator, they are in an especially difficult situation. Do you automatically turn your back on them because they did something so heinous? Do you support them trying to own up to it and to accept the consequences that come- even if that means others judge you and think that you are somehow condoning their behavior by being there for your family member?
There’s no clear cut way for them. Choosing between right and wrong went out the window a long time ago. They are often choosing between bad and worse.
Should the family be related to both sides, that choice become even more challenging.
Media coverage, be it by newscasters or on social platforms, often covers the side of the perpetrator. While thankfully there are laws in place to protect minors from publicity as much as possible, still the perpetrating side somehow gets the most lip service.
The victim is either slut-shamed in some way, or is quietly and quickly forgotten. Where is their support? Where are the articles talking about how to show support to them or to anyone you know who’s gone through a crisis of this magnitude? Where are the articles on how to prevent and intervene as quickly as possible in as healthy of a manner as possible? Where are the commentators talking to panelists about ways to support the survivors?
I’m not seeing enough of those pieces. (Side note: I will be sharing articles on these topics ASAP- one is almost ready to share now).
Again, I have not clicked and read a single thing about this situation with the Duggars. The only thing I know of it are the few comments that have popped up in my Facebook newsfeed or the headlines that have accompanied the links.
This post isn’t written to condone or to point fingers at the Duggars or at anyone involved in such a devastating situation. It is written to invite you to think about a tragic situation- and how you and our society can be helpful in how we share, talk about, portray, and cover such situations.