Sibling sexual abuse is not some normal thing that happens
in families. Not letting your children play hide and seek lest your
teenage son molest his sisters again isn’t normal. A teenage boy repeatedly
molesting his young sisters, including one still in the preschool years, isn’t
just a thing that most families deal with.
Unless you’re Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their friends,
Every single one of the Duggar kids, Josh included, deserved
better than what they got from their parents and their church and homeschool
community. If a teenager starts acting out sexually towards their younger
siblings, something is wrong. When the sexual assaults continue after the
offending sibling is caught and disciplined, something is seriously wrong. Josh
needed help and he never got it. The girls needed to be protected and instead
they had to grow up in a home with their abuser, never getting counseling from
a licensed therapist. All because the Duggars and their community thought it
was no big deal.
While Jim Bob and Michelle may think that by describing it
as something that happened in a lot of friends’ families, they’ve successfully
downplayed the gravity of the situation, what they’re really doing is
describing an epidemic of sexual abuse in their church and homeschool circles.
Rather than following the law and reporting the sexual
assaults to the relevant authorities, all of these parents seem to have simply
reassured each other that it’s normal and carried on their merry way as if it
were only slightly more serious than a sibling squabble.
As this story has unfolded, I’ve become increasingly
horrified by the number of people within the Christian and homeschool
communities who have expressed similar sentiments to the ones Jim Bob and
Michelle expressed in their Fox interview.
This should be a no brainer. Sexually assaulting your siblings
is bad. Covering up your child sexually assaulting their siblings is bad. These
are serious crimes that cannot be waved away with a few apologies. This should
not be up for debate. And yet it is.
I can count on one hand the number of people in homeschool
leadership who I’ve seen wholeheartedly condemn the way this situation was
handled. Most have been silent, a few have offered tepid responses, and still
more have written it off as normal childhood exploration. One of the few who
has spoken up did so despite having faced great personal attacks in the past
for their efforts to protect children from sex offenders within their homeschool
community (that’s not my story to tell, but I appreciate the sacrifices this
person made to do the right thing).
I don’t understand it, I really don’t. I thought that surely
there was a line that couldn’t, that wouldn’t be crossed. But if child
molestation isn’t that line, I don’t know what could possibly be so horrific
that these people won’t manage to find excuses. I’m starting to question whether there is a line.
Though, I really shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen homeschool leaders rationalize the decision to allow
a registered sex offender the platform at a homeschool event. I’ve seen homeschool parents refuse to report a child molester out of fear of CPS. We saw it again with The
Old Schoolhouse cover up, when some of the biggest names in the movement
refused to act.
Whatever else is true, what Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s
interview made clear was that we must have mandatory reporters looking out for
the interests of children in homeschool families, and we must have outside
oversight of homeschooling. Instead of going to the police and getting those
girls the help they needed, the Duggars’ community simply reassured Jim Bob and
Michelle that the sexual abuse was a perfectly normal thing that happens in
Over and over we’ve seen the homeschool community’s
unwillingness to self-police. Those few who do try to do the right thing end up
being attacked and ostracized by the rest of the community, because apparently
the only self-policing almost anyone is willing to do is to enforce silence. Relying
on the community to do the right thing is getting us nowhere.
The Duggar kids deserved better than what they got. Homeschool
kids deserve better. Let’s make homeschool safe.