Lessons About Sexual Abuse We Can Learn From the Duggars

Duggar Family
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News that Josh Duggar, one of the stars of the TLC reality series 19 Kids and Counting, has admitted to molesting his younger sisters has led to ongoing debate about how something like this could happen. Josh’s parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, have been scrutinized by the media for their reaction – or lack thereof – to discovering their teenage son was molesting his younger sisters. It’s left many fans of the show questioning their behavior.

There has certainly been some supporters of the Duggars, who have said the family likely did the best they could with what they knew at the time. No matter which side of the fence you fall on, here are five things all parents can learn from the sad case of the Duggars:

1. Sibling Abuse Can Happen

The Duggar family had several risk factors that increased the chances that sexual abuse could occur in their home. For example, the older children often took on responsibility for caring for younger children. This dynamic increases the risk that older children will engage in inappropriate sexual touching.

Although no parent wants to imagine sexual abuse between siblings, it does happen. A 2002 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that at least 2.3% of children have been victimized by a sibling. Although it can happen in almost any home, parents should be aware of the risk factors that make sexual abuse between siblings more likely to occur.

Reducing the risk can prevent sexual abuse before it starts.

2. Kids Need Education About their Bodies

In an interview with Fox News, Josh’s father Jim Bob recalled, “He was just curious about girls, and he had gone in and basically just touched them over their clothes while they were sleeping.” In the same interview, Josh’s mother Michelle explained that his sisters were too young to know that what their brother was doing to them was wrong.

Kids need appropriate education about their bodies, sexuality, and good versus bad touches. A young child who can use the appropriate terminology for anatomy is much less likely to be abused. Studies show that children who are given education about healthy boundaries are six to seven times more likely to exhibit protective behavior that can prevent sexual abuse. Similarly, a child who is given facts about puberty and sexuality is less likely to satisfy sexual curiosity in an inappropriate manner.

3. Offenders Require Specialized Treatment

When the Duggar parents first learned of their teenage son’s sexual acting out, they didn’t seek help. Instead, they tried to deal with the issue at home. Jim Bob told the media he took Josh to work with him and they punished him at home.

While two four year olds playing doctor on one occasion isn’t likely to require treatment, an older child behaving in a sexually aggressive manner is a serious offense. It’s important for parents to recognize that sexualized behavior problems require specialized treatment. Studies show that long-term specialized treatment can be very effective in reducing problem sexual behavior. f you’re not sure if your child’s behavior is normal, seek professional help or talk to your child’s doctor.

4. A Safety Plan is Essential

After becoming aware of the sexual abuse, the Duggars reported, “keeping an eye on Josh,” but their efforts were ineffective. They were made aware of at least two more incidents of inappropriate sexual contact. They weren’t able to keep their daughters safe in the home.

If one child exhibits sexualized behavior problems, parents need to work with a professional to create a safety plan. Depending on the situation, a safety plan may require an offender to leave the home while undergoing treatment. At the very least, a safety plan should prevent any further incidents of abuse, which may require putting alarms on doors and never allowing children to be unsupervised.

5. Victims Need Immediate Support

Two of the Duggar females who were identified as victims in this case, told Extra that the whole family received counseling with a trained mental health professional. The timeline of when the victims received counseling is unclear.

It’s important to provide immediate support to children who have been victims of sexual abuse. A child may need a physical exam, as well as an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. Showing a child that you take the issue seriously, that you believe the abuse happened, and that you're going to take action can help prevent potential long-term problems that can stem from sexual abuse.

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