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