Before I start, I offer this disclaimer: I have only ever seen a few episodes of their TLC show and I don't have strong opinions about the family in general. I am Christian but I don't necessarily agree with their politics or their specific belief system, and they likely do not agree with mine.
The world is talking about Josh Duggar and his sins (the ones we know about anyway) and his victims (again, the ones we know about). Some stand in support of Josh and his parents and their decisions, and many are appalled at the cover up and the apparent lack of help provided to the victims. I'm hearing a lot of judgment and not much compassion for an awful, awful situation, for any of the parties involved (parents, Josh, victims).
Since the story broke, I've been fighting with myself about whether to say anything about my story or not. I finally decided to break the silence, in the hope of helping some of those who are so judgmental (on either side of the issue) understand there is so much more here than Josh OR his victims OR their parents seemingly choosing their son over their daughters. It is ALL of them and so much more.
*taking a deep breath and hoping I don't puke when I hit publish*
Thirty-something years ago, I was the victim of child-on-child molestation. I had two different perpetrators in my childhood, one related to me and one not related to me. It actually happened over a few years, in two different states. My parents had no idea any of this happened at the time, and until I hit publish on this thing, I'm not even sure my dad was ever told about any of the sexual abuse I suffered as a child. I don't know where the non-relative ended up in life, but I do know where the relative is.
Here's the thing:
This relative has apologized to their victims and done what the perpetrator felt necessary to make things right. They have gone on to have a productive life and sought counseling as an adult. I firmly believe that the children born to this person are in no danger of sexual abuse from their parent. [edit: I don't believe any child is in danger from this person, but the focus has been on Josh and his children and whether they are in danger, so that is what I focused on while writing this piece.]
Like my relative, Josh apologized to his victims. Whether you agree with his politics or not, he has a job, he provides for his family, and he has done what he felt necessary to move on with his life. Maybe he still needs counseling, but he has tried to own up to his sins.
Here's the other thing:
As an adult, THIRTY YEARS LATER, this past abuse still has affected me. I have been through a LOT of therapy over the years, and the trauma was still there. It affected my relationship with my abuser, during every interaction we had. I didn't know why I was so angry at that person, because they did apologize at some point in my adulthood and I did forgive them, but the trauma was STILL there. Thirty-something years later.
Because forgiveness doesn't mean the past is erased or that the hurt is gone, or that you trust them and feel safe with them. All it means is that you are *willing* to cease to feel resentment against your offender -- it doesn't mean that happens overnight or anything else we sometimes think forgiveness means. (Someday soon, I'll post about why forgiveness and trust are separate issues.)
When you believe you have forgiven someone who has hurt you so undeniably and indescribably, it is absolutely devastating to wake up one day and realize that the things someone did to you so long ago are still affecting your sexuality and your decisions and the way you respond to your spouse both in and out of the bedroom and the way you interact with and interpret the world.
One of the difficulties with child-on-child familial sexual abuse lies in the fact that the family still loves both the perpetrator and the victim and wants everyone to be happy and together. And sometimes it's hard to see what to do when you love both of those people so much.
However, expecting the victim to have a relationship with their perpetrator can cause more problems than people realize ... problems for both the victim and the perpetrator, because the relationship is so complex, so incomprehensible, and can be so destructive, even if that is not the way either party wishes it could be. And continuing that relationship is something that my abuser expected of me for years, until I finally cracked and walked away.
Oftentimes, the family pushes the issue of continuing the relationship for the sake of convenience and "keeping the peace." The Duggar parents' decision to keep law enforcement out of it necessitated Josh's victims seeing him every day, and gave him opportunities to continue the abuse. They eventually sent him away for several months, although personally I don't think that would have been long enough, especially without intensive therapy for Josh AND all of his victims. However, it did give them a break from seeing their abuser every day.
In the process of walking away, I hurt my abuser, too. Not something I'm proud of. But the distance has been absolutely necessary for my sanity.
I've been in therapy for a long time now, with an amazing therapist. I'm not ready to face my abuser yet, and they aren't ready to deal with me either. And that's totally OK. We may never have a relationship again. Or, someday, both of us might get to a point where we can talk and move past our trauma. Either way really is OK.
The Duggar girls ... I would hope that, at this point, they have the freedom to set the parameters of whatever relationship they have with Josh, whether that means they have no relationship or there is distance or what have you. Because it really needs to be on their terms in order for them to feel safe and heal.
I'm not posting this story to single out my abuser or embarrass anyone.
I'm posting this because I believe that the Duggar parents love their daughters just as much as they still love their son, just as my family still loves me and my abuser.
The Duggars were faced with a tragic situation and they made the decisions they felt were best, even if a large portion of the rest of the world disagrees with their decisions. From everything I've heard, his therapy and his victims' therapy was likely woefully inadequate. I sincerely hope that Josh is at a place in his life where his children are safe. It is completely and entirely possible, especially since he confessed to his wife long before they even got married. If he was still harboring intent to harm, he likely would have kept it a secret.
So yes. I have something in common with the Duggars: The girls who were Josh's victims. I am 100% sure they still love their brother just as I still love my relative. I am also certain the hurt isn't gone, not completely. The pain may be simmering beneath the surface, and they may not even be aware it exists. I hope the girls do seek out the counseling and therapy they are going to need throughout their lives, and I hope that they are able to release the trauma before it explodes and before 30 years have passed. And if not, I hope they are able to be strong enough to take the steps necessary for them to heal and that their family supports their decisions, because they are all going to need love, support, compassion, and empathy ... even Josh.