Did the Duggars do the right thing? June 5, 2015
Emily Horowitz is interviewed by Fox anchor Megyn Kelly
In defense of Josh Duggar’s parents: It's no secret why a mother and father would hesitate before reporting a child to police on sex abuse allegations, May 31, 2015
By Emily Horowitz
When I learned that, more than a decade ago, reality-TV star Josh Duggar avoided jail after his parents dealt with molestation charges via church and family contacts, it made me think about the men I interviewed for my book about our draconian sex-offender laws.
As a 14-year-old back in about 2002, Duggar fondled at least five girls in his family home — and his parents decided against taking him to the public authorities.
The case reminded me of Josh Gravens — who, like Josh Duggar, was from a conservative Christian homeschooling family, with parents who turned to their church after learning their 13-year-old inappropriately touched his younger sisters.
In Gravens’ case, the church reported him to police, and he was sent to prison for over three years. Released at 17, Gravens then spent a decade on the public sex-offender registry. Today, at 28, he has never re-offended. Yet he is still required to update police when moving, and is now facing up to 25 years in prison — for registering a new address a week late.
As a researcher trying to understand widespread and exaggerated fears of sex offenders, I have a different perspective than those enraged at the Duggars for not turning to law enforcement or therapists (many counselors are mandated reporters, like the Christian counselor who reported Gravens to police).
While most express disbelief and anger about the response of the Duggars, I understand why they bent over backward to keep their son from being chewed up by the cops and courts.
Sex offenses, it’s crucial to understand, aren’t just predatory acts involving young children. About one-third of child sex abusers are minors. Fewer than 10% involve stranger perpetrators. Sex offenses can include statutory rape, Romeo-and-Juliet scenarios, teenage consensual sex, prostitution-related crimes and indecent exposure. Most sex offenders I interviewed were older men caught with adolescent girls — non-violent, but legally non-consensual.
Yet the registry treats all offenders as permanent threats to young children, regardless of the victim’s age or the perpetrator’s potential for rehabilitation.
Then there’s the societal shaming. Offenders also become constant targets for public vitriol; since the incident, Duggar has been called a serial sexual predator, a pedophile and a child rapist. He’s been told he has ruined the lives of his sisters forever.
Others invoke the language of sin and evil, calling sex offenders trash to be discarded lest they sin again. To these people, Josh Duggar ought to be permanently banished from society and kept away from all children (including his own).
These responses are not based on evidence. Research shows that sex-offender rehabilitation is possible. Treatment works. Recidivism rates are low.
We need sane sex offender policies, where abuse is taken seriously and abusers are punished rationally, not subject to blacklisting and pitchforks.
Instead, we’re blinded by hysteria. Merely debating whether people should be allowed to move on after being punished for a sex offense is often now viewed as evidence that one doesn’t care about protecting children or victims.
Sadly, even those engaged in the growing movement for criminal-justice reform generally exclude sex offenders from the conversation.
Extraordinarily harsh policies discourage families dealing with sex abuse from seeking help — hurting the very children these rules are intended to help. If we truly want to stop sexual abuse, our sex offender witch-hunt needs to end.