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Duggar case raises greater concerns, needs than being reported

In the rush to judge, forgive, excuse and demonize Josh Duggar for sexually molesting five young girls – four of them his sisters – when he was a teenager, actions he has acknowledged and admitted, Family & Children’s Place believes that key issues are being glossed over and opportunities missed.

The TLC Network will determine the fate of “19 and Counting,” the show that propelled the Duggar family into the mainstream. The court of public opinion will make its own judgments about Josh Duggar and the actions his parents took when he admitted the abuse, keeping in mind that any prosecution is prohibited because the statute of limitations has passed for the committed acts.

But what isn’t being discussed – and no one seems to be acting on – is what is at the core of our work with children who have been abused and their families. What is anyone doing now, admittedly after the fact, to help the girls who were inappropriately groped and fondled work through feelings of anger, guilt, hurt and betrayal, from the original molestation and rekindled by the current public scrutiny?

And where is the larger conversation that’s needed – about children and adolescents who act out sexually on others. Often, when allegations such as these are made, families are unsure what to do, where to go and how to seek help – for the offending child, the victims, even themselves. That seems the case for the Duggars, too.

The family reports the girls received counseling, but reports point to a “non-professional intervention” rather than professional help by counselors like those at Family & Children’s Place who are licensed mental health providers with specialized understanding of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse.

Perhaps they sought to respond according to personal and religious beliefs, perhaps they followed the best course they knew. Regardless, the help was likely insufficient.

Behind the headlines are five girls – women today – who suffered abuse at the hands of their brother or a trusted friend and who likely cope daily with very complex and unsettled feelings. The family reports the girls “slept” through the inappropriate touching – no one knew what happened – but science and research show that children typically wake up when inappropriately touched in private places, but play “possum,” so it’s unlikely all, or any, were as oblivious as the parents suggest.

But the girls aren’t the only ones who need help navigating their past. Counseling needs to be encouraged for Josh Duggar, too, whose treatment at the time of the crimes was to be sent to a Christian program that emphasized physical work and mentoring. And for his wife and three children.

There are specialized individual and family approaches for adolescents/children who abuse that involve specific assessments and treatment by certified professionals.  And for the families to create safe zones, establish boundaries, build trust and ensure open and truthful dialogue.

Josh Duggar admits being conflicted, feeling guilt and shame, and we can only guess the stresses, questions and concerns the revelations have stirred for his wife, about her husband, about their relationship, about the safety and security of their children.

A relationship is built on trust and there’s little question trust has been eroded here, so the best path to restoring that trust, for the Duggars and other families affected by sibling on sibling sexual abuse, is through professional help and support. And the sooner the better.

Years have passed since Josh Duggar abused his sisters and another, but as with all families hurt by abuse such as this, feelings, questions, shame, doubts linger – and research shows the impact is lifelong. And new reports of the crime and the around-the-clock coverage is undoubtedly creating new and greater complications, reopening the young women’s and Josh Duggar’s wounds, as well as creating new wounds, new injury for his wife and children.

At Family & Children’s Place, we find numerous families who have experienced episodes of adolescent on adolescent sexual abuse that every day experience shame, guilt and pain years after the abuse occurred.

Judgment we leave to others, but because of our commitment to ending the crushing trauma of violence, abuse and neglect, this case is important. Only through compassionate, caring and committed treatment, taking as long as necessary and through very tailored services, can survivors of abuse recover.

Children/ teens who have exhibited inappropriate sexual behaviors, regardless of who they are, need professional help.  Often, they are victims of abuse and/or violence themselves, so hurting youth hurt others is sadly, not that unusual.

Let others point fingers and assign blame. For us, we hope the Duggar family is being offered help and good counsel, to not only understand, manage and navigate feelings created by the initial sexual molestations, but to cope with the emotions, concerns and questions being roused by the recent news reports.

And for all families who experience the pain of abuse, it is important they know there is help such as offered at  Family & Children’s Place.

We can’t change the past, but we can change the future, and we can learn from situations such as this to help ensure that other sisters, daughters, brothers, sons and others don’t suffer the same fate. It’s time to offer help to provide hope.

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