OPINION: Duggar scandal can bring focus to sex abuse

By Teresa C. Younger
Daily Record
May 31, 2015

Kris Connor, Getty ImagesJosh Duggar at CPAC in February. NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 28: Josh Duggar speaks during the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center on February 28, 2015 in National Harbor, Maryland. Conservative activists attended the annual political conference to discuss their agenda.

In the aftermath of revelations about child sexual abuse reportedly committed by Josh Duggar, many questions remain unanswered. Why was Josh Duggar able to abuse five girls, some even after members of his family and church community were aware of allegations against him? Why did police officials fail to charge Josh when Jim Bob Duggar finally turned in his son? What happened to the children who were sexually abused?

Child sexual abuse happens far beyond the confines of made-for-TV families. All too often, victims are left unprotected and without qualified counseling to help them recover. Too often their abusers remain free to continue the abuse.

Many are especially angered by this case because the Duggars have been outspoken critics of same-sex marriage and women’s reproductive rights. The Duggars want the government more involved in women’s and LGBT people’s lives while they worked to thwart legitimate government involvement in their own lives.

The hypocrisy is palpable.

We know that survivors of sexual abuse can suffer into adulthood, especially if they do not receive adequate support. Girls who are sexually abused are more likely to be diagnosed with eating disorders and more than twice as likely to have a teen pregnancy. We are concerned about what sort of treatment and support Duggar’s victims are receiving, given the inappropriate response to the allegations.

Child sexual abuse is embedded in many social issues facing families and communities. This case underscores the need for systemic change in the way we address — or fail to act upon — allegations. Yet, with the exception of high-profile cases, there is little national coverage — and too little thoughtful, public discourse — about child sexual abuse. Media attention disappears when a criminal trial ends, but the suffering left behind by abusers never really ends.

The only real justice is prevention. We need community, institutional and individual leadership to make abuse into a national priority. Those leaders need to speak out against abuse and adopt policies and practices that protect children. Imagine if every place where children live, play and learn implemented child sexual abuse prevention policies and protocols. If the Duggars’ church had a formal policy on child sexual abuse and lived up to it, events would have, almost certainly, been better handled .

We have public service announcements encouraging that “if you see something, say something” — in an effort to prevent acts of terrorism. If you think that a suitcase under a seat on a train could be a bomb, you know it is your obligation to speak up. Why don’t we have the same sense of communal responsibility for the safety of children?

Prevention is possible. We need to support the organizations and individuals working to design and implement innovative and practical approaches to prevention that will ignite lasting cultural change. We must engage survivors of child sexual abuse, communities of color and disability rights activists to ensure that diverse voices and perspectives are driving the change toward ending abuse.

The Ms. Foundation is calling upon TLC to partner with child sexual abuse prevention advocates to launch a public education campaign on the same scale as the network’s relentless marketing of the Duggar family. Regardless of whether the network cancels the Duggars’ show or not, TLC can and must help empower every person who knows of or suspects child sexual abuse to take action.

Today’s headlines offer us the chance to refocus public attention on what to do if you know or suspect a child is being abused — even in your own home or family. We cannot afford to waste that opportunity. We hope that TLC will use the same platform it gave to the Duggars to help protect children.


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