The Duggar's oldest son never faced charges, and now has three children of his own with a fourth due in July. (Photo: Getty Images)
News broke Thursday evening that Josh Duggar, eldest child of the notably fertile Duggar clan made famous on their TLC-produced reality show 19 Kids and Counting, had molested five underage girls (some of whom were his sisters) when he himself was 14 years old. He was investigated for allegedly fondling their breasts and genitalia.
TLC promptly pulled 19 Kids and Counting on Friday.
While the exact details of the abuse are still emerging, the reaction of Josh’s parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, is problematic in regards to the long-term health outcomes of both their son and his victims.
In a statement to People magazine yesterday evening, Duggar, now 27, admitted his actions and expressed regret. “I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling.”
Yet reports show that while the Duggar family did eventually report the abuse to authorities, they did so a year after the abuse took place. And rather than seek out traditional counseling and treatment for their son, according to police reports, they instead had him do construction work for a friend of the family, believing that hard labor would be the solution to their son’s problem.
“I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life,” said Duggar. “I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life.”
Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victim services at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), tells Yahoo Health that while some juvenile sex offenders continue their patterns of abuse throughout their lives and others do not, the long-term effects on children who have been molested by their siblings has “a lot to do with the factors and terms of whether [the abuse] was disclosed, how the person [to whom the abuse was disclosed] reacted, and whether the victim feels they received support from their loved ones and family” in response to the disclosure of their abuse.
Victims who receive positive support from their families and see those families take action to ensure their safety and healing often have good outcomes, though Marsh adds that all victims of abuse are encouraged to seek mental health care services and treatment since while a victim might cope well initially, many psychological effects of their abuse might emerge down the road, and well into his or her adult life.
Child victims who do not receive appropriate support after disclosing their abuse to their families often go on to struggle with depression, have trouble forming healthy relationships as adults, and turn to substance abuse and self-harm as adults, Marsh says.
Furthermore, she adds, if victims who have been abused by a family member feel that their family is siding with the perpetrator — and in turn feel not loved, not supported, and not as important to their family as their abuser is — they are at even greater risk for negative health behaviors.
Marsh notes that in discussing sexual abuse within a family, it’s important to remember that “a lot of factors go into evaluating and determining what type of sexual offender a person may be. A few of those factors have to do with the age of the perpetrator at the time the abuse starts, the age of the victim, and the age difference between the two.” She adds that while the recidivism rate of juvenile offenders is low, this demographic also often has subsequent victims who don’t report their abuse. “Anecdotally, on the National Assault Online Hotline, over one-third of [those utilizing the hotline] are discussing abuse that has been perpetrated by a family member.”
When sexual abuse occurs and the perpetrator is related to the victim, then the abuse is also considered incest, Marsh says. She adds that while the definition of incest may vary from state to state, “anyone perceived as a family member” — including siblings and foster family members, for example — and perpetrates abuse that violates the “basic elements in terms of violations of trust” within in a family unit can be thought of as having committed incest.
Since the news of Josh Duggar’s past broke, he has resigned from his position as executive director of the Family Research Council (FRC), a pro-life and anti-gay-marriage lobbying group.
In a statement, FRC President Tony Perkins said, “Today Josh Duggar made the decision to resign his position as a result of previously unknown information becoming public concerning events that occurred during his teenage years. Josh believes that the situation will make it difficult for him to be effective in his current work. We believe this is the best decision for Josh and his family at this time. We will be praying for everyone involved.”
On the personal website of Josh and his wife Anna Duggar, the couple continue to greet visitors with the message, “From the time we were young, our parents taught us about the things of God and the importance of committing our lives to Him. God requires that we give him everything, and often the area that we want to reserve for ourselves is the very area that he knows we must surrender to Him. When we let God control every area of our lives, He will give us awesome new opportunities to glorify Him!”
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and ohl.rainn.org/online/, y en español: rainn.org/es.