Sexual abuse victims need understanding, not outrage, June 7, 2015
By Michael Crawford
The Josh Duggar case continues to unfold and to shock people across the country. News stories, opinions and outrage dissect the Duggar family’s attitudes toward sex, their worldviews and how they contributed both to Josh Duggar’s actions and to shielding him from legal accountability while keeping his victims silent.
The truth is while the circumstances surrounding Duggar and his victims may have contributed to the abuse, people who commit sex offenses and survivors of sexual abuse don’t need extraordinary factors to keep these crimes hidden. Our collective societal reactions often unintentionally help to do just that.
In 2002, Duggar’s father, Jim Bob, stated during his run for the U.S. Senate that “rape and incest represent heinous crimes and as such should be treated as capital crimes.” It is easy to hold these views, to label individuals who offend as “predators” and “monsters” while the reality is they are often brothers, fathers, sons and friends.
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar had an obligation to report the abuse that was happening in their home and to ensure that their son did not present an ongoing risk to others. It is difficult to accept that more than 80 percent of people who commit sexual assault are known to the victim. Despite this, most of the current policy is focused on preventing sexual violence committed by strangers.
We don’t support or acknowledge victims grappling with shame, confusion, love for the perpetrator and guilt.
We don’t want to view this through the eyes of children who are afraid they will break up their families if they take action to make the abuse to stop.
We don’t want to accept the real human actors and emotions that accompany these situations; we seem only capable of labeling them as inhuman crimes committed by inhumane people.
Society has created an expectation that once someone has committed a sex offense he or she should be hated, but this attitude leaves little room for victims to come forward.
Sometimes, a victim’s experience is, “I want the abuse to stop, I want the abuser to be accountable for his actions, but I care for this person, and I’m afraid people will try to make me hate him.”
There are few resources that will provide help for the victim and intervention outside of the criminal justice system. Insisting on all-or-nothing intervention creates barriers to holding offenders accountable and to survivors’ healing.
We have to accept that there are as many different experiences as there are survivors. We have to accept that child sexual abuse, especially within the family circle, isn’t unique to wealthy, religious, home-schooled people on TV; it’s experienced by hundreds of thousands of families across the country.
While it appears the Duggars’ wealth, privilege and political power allowed them to circumvent the justice system, other families confronting sexual abuse within their homes face an unfathomable crisis, limited resources and the reality of never knowing if the decisions they’ll make are the right ones.
With limited opportunity for people concerned about the sexual behavior of another to reach out for treatment and intervention services before being brought into our criminal justice system, parents are forced to report their child to law enforcement or keep the rest of their family at risk of further harm.
The criminal justice system is an essential component of community safety and it is imperative that individuals who cause sexual harm are held accountable for their behaviors. However, current policies — for example, mandatory minimum sentencing, community notification and community registration — tend to be inflexible, and punishments for adults now are broadly applied to youth, though research shows that not only are these policies ineffective in reducing reoffending, they can unintentionally raise an individual’s risk of reoffending.
Research findings indicate rehabilitative efforts with most youth are effective and therapeutic interventions, rather than social control strategies, are likely to be more successful in preventing future sexual abuse. They are cost-effective as well.
As a society, we must invest in public policy strategies that provide for the needs of people who have been victimized. Policies must offer effective interventions to prevent sexual reoffending and hold those who have caused sexual harm accountable for their behaviors.
Most people do not have the social, financial and political privilege of the Duggar family and so children are often faced with social and legal consequences that impact the rest of their lives and make it more difficult to realize their potential to lead an offense-free life.
Victims of sexual abuse need us to make room for their emotions, even when they include love, concern or confusion about the offender. Until we do, we are contributing to an environment that unintentionally silences them.
Our outrage does not offer support to the many thousands of victims who love the person who has harmed them and simply want the abuse to stop.
Michael Crawford is a communications assistant for the
Coalition Against Rape. Pennsylvania