A family affair

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

Mother Theresa

Family, at its most functional and loving, can be really… tricky.  Can I get an Amen?

There is a REASON all of those Thanksgiving jokes exist.

There is so much about the family dynamic that is amazing.  The word family invokes the idea of unity, support, unconditional love, and solidarity.  Those are the things we treasure, and cling to.

Those are also the things that are at the very heart of the problem, when it comes to sexual abuse.

I remember watching Oprah, this was years ago, and her saying something along the lines of- we all are horrified by sexual abuse and know exactly what should happen to the predators… until the predator is our brother.  I remember all the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

Of all children who are sexually abused, the statistics tell us the situations where the predator is a stranger stands at about 10%.  That leaves us with 90% of victims knowing their abusers.

The statistics nationally for rape- not child sexual abuse- are abysmal.  Out of every 100 rapes, 32 are reported.  Of those 32, 7 lead to an arrest.  Out of those 7, 3 are referred for prosecution, of those 3, 2 will lead to a felony conviction.  TWO out of ONE HUNDRED rapists will ever spend a day in jail (RAINN.)  And that, my friends, is when it is NOT a family affair.

There aren’t really reliable statistics for incest, because it is so staggeringly under-reported.    The national statistics for child sexual abuse is 1 in 4 for girls and 1 in 6 for boys- and the overwhelming majority of those crimes are committed by someone the child knows.  Usually well.  Frequently family.  I am willing to bet the statistics for reporting abuse by strangers is much higher than in cases where the victim knows their abuser.  In cases of incest.

This is where, too often, the line between the traditional definition of family becomes blurred with the Mafia definition.  This is where families become criminal enterprises.  “We’ll handle it in house.” That might work if in house wasn’t where the problem lay, in the first place.

This is where omertà comes into play.

My phone was blowing up this morning with texts and messages, asking me if I’d heard about the Duggars.  I have.  I’ve been trying to think of a way to write about this that isn’t expletive laced and judgmental.

That’s hard.

In Arkansas, where the Duggar family lives, engaging a child in sexual activity is a class D felony, and has a statute of limitations of 3 years.  Incest with a child under the age of 16 is a class A felony, and the statute of limitations is 6 years.

Sit with that for a minute.

You are six years old.  You are abused by your father.  You have until you are TWELVE to press charges, assuming you can find an adult in your family willing to rock the boat enough to advocate for you and make the deep, dark family secrets public. Who is willing to speak the inconvenient truth.  An adult who is willing to defy the code of silence we’ve seemingly bought into.

My cousin and I reported our abuse to the police more than 35 years after it happened, and people told us we were brave.  I am a grown ass woman.  Can you begin to fathom how difficult that would be for a CHILD?

The Duggars are taking some major heat.  People are saying this happened because of the way they practice their faith.

Bullshit.  I think that’s cheap, and I think that’s easy.  I think we’d love to believe that, because then we all feel a little safer.

It’s happening in families of every faith, every race, every income bracket… Child sexual abuse is an equal opportunity crime.  No one is immune, and no one is more pre-disposed, based on how they worship.

People are fuming that the father waited a year before finally reporting it to the police.

Reporting it at all is more than most families do.

I worked in a school- and in doing so, learned a lot about mandatory reporting.  If you have reason to suspect abuse or neglect, you are legally obligated to report it to the appropriate authorities.

There are things that have to be done and you do them and you never talk about them. You don’t try to justify them. They can’t be justified. You just do them.

Mario Puzo – The Godfather

Where is law enforcement in all of this?  Mr. Duggar reported his son (who was 15 years old when he abused his siblings and others- I am not writing allegedly, because in his statement Josh Duggar acknowledged his actions.) to the police.  Josh received three months of counseling.

From what I read, after he returned from counseling, he was taken by his dad to talk to someone in the Arkansas State Police, who gave him “a very stern talk” but didn’t report the matter to child-abuse investigators.

Well, that should do it.

I cannot imagine how awful it must be to learn that your child committed such abuse.  I understand the reflexive desire to protect your child, even when they are wrong. But the victims were their children too. Who is protecting them?  Where is their justice?  The Duggars have a responsibility to ALL of their children, and now, their grandchildren.  And society at large, for that matter.

He made no empty promises, nor the craven excuse that his hands were tied by more powerful forces in the world than himself.

Mario Puzo – The Godfather

If paternal and maternal loyalty is their excuse for shielding their son, where does that leave their daughters?  Parenthood isn’t an excuse, it’s a duty.

Would short term counseling and a lecture be deemed an appropriate punishment if the crime was committed by a stranger?

If a father kills his daughter, and the mother says- this is a family matter, we don’t want to press charges, the DA doesn’t say, “OK.  Have him get some counseling and I will give him a stern talking-to.  Don’t murder again.”  That’s because murder isn’t a family matter, it’s a CRIME.  So is sexual abuse.  It shouldn’t be about whether the parents of both the perpetrator and the victims feel as though THEY want to press charges.  That simply cannot be how the system is supposed to work.

I am proud to say that my home state of Massachusetts has done some major reform in the area of statutes of limitations on cases of sexual abuse- but I think we need a national policy.  I don’t think some states should be safe havens for predators.

We need to stop treating sexual abuse like it’s a family quirk.  This isn’t Uncle Bob wearing a lampshade on New Year’s Eve.  This is Uncle Bob abusing his daughter in the back room.  It shouldn’t get handled in house.  It should get handled in court.  And every time law enforcement turns a blind eye, every time a judge makes an obscene decision like letting a perpetrator cross examine his young victims, or that a man who sexually abused a three year old girl didn’t “intend to cause harm,” we minimize the horror of this crime- this crime that doesn’t just go against the law, but against nature itself.

I think a stern talking to is in order, actually.  Our lawmakers need to hear from us, en masse, that we will no longer stand for children being abused by the family system, or the court system.  One law, nationally.  Mandatory reporting needs to actually be mandatory.

We have our nuclear families, and those relationships and responsibilities loom large.  We are also part of a larger family.  We are all beholden to one another.  We’ve forgotten that belong to one another- all of us.

 Let me tell you somethin’, A.J. I don’t care how close you are, in the end your friends are gonna let you down. Family: they’re the only ones you can depend on. 

Tony Soprano

32 Comments on “A family affair

  1. While I fully agree with you on everything you said, here’s what I keep thinking about: Many abusers were victims first. He was in his early teens when he did this. Chances are pretty good, he too was violated at some point as a child. Not excusing what he did (and absolutely not excusing his parents and church leaders!!!! Seriously?!? If anyone should be prosecuted…), just wondering about the rest of the story.

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    • I agree, and I thought about addressing that- but I don’t want to speculate, and that is all it would be. I’m interested in talking about what we KNOW, and what we know is that the system is broken.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amen to that! And I’m so sorry that’s part of your story too. I pray for complete healing and redemption from our faithful Healer and Redeemer!

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  2. The first thing I want to say is I really enjoy your blog. I think you’re an incredibly brave woman, and an amazing writer. Now, addressing the Duggar situation, I agree whole-heartidly that this was a matter for the courts to handle, not the family. I worked with juvenile sex offenders for 4 years, and it blew my mind how many parents wanted to protect the offender, with complete disregard of protecting the victim(s), often the siblings. The justice system often places the offenders rights over the victims, which results in fewer victims actually reporting crimes. I have told my husband that if I was ever sexually assaulted I would have a difficult time reporting it, since more than likely no justice would occur. On a personal note, my sister was sexually assaulted when she was 13 by her best friends brother when she was at a sleepover. I picked her up late at night because she didn’t feel safe there. She told me the most basic version of what happened, no details, and I wanted to go in and confront him, but she didn’t want it to affect her friendship, so I didn’t. I wish I had. She told my mom, mom met with his dad, he recieved a ‘stern talk’, and that was that. 5 years after, he was arrested for trying to meet a 13 year old girl for sex. My sister is now in her early 30s and still suffers from the effects of the assault. She has only recently revealed the extent of what happened to her to me, and it was so much worse than she initially said. She said she has always felt like it was her fault, and she was too ashamed to do anything. This is the stigma applied to many victims, and it’s so incredibly sad. The justice system really needs to be reworked to take better care of those that have been destroyed, not the ones that have caused the distraction. Sorry so long, thanks for letting me read your blog!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thanks for putting these words down. I have just wrestled and wrestled in my mind with — what about those girls?!? Their world is a different place today. They have been carrying the burden of “protecting the family” by keeping the secret of their abuser. I kept that secret for 31 years. And while there was healing for me in talking, there were real struggles. Actually it was a horrible mess. I completely knew how to manage family dynamics with the secret in place, but navigating them once it was out was so very difficult. And, I was a grown ass woman at that point! And my story was not playing out in the media, it was in my own little world.

    When you learn as a child to self-protect by making everything look good to all those on the outside looking in because no one can know the ugliness that happens and suddenly people know the ugliness — it is hard to know what to do. How do I protect? Who do I protect? Do I protect? I know that sexual abuse damaged me, and keeping the secret of abuse shaped every part of how I deal with every relationship. So to have abuse exposed changes everything. And that is where I am with this today. Life is different for these girls today. I hope they can tell their story and not be held to the rules of protecting the family. They can express the hurt and the abandonment that comes from a parent who needs to safe face (reputation) more than they need to demonstrate love and commitment.

    Oh this journey….. my heart hurts.

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    • I hear what you are saying. I hesitate to say they did what they did to save face. They may have, certainly- but I don’t know them, and I don’t know that. There are many reasons they may have kept it quiet, not the least of which may have been not wanting their child to go to jail. I don’t pretend this is simple. It’s not. It’s brutal and messy and complicated- but I’m right there with you. I hope those girls find their voice, and I hope hey are free to use it. That’s how healing begins.

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      • Yes. Finding your voice and being free to use it. Let healing begin.

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  4. I was hoping you would write about this. I personally am grateful for the advancement in the laws in my home state of Massachusetts also. It offers me choice if I want it. With that said, I know you didn’t want to discuss the Christian aspect of this incident. Much of my trauma history was hidden behind men of faith and I have personally seen families “fixed” after sexual abuse in the family by elders in the church while the child was left to grow up in her home with her perpetrator. It’s brainwashing at its best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think churches are just another form of family when it comes to sexual abuse. Some shine a light, and do the right thing, some circle the wagons and protect the abusers. I’m not entirely sure there IS a ‘Christian aspect.’

      Liked by 1 person

  5. we adopted an older child at age 6 1/2 who appeared to be perfect. Straight As, loved and trusted by all, especially us. Four years ago we found out he had brutally sexually molested our 5 kids ranging in gender and age from 2-11 as well as at least 6 other young cousins. All adults loved and trusted him. The day we found out we removed him from the home and spent 70k over the next 2 years on residential treatment. We attempted to have all victims press charges but only one stuck from our 11 year old. We decided immediately that our 5 victim children came first and they would never need to see or hear from this brother again. Through therapy, it came out that he was molested prior to adoption but he never fully admitted to what he did or showed remorse for anyone but himself. The county evisverated us in court for not reuniting and being so hard on him and even accused us of fabricating reports despite the fact that the predator failed polygraphs and only passed when admitting to molesting 18 victims-which is not admissible in court. Many have judged us harshly for abandoning a son but the minute he chose to irreparably hurt these little ones was the minute he lost our loyalty and we continue to support our children with love and talented professional therapists. You can’t understate how much damage this has caused the victims. They don’t just “get over it.” Sorry to go on so long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is no need for you to apologize. Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry for your five littles, and for the lost boy. Tragedy upon tragedy.

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  6. There is yet another sickening piece to this story. The law enforcement officer who gave Josh Duggar the stern talking-to? “According to inTouch, Hutchens is now currently serving 56 years in prison for child pornography and never charged Josh Duggar.” That judge who ruled recently that a three-year-old girl was partially responsible for the crime against her and wasn’t really hurt (paraphrasing) — someone needs to do an extensive search into that man’s life, especially the files on his computer.

    While it seems very possible that his siblings were among his victims, I I haven’t seen anything specific saying that, either in his statement or the quoted police reports. Who released that information, do you know?

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  7. Keeping it in the family or within the church is ludicrous. It’s astounding to me that so many adults made that choice for these children, robbing them of the chance to receive proper help (including Josh). It’s being reported that the Arkansas State Trooper Jim Hutchens, who gave Josh “a very stern talk”, is serving a prison sentence for child pornography. It’s also been reported that the Duggars didn’t actually send Josh to counseling but had him work with a man who was remodeling a building. I don’t know if it’s possible for a teenager to molest several children, receive no treatment whatsoever and then never offend again. He now has children of his own. Josh’s Facebook statement says, “…my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling.” I’m skeptical that he and his victims truly received the kind of help required to recover. This is a sickening tragedy all around and unfortunately not at all uncommon.

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  8. It is unfortunate that “crazy” is the new norm. Taboo is welcomed, but we expect morals and respect. Where and when and WHY is there such a huge group of people that have no concept of basic RIGHT and WRONG!!! I hate to say, that maybe there should be some kind of test of “are you capable of breeding any being with moral fibers?” before becoming an adolescent. Of course the solutions to failing that kind of test could be considered “cruel or unfair”, like what happens to all helpless, scared and hurt victims who are now physically and mental permanently altered. So tell me which is fair?

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  9. This is powerfully argued so reading it, I want to agree. But I hold back for two reasons.

    One you almost acknowledge: The terrible pain of being the parent of an abuser. Parental loyalty is not necessarily the issue. A parent cannot simply divorce or disassociate with a child. The effects of child-on-child abuse are emotionally devastating to a family, and addressing them can be financially ruinous. So, without making excuses for reprehensible acts, I must ask for humble demands and compassionate regard for parents who are caught in a tragic situation.

    My other reservation you do not address: The terrific desire to protect an abused child from further pain … having to tell and re-tell and be questioned and probably shamed and possibly stigmatized. I can understand why privately and quietly addressing victims’ healing takes priority over pursuing justice against the perpetrator. The solution to this is exactly as you say – a systemic, societal shift . But in the moment, must a parent sacrifice an already victimized child to principle? I cannot say “yes!” with the fervent outrage you seem to have.

    Nevertheless, thank you for your persuasive perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, as someone who was abused, and whose abuser never faced any consequences, and as someone who sat across a table 35 years later and had to look into the eyes of a mother whose daughter would not have been abused had the adults in my life reported my grandfather to the police- I can say yes. With fervor. When we prosecute criminals it is not just about the crime they’ve committed and the victims that exist- it is also about the safety and well being of society at large.

      I believe I did acknowledge how hard it must be to know your child committed such a heinous act. But once again, we are being precious with this particular crime. We wouldn’t give parents a pass for covering up their son’s armed robbery, because it was so painful for them.

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      • Sometimes it is. I am not minimizing victims’ experience. I understand and appreciate that you are championing children who are victims. (I really do appreciate that, especially for the sake of my sibling, my cousins, and my son. I really do.).

        But we do, rightfully, treat juvenile offenders differently than adults.

        What I object to is the harshness of your certainty in addressing a heartbreaking subject for which families often have few resources and no good options.

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      • We’ll disagree about the harshness with which I treated the subject. I agree that as a parent they had no “good” options. There’s nothing good about this, and I think they probably felt as though they were in an impossible situation. I still unwaveringly believe that they had a responsibility FIRST to the children who’d been victimized, and SECOND to society at large. Josh has four children now. Think about that. Are you comfortable with three months working on a construction project passed off as “counseling” in terms of him dealing with his issues? I am not saying that he should have been locked up, and the key thrown away. I agree that juvenile offenders need to be handled differently. That is, in fact, why we have juvenile court. Which is where this should have been handled. Legally.

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      • Of course I am not comfortable with 3 months on a construction project being passed off as counseling! I am horrified by it. I have not suggested anything to that effect, and your implied accusation is unfair and – yes – harshly insensitive.

        I am truly sorry for what you have suffered. I only asked for a sympathetic consideration for the parents and all children. I think categorical absolute demands are not helpful. Compassionate principles, particularly an insistence that we belong to each other, are critically important.

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      • I don’t believe I accused you, and I am sorry that you feel as though I did- that was not my intention.

        I believe I did express sympathy for the position his parents were in. Sympathy, and condoning the way they handled things are not the same thing. I still believe crimes should be reported to the police, investigated, and that DA’s should make the determination whether or not to prosecute. That still gives the DA the opportunity to use discretion in cases where the likelihood of a conviction is slim and a child would be terribly traumatized. DA’s make those determinations all the time.

        Most pedophiles do not stop until they are imprisoned or they die. I wonder, all the time, how many girls would have been spared the trauma I endured had my grandfather been reported and convicted. I would happily go back and endure the hardship of a trial if I could.

        I have had countless women tell me their stories of living their whole lives in fear knowing that their abusers remain free, and are likely still abusing. By the time they are old enough to understand the toll that takes, the devastation that wreaks, most often the statute of limitations has expired.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Secrets and being silent about abuse are toxic, at least they have been for me. The more the experience is shared the less power the perpetrator has on the victim regardless if its a sibling or not. The message of shame is perpetuated when a child is told their experience is not “bad enough” to have their parent/sibling removed and punished for their actions. If their experience is not “bad enough” then they must of done something to cause it. This is how children internalize trauma.

      I agree it is a tragic situation and in the case of it being both children they both need to be cared for appropriately. But sometimes the tough and needed decision is that both children cannot not safely live in the same home. Also that the child who caused the harm needs more help and consequences than the parent is able to provide. Knowing your limits is also part of parenting.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. I agree that Josh Dugger should have faced criminal charges in juvenile court. The fact that he was only 15 does not make any difference to his younger victims. In fact incest is Most Common among siblings. If he were prosecuted his victims would see that Something had been done to vindicate their experience and as a survivor justice would be served.

    I read that this came out after the 10 year Statute of Limitations expired and want to say 10 years is deplorable. I did not talk about my abuse for 20 years and did not know anything about the SOL. When I decided to bring charges the SOL had expired the year before. It was disappointing and frustrating because I knew they had gotten away with it. We know that pedophiles who victimize children are Serial Offenders yet this issue has not been addressed. With all of the support from people who excuse Dugger’s behaviour I don’t think people realize the potential to reoffend. It is distressing to read supportive comments like “He turned his life around”. “He goes to church every Sunday.” I would like to remind them that he goes to church with their children. Pedophiles come from all walks of life and while they may believe Dugger turned his life over to Jesus doesn’t mean Jack Shit. My abusers went to Mass every Sunday but Jesus did nothing to help me.

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  11. Pingback: Omerta | In Others' Words...

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