A popular celebrity publication, In Touch Weekly, exposed a family secret last week hidden for over a decade by the popular reality television family, the Duggars, who star in TLC’s long-running “19 Kids and Counting”. Josh Duggar, 27, eldest male member of a family known for their televised and strong Christian views, confirmed an uncovered police report from 2008 detailing his sexual molestation of multiple girls, a number that includes his own sisters.
Amidst the publicized events that followed in quick succession, including Josh Duggar’s statement of apology as well as criticism for TLC airing episodes of the reality show after the report, news outlets and social media have blasted judgments and criticism of a family that has long been healing from a trauma in what appears to be a spirit of discretion and religious devotion. Outrage and confusion have colored online and offline remarks, punctuated by minimal objective explanation and understanding of Josh Duggar’s behavior, his family’s response to it and the underlying mechanisms producing associated public reactions to both.
19 Kids and Counting
On TLC’s televised reality series “19 Kids and Counting”, the Duggars have been documented living their lives together in Arkansas as a family committed to their purported strong family values and devout Christian views. Seasons of the show have come and gone with ongoing expansion to the family’s number of children, after the mother and father, Michelle Duggar and Jim Bob Duggar, made a conscious decision at one point to allow God to determine the number of children they would raise together. It was a spiritual response to a significant event, when Michelle Duggar experienced a miscarriage that they believe was the result of the use of oral contraception, which she discontinued following their commitment to growing their family.
Along with the allegations of sexual molestation have come questioning and examination regarding the Duggars’ functioning as a family unit, and whether it played a part in the relationships that manifested between Josh Duggar and his sisters. Both of the Duggar parents have encouraged and reinforced a buddy system in their family, which older and younger members have followed, implemented by pairing the former with the latter as a method of meeting everyone’s needs.
In a family as large as the Duggars, it makes sense that such a system would be established as a way to offset the responsibilities that would otherwise be neglected by the parents; the ratio of parents to children in the Duggar family make many wonder at how the parents split time and energy equally for all of their children. However, consequentially, it places older children in a parenting role often found to be inappropriate for children of any age, as it contradicts their current development and ability to play such a role. Children who raise siblings may complicate the relationship boundaries between them, which may have implications for the child’s future adult relationships.
Parentification is a covert abuse that has widespread effects upon a child and its family. Effects of parentification, a term used to describe the often-inadvertent assignment of parenting responsibilities to school-age children, are well documented in research, including attachment issues as an adult and emotional destabilization. By engaging in this role reversal, children are deprived of behaving in age-appropriate ways, as well of appropriate parent-child and/or sibling relationships. Furthermore, they may internalize their parenting role and distort their self concept.
While it’s difficult to meaningfully detangle the relationship dynamics resulting from a buddy system in a family as large as the Duggars, and to understand how it converges with Josh Duggar’s own development and internalization of his role in the family, sexual molestation has its own conceptual framework. On an individual level, sexual molestation is often a reaction to earlier abuse or neglect in some form and to some degree. It also demands an understanding of the boundaries within the family.
Boundaries and Roles
Boundaries in general may indicate imbalances of power and control in a relationship; a parentified child assigned to carry out parental responsibility may believe they are entitled to power and control unhealthy for sibling relationships, extending beyond the parental role and into sibling dynamics. Without the supervision or aid of an adult parent capable of setting and correcting appropriate sibling boundaries that reflect reciprocal and equal supportive behaviors, perpetrators are more likely to commit abuse.
When any traumatic event threatens a family’s public identity, it may activate a series self-protective behaviors within the family unit that exist to maintain their functioning. In the case of the Duggars, a family that was not only vocal about their beliefs but also televised nationally because of them, the sexual molestation clearly contradicted Christian views and family values held by many of the viewers of their show. As a result, the Duggar parents defaulted to secrecy and discretion as it responded to Josh’s behavior; reportedly, Josh’s father Jim Bob did not report the abuse to authorities until one year after he and his wife learned about them.
Unfortunately, the shame, guilt and stigma that come with abuse are in itself further damaging to both direct and indirect victims, which may further explain why the Duggars were silent about their son’s sexual molestation. Additionally, there is shame and guilt emotionally complicating the experience of trauma, especially when adamantly professed values are proven to be false in the eyes of the public. In the case of Josh Duggar, the shame and guilt of hypocritical and damaging behavior were loudly unacceptable to a society that has learned to exercise its voice through multiple channels of media and technology. In a way, we as a society are perhaps perpetrators of silencing abuse that many are afraid to share with someone outside of themselves, whether victim or perpetrator. Perhaps by actively engaging in more open, non-judgmental and objective discussion and examination of morally-opposing behaviors, we will more effectively combat the abuses that occur among those who hurt, whether they are delivering the abuse or enduring it.
Duggar Son Allegedly Admitted to Sexually Molesting Minor Girls...Including Sisters. (2015, May 21). Retrieved May 25, 2015.
Bombshell Duggar Police Report: Jim Bob Duggar Didn't Report Son Josh's Alleged Sex Offenses For More Than A Year. (2015, May 21). Retrieved May 25, 2015, from http://www.intouchweekly.com/posts/bombshell-duggar-police-report-jim-bob-duggar-didn-t-report-son-josh-s-alleged-sex-offenses-for-more-than-a-year-58906
Triggs, C., & Dennis, A. (2015, May 21). The Duggars Respond to Reports That Josh Duggar Was Accused of Child Molestation. Retrieved May 25, 2015, from http://www.people.com/article/josh-duggar-molestation-accusations-duggars-respond