May 23, 2015

By now, we’ve all read about Josh Duggar and how TLC has pulled the show 19 Kids and Counting from the air. I’ve read the blogs, articles and posts on all sides, and I am troubled by the whole thing. Though not an avid fan of the show, I caught it a few times and actually thought it was kind of cute. Okay, I told myself. So these folks are a bit quirky and definitely don’t raise their kids they way I would, but if they choose to wear jean skirts, have a quiver full of kids and homeschool them all, who am I to fault them? They can do what they want. They seemed a bit too “perfect” on the outside, never arguing, the kids cheerfully doing their chores, obeying without question. It did seem a bit fishy, and I wondered, with all those kids, if it was possible to raise them all without anyone going astray. They are, after all, only human.
I am certainly not one throwing stones or cheering because the show has been pulled. I feel for the Duggars, I really do. No one wants to be put in the limelight like this. I can imagine the devastation, the humiliation as the tabloids go to print. Their bubble world has been rocked, and now all eyes are on them. And though I don’t agree with many of their conservative stances, I don’t think the Duggars are bad folks. But I do think the way they handled their son’s abuse was terribly, terribly wrong.
Let’s begin with the facts. Josh Duggar molested several young girls. Allegedly, a few of those girls were his sisters, one under the age of 5. Some have cried out in his defense, claiming this was typical teenage boy stuff, a simple mistake, hormones gone awry, a repressed kid who couldn’t control himself.  But I can assure you, this is more than that. Sexual abuse comes in many forms, but it must be called out for what it is – abuse. It is not a mistake, an “oopsie” or a thing to be brushed under the rug. It is real, it is bad, it is pre-meditated. And its consequences are many. It is a big deal.
As a writer, I’ve written countless stories about victims of sexual abuse. Many were abused by relatives – a grandfather, an uncle, a brother. Some were abused by a neighbor they trusted. Still others were abused by a member of the church – an elder, a pastor. In a few cases, the abuser was the father who happened to be an elder. I’ll let that sink in for you for a moment.
After speaking to these victims, I can reiterate several common denominators. One, most thought it was somehow their fault, that they had somehow initiated the abuse, even though this was obviously not the case. Two, most were told to never tell anyone. Some were threatened with physical punishment.  Some were bribed. Three, many spent years NOT telling anyone, keeping their dark, horrible, painful secret to themselves. I can assure you this is the worst sort of pain, hiding a secret you are too afraid to share. It eats at you, like a cancer, tearing your insides and outsides apart. If not dealt with, this secret manifests itself in many ways. Statistics show that victims of abuse who do not get proper therapy wind up acting out in a variety of ways – sexual promiscuity, eating disorders, drugs, alcohol or anything else they can grasp onto. These things are the result of pain not dealt with. It always bleeds through, one way or another. Sexual abuse robs victims of their innocence, leaves them confused, and worst of all, often leaves them silenced. It is devastating on all levels.
Over the years, I’ve known several friends who were victims of sexual abuse.  In my home town growing up, in the very churches I faithfully attended each week, it happened too. Sadly, many victims did try to speak out to their parents, friends or members of their church, but they were quietly shushed. Some were accused of fabricating tales. A few were shamed, made to feel as if somehow it was all their fault. They were made to believe that their abuse was not a big deal. They were dismissed. They were not SEEN or HEARD.
And so they carried that bag of pain for years, some acting out on it, some stuffing it away. But it did not go away. Like the folks in the stories I written, the pain ate at them until it became unbearable, ruining their marriages, their bodies, their hearts and their lives. It nearly destroyed some of them.
After reading several conservative blogs, I am appalled at some of the responses to the Duggar scandal. Many have come to his defense, shaming TLC for pulling the plug on the show. Josh is sorry, they say. Now leave him alone and let him get on with his life. He feels very bad about the whole thing. We’re making a really big deal out of this, gleefully throwing stones because we were just waiting for a family like that to screw up. We really should get over our prideful selves and take a look in the mirror, because we are all sinners too.
Some of this may be true, but I assure you – it is not enough. Josh’s abuse cannot be brushed under the rug. It must be addressed. The fact the family waited so long to act, not telling anyone, not going to the authorities, is extremely appalling. I have friends who have had to turn their own children in to the authorities, and they can assure you that it is the most heart wrenching pain a parent will ever endure. But they did it, to protect others, because it was the RIGHT thing to do. The LAWFUL thing. The MORAL thing.
I’m tired of stories like these. I’m tired of flipping on the news, only to discover that yet another celebrity, another pastor, another political figure, has taken victims of sexual abuse. My heart breaks for it all – for the victims, for the injustice. I’m tired of churches slapping folks on the wrist and letting them slide, turning the other way, ignoring the pain, pretending it didn’t happen, shrugging it off, minimizing the abuse. Most of all, I’m tired of victims not being seen. For I believe that the most important thing in life is to be seen, for our stories to be told. And if we cannot tell them, then what? If we must ache alone, if we cannot trust the ones we love the most, if we cannot speak up, where do we go from there?
Here’s what I wish. I wish that Josh Duggar would get help – real, professional help, the help I suspect he has not gotten because of his parents’ beliefs. Next, I wish his victims would get the help they need as well – real, professional help, where they can pour out their stories and be seen and heard. Next, I wish that no victim will be unseen or unheard again. I wish, and pray, that they will be able to tell their stories, bravely, even if their voices shake as they do. I wish that they will not feel alone, that they will feel loved and surrounded and held. But above all, I wish that someday, there would be no more stories to be told, because this sort of abuse will come to an end. This may be the most far-fetched wish of all, but I wish it all the same.
If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, there is help. I know, because I know many folks who’ve gotten help. If you’ve never told your story before, you can start now. It deserves to be heard. Start by telling someone you trust. Talk to a professional. Check out blogs like Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE). You will find you are not alone. You will start breathing a bit more easily. You will find life again. And that bag of pain you’ve been carrying around will slowly come off. There is hope on the other side. But it starts by being seen and heard.

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