Another day, another cringe-worthy scandal courtesy of reality television.
Based on redacted police reports and a public statement by Josh Duggar, the oldest son in the “19 Kids & Counting!” cable television show, the systematic cover-up of multiple, incestuous child molestations has come to light.
Duggar has resigned as head of the religious conservative Family’s Research Council’s lobbying arm. Because of the timeline of abuse, we now know his professional path for political advocacy began in 2006, the year he simultaneously launched the consulting firm Strategic Political Services and became the subject of the first serious investigation by law enforcement of reports of sexual contact with a child more than three years earlier.
Duggar’s parents, former Arkansas state representative Jim Bob and home-school teacher Michelle, as well as local church leadership had known of the abuse for years. In fact, when instances of abuse began to repeat, Duggar, then 15, was shipped away for a three-month period — whether for some type of religious-based counseling or to help a family friend renovate a building remains unclear.
Thanks to the family’s reality TV fame and tenacious reporters, we know more than we’d like about the abuse, cover-up and numerous inconsistencies between the family’s espoused brand of Christian conservatism and real life practices. We’ve been introduced to a colorful cast of characters that includes a family friend and former state trooper — a mandatory reporter of child abuse, who, when told of the inappropriate contact chose to verbally reprimand Duggar instead of filing a report. Please pay no attention to the fact that the former law enforcement officer is now behind bars, convicted on child pornography charges. It was due in large part to the trooper’s inaction that Duggar has not faced criminal charges for his actions, since the statute of limitations had expired by the time other investigators were aware.
We know former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2016 Republican presidential contender, continues to stand in support of the family. And that a juvenile justice judge (an elected position in Arkansas) with ties to Huckabee ordered the destruction of all police records related to the allegations. The judge cited a need to protect the identity of one of the victims, who still is a minor. Local police have carried out the order, which will stymie further revelations by the media.
We’ve learned a great deal about the challenges that face television networks and production companies as they attempt to vet reality television talent. As usual, most politicians are running from the news, many celebrities are airing their disgust on social media and advertisers are canceling contracts.
What isn’t being discussed is the response given to the child victims of abuse. The statement made by Duggar when the news broke indicated that both he and “those affected by my actions” received counseling. There is very little likelihood this is true, unless there is yet another instance of someone in an position of authority dismissing their duty. Counselors are also mandatory reporters. If the Duggar family had sought true counseling for their abused children, it wouldn’t have taken more than three years for law enforcement to get involved. It’s clear that protecting political aspirations, a television contract and an oldest son’s reputation was deemed more important than acknowledging something shameful and potentially damaging happened to other children in the Duggar home.
Whether or not these incidents of “forcible fondling” result in trauma is yet to be seen. But even if nothing more than a murky memory remains, the children, “those affected by my actions,” have been forever altered.
They have been left to wonder if they somehow prompted the abuse, or if they could have done more to protect someone else. Even if the memory isn’t perceived as excessively dramatic or traumatic, there’s uncertainty and wonder about why it isn’t a bigger issue.
Now that this abuse has been made public, additional shame and guilt may follow. Are they somehow responsible for their brother’s downfall? Will the memory resurface when its time to establish a natural, healthy sex life? Will there ever come a time when one sibling looks at the other and doesn’t remember?
Every adult in a position of authority has so far failed Duggar’s victims, but there still is time. There is no statute of limitations on seeking help from an accredited counselor, and no time like the present to do the right thing — away from the camera’s lens.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on May 31, 2015. Photo credit: Brian Frank/Reuters