The headlines just won’t quit about the Duggars. Seriously, it is like 19 and counting- The updated version! I have started and stopped writing this piece dozens of times. Every time I think my thoughts are no longer relevant enough to post, a new secret makes rounds and I am back to the keyboard.
And now this?
There are so many levels of wrong when it comes to Duggar family. So many shitty messages to victims of sexual abuse, so many examples of screwed up dysfunctional parenting, so much hypocritical posturing about family values, so many tacks for a blogger to take. And now they think they are somehow qualified to counsel victims of incest? After sweeping the secrets under the rug?
It has been difficult to choose how to tackle this one. Sit down in a middle seat between two other women, look to the left of you, look to the right of you, one of you have experienced incest or sexual abuse. I don’t sugar coat the shit that happens, and I encourage others to attack the issues in family lives straight on. It isn’t easy, my house has been on fire at times, no family’s shit smells like roses, and the more we break the stigma and reach out the better our world will become.
The safer our world will become for everyone’s children.
We are living and raising our children in a world where we often feel the walls closing in from all different angles. Truth is, sexual abuse isn’t any more prevalent now than before, our communities are just more aware because media is so readily available. Really bad shit is happening to women and children. I have been chewing (figuratively, of course) on the Duggar Family for weeks now, ever since the news of incest and molestation within the family came out.
Beyond my obvious personal disgust and outrage about a family cover up and the holier than thou attitude, I have bigger things to suggest we talk about. Let’s talk about and become informed advocates for sexual safety. Shine the light on the darkness of sexual abuse; the causes of and the effects on our communities. Don’t pretend there are no significant effects on our community when we keep dirty little secrets, ignore the truths and generally just wait around until things happen. Abuse only happens once if you catch it the first time.
Our current system is mostly reactive. I suggest proactive stance on healthy sexual development and breaking the stigma of reporting. Stop the blame game. Of course as parents and caregivers, we ourselves must first be sexually healthy and able to talk the talk in order to do away with naivete and modesty which leads to secret keeping and shaming victims. Don’t forget sexual abuse happens throughout all socio economic groups and in all cultures, no one is immune and the more insular and isolated a family or community is, the fewer people there are for victims to reach out to for help.
1. TALK, TALK, TALK and then TALK some more.
Start basic and get more advanced as your children age. If you never talk to your child about sex in a low intensity matter of fact way, including information about power differentials as they get older, how will they ever understand the act of consent? Use really technical terms when talking to your children. Come on, just say it… vagina, penis, erection, masturbation. Then tell them about appropriateness of time and place. Grow up! Help your children understand what healthy sex and love making is. When age appropriate or if the need arises help your children understand how pornography depicts women. Open the doors so your children will come to you if someone makes them feel icky or they hear or see something they think is not right. And make sure your child knows that no one should ever tell them to keep a secret.
2. Support Professional Treatment of Mental Illness.
If your child is depressed, having suicidal thoughts, inappropriately acting out sex acts for their developmental age or showing other signs of mental illness; contact a professional and get services right away. This needs to be done whether you think concerning behaviors are due to naturally occurring illness, pressure to succeed, transitional life issues, episodic or ongoing abuse or trauma. Thoughtful professional help may prevent long lasting health effects including self medicating drug or alcohol addiction, debilitating clinical depression or life long difficulties with intimate relationships. There is also significant research about Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) pointing towards long lasting physical health effects, including intergenerational transmission.
3. Understand what constitutes abuse and NEVER downplay your child’s discomfort.
A child’s discomfort is the best protection they have, it is their very own warning system. Downplaying or making your child be kind to someone they are uncomfortable with you undercut the self protection programmed into their personal warning systems. Tell Uncle Harry or Aunt Mary to back off your kid needs space. Knowing you care about their personal space opens the door to talking about feelings.
4. Make a report to Child Protective Services if you have concerns.
It is scary, I know, but remember professionals exist who deal with these matters every day. Trying to handle this on your own ultimately can put both victim and perpetrator at more risk. Often the perpetrator is also or has been a victim and is acting out their own experience of abuse. If it is a youthful offender you may support their treatment through opening up a case. Opening up to inspection by professionals may be painful, but ultimately can provide the services needed to fully support your own or another family through such a traumatic situation. A private therapist can also assist with such a report if additional support feels warranted.
5. Protect the children at risk of traumatic and toxic stress first.
Use the most non-invasive but significant way possible to make sure victims are protected and heard with an emphasis on keeping them empowered. Victims are vulnerable both physically and emotionally. Toxic stress is a significant health risk
6. Remember: you become part of the problem, if you look the other way, or somehow protect an abuser or possible abuser.
Dirty little secrets do not a problem solve. Dirty little secrets contribute to a cycle of abuse and victimization, whether by allowing an abuser to move on to other victims, or continue to victimize the victim by not fully acknowledging the abuse through professional means. Family, friends and clergy are not the full answer.