4 Lessons We Can Learn From The Duggars

My stomach continues to churn as I read report after report about reality star Josh Duggar’s admission of child molestation. Even more disappointing are the facts coming out about the adults in his life who failed to respond as they should.

Allow me to first acknowledge that any parent whose child admits to committing a crime of any type experiences a range of emotions from anger to disappointment to wanting to correct the child while at the same time protect him/her from repercussions of the act(s). While I have no first-hand vision into the Duggar’s lives, I would bet this is just what Josh’s parents Jim Bobb and Michelle were thinking… however, they failed to notify authorities for a year after learning about Josh’s acts. During that time, he molested again.

So, what can we learn from the Duggars? Here are 4 lessons for every family in this all-too-real-life story.

Lesson #1: The Law Says…

In many states (including my home state of Indiana), any adult who suspects or is aware that a child is being abused is REQUIRED to report that suspicion to authorities. Federal statute addressing child sexual abuse predominantly hands authority back to individual states and provinces.

I checked Arkansas’ (the Duggar’s home state) mandated reporting statute... apparently, it does NOT require anyone having knowledge about or suspicion of child abuse to report it. There is a list, though, of mandated reporters including teachers and clergy. My question in the Duggar case is, if these children were home schooled, didn’t the parents qualify as “teachers” and weren’t they then bound by mandated reporting requirements? The Duggars are also the parents of multiple alleged victims in this case. Was it ‘enough’ to get just counseling for them on the side?

Lesson #2: What is normal sex play?

It’s natural for children to become curious about their own sexuality and the sexuality of the opposite, or even same gender. “Ask Dr. Sears” offers a terrific explanation of genital play and what is normal vs. deviant behavior. This website states that many children are “…more interested in satisfying curiosity than in sexual arousal. You can tell innocent sexual curiosity from deviant sexual behavior by these characteristics. Innocent acts are occurring when…”

  • Children are young (under age seven), close in age, and know each other.
  • There is mutual agreement; one child is not forcing the other.
  • There is usually a game-like atmosphere: playing “doctor” or “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
  • Secrecy is part of the game. As if sensing their parents would disapprove, children retreat into a bedroom, garage, or a private place. (This is true for deviant acts as well.) ~Source: Ask Dr. SearsAs a side note, children who are sexually abused sometimes act like they are asleep when they are in fact awake during an assault. It’s a response similar to that of a small animal who is attacked and “plays dead”, hoping its hunter will leave it alone and go away. Josh’s victims could have very well been aware of what was happening to them at the time of the molestations.Lesson #3: Protecting Child VictimsA child who commits a crime isn’t a bad person that society should just write-off, send to juvy and hope for the best. Rather, it’s a child who needs intervention, guidance and help. In my experience as a child forensic interviewer, child perpetrators often abuse because they themselves were victimized in some way. That victimization can come in many forms including being a victim of sexual molestation themselves or even witnessing adult sexual behavior/acts which can include viewing videos or photographs that are not age appropriate.
  • In a study by Johnson, TC (1988), “children (who) had been treated in a program especially designed for child perpetrators at Children’s Institute International in Los Angeles” were interviewed and data collected. Findings noted in the abstract of this research included:
  • No family is perfect. But families where any form of abuse exists require intervention… especially, for children in the home. According to data shared by the National Children’s Alliance in 2014, nearly 1 in 5 (18.9%) perpetrators of child abuse were under the age of 18. Many of those were family members, siblings or friends who had ready access to their child victims. When sexual abuse allegations are substantiated among siblings, safety plans should be put in place and monitored by an outside organization or agency that specializes in the safety and protection of children. Again, I don’t have first-hand insight into the Duggar case, but from what I’ve read, it doesn’t appear that necessary safety measures were implemented.
  • Children who engage in deviant acts must receive professional intervention, not just a “stern talking to” or ‘punishment’ of physical labor to ‘work it out of their system’. This is a primary reason people need to report abuse. Depending on the circumstances, authorities aren’t out to put a kid in jail — instead, they want to intervene to help and be sure the child’s issues are addressed so they don’t perpetrate again.
  • What isn’t acceptable is when a child, tween or teen coerces or forces another child into a sexual act, one example being fondling a victim who is sleeping, as cited in the Duggar case.
  • 49% of the male child perpetrators had been sexually abused themselves
  • 19% had been physically abused
  • The children all knew the people who victimized them
  • The male child perpetrators all knew the children they molested; in 47% of the cases the sexual abuse was of a siblingIn a separate study conducted by Gray/Pithers (1999), “…more than half of the children engaging in developmentally unexpected sexual behaviors had been abused both sexually and physically by more than two different perpetrators.” Lesson #4: We MUST TALK ABOUT IT!For tips on talking with younger children about body safety and sexual abuse prevention, see “4 Easy Ways to Teach Body Safety to Children.
  • For older kids, tweens and teens, parental messaging is very important. Kids are being bombarded by all sorts of hyper sexual messaging from advertisements, social media, television and even every-day life at school. Believe it or not, YOU can have an impact, but need to continue delivering sound-bite messaging to your kids and take time out to have conversations with them about sex and relationships. Key points every tween and teen need to know include (but are certainly not limited to):
  • I may sound like a broken record, but jeesh… we MUST talk about this stuff with our kids! Keeping kids of any age in the dark about sexual abuse prevention, is a gross act of negligence. Treating sex as a bad or dirty thing only drives curiosity and even fear in children. The first step is that we adults gotta get comfortable talking about it! If we treat the topic of sex or body safety as taboo or scary, that will definitely rub off on our kids. Curiosity about sex is only natural. The more we openly address sex and relationships in an age-appropriate fashion, the better equipped our kids will be to adapt as they grow and evolve.
  • While not all children or teens who molest other children are victims of abuse, there comes a point when they truly are “old enough to know better”. Most often, sexual abuse occurs in private where the victim is isolated or the abuse happens in secret. Tweens and definitely teens should know the basics of body safety and physical boundaries… teenagers the age that Josh Duggar was at the time of the alleged incidents, definitely fall into this category (an exception might be a teen with a developmental delay or disability).
  • The study’s abstract goes on to state, “There was a history of sexual and physical abuse in the majority of the families of these children, as well as a history of substance abuse.”
  1. Discuss sex and the physiology of sex.I’m amazed at how different kids view sex at different ages. I’ve conducted forensic interviews where children believed they had “sex” because they kissed someone; others have touched genitals and thought that constituted sex. Again, the conversation should evolve as your child gets older, but making yourself available to talk with your child (without freaking out) is a pretty big deal. WebMD offers a terrific point… you should start talking to your kid about the birds and the bees earlier than you might think. 
  2. Address relationships, love and sex from a positive perspective. orgmakes an awesome point of not just talking about the “don’t, don’t, don’ts… talk about the do’s, too”. Again, if your kids think that YOU think sex is dirty, nasty or totally unacceptable, you may as well shut the door. Kids naturally have curiosity and questions; wouldn’t you rather have an open-door policy with your child to discuss this as opposed to having him/her seek information from friends who may not inform your child in the manner you wish with the values you support? So, take a deep breath, remember it’s natural, and talk with your child as openly and as positively as you can.
  3. Reinforce that “no means no” and that it is NEVER acceptable to fondle or molest another person.Be sure your kids KNOW and understand that this behavior is viewed as coercive or forcible and is actually against the law. Also be sure your kids understand the legal age of consent, which varies state by state here in the U.S. They should also know what to do in the event someone ever molests, threatens or intimidates them in any way… AND that after they resist or tell the perpetrator NO!, they need to immediately tell YOU or another trusted adult so you can take action. For next steps, see “7 Step Response to Child Abuse Disclosure.”
  4. Utilize other adults in your child’s life to have these conversations!Sometimes it’s easier for kids to talk about relationships and sex with people other than their parents… they feel less judged or apt to get in trouble for being honest about their feelings or questions. Ask yourself, who are the influential, trusted adults in your child’s life? Collaborate with them to have these conversations with your kids! Don’t feel like this has to be 100% on you… that’s what friends and family are for. It really does take a village, ya know.
  5. Ensure all adults in organized groups with which your child is associated has been through child abuse prevention training.I can’t over emphasize the importance of this… awareness and consciousness is key. Unless we adults know what to look for, there’s no way we can adequately protect children in our care. One fabulous national program that can assist with this training is Darkness To Light’s Stewards of Children program. This 2.5 hour training combines real-life stories of survivors who share their very personal accounts of abuse, along with facilitated discussion of ways to incorporate child abuse prevention processes and systems in organizations that work with children. Learn more about Stewards of Children and offering it to groups with whom you are associated, including schools, clubs, church groups, camps, day care and after school programs.
  6. Know the 9 key warning signs of child sexual abuse. 73% of children who are sexually abused don’t disclose their abuse for at least one year; 45% don’t disclose for another five years and still others never tell anyone of their abuse. In order to protect the children we love, it’s vital to know the 9 warning signs of sexual abusein children. You can download a quick reference guide of these 9 warning signs


Com’on parents… YOU CAN DO THIS!

When events like the Josh Duggar story happen, we are provided an opportunity to examine our own lives and family processes. This is a reminder to all of us to maintain an open environment in our homes where our kids can come talk to us about anything! YOU have the power to make this happen. YOU really can help protect your children by opening up and talking about sexual abuse prevention, respect in relationships, love and sex itself. Our kids know more than we often think they do, but we need to be there to answer questions, offer direction and fill in the gaps.




Chance-and-GK-2013-04-26About Ginger

Working to improve the world one child at a time, Ginger has made it her life mission to raise awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger regularly blogs about child protection issues and has released a report for parents and other caring adults, “10 Scary Apps.” Ginger can be contacted via her website “Ginger Kadlec: BeAKidsHero™” at BeAKidsHero.com or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/gingergkadlec.

You can also connect with Ginger via other social media at:

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