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The Duggars, Age and Responsibility

Complexities about a tragic situation.


May 31, 2015

Josh Duggar did terrible things, and he needs to be held accountable for them. But (and I can't believe I'm typing these words) I agree with Mike Huckabee that he doesn't deserve to be drawn and quartered for crimes committed before his brain was fully developed.

Anyone who has raised a child to adulthood can testify (and research backs this up) that even those who grow up to become model citizens tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, and poor predictors of consequences. Fortunately, these issues manifest more commonly in activities with far less serious outcomes, but (also fortunately) most boys aren't taught from early childhood that girls and women were put on the earth to be their handmaidens.

I don't know anything about Josh Duggar as a person. I have never watched the show, and have no opinion about whether he is likely to have continued molesting children. I hope not, and I hope this will be thoroughly investigated if it hasn't been already.

But I am less concerned with what happens to him than with his victims. It is concerning that nearly all of the media focus, both hostile and supportive, has been on the perpetrator. Some of this is probably protective of the victims, but I doubt that all of it is. Tabloids and legitimate news outlets were all willing to publish the report that made the victims' identities obvious to those familiar with the show. It would have been easy to dig a little further to ascertain whether, when the perpetrator was sent away for "rehabilitation" (scare quotes because he apparently just spent the time working for a family friend) the children were sent for counseling—and, if so, whether it was trauma counseling or "turn the other cheek" pastoral advice.

I have worked for most of the past 12 years in a supervisory capacity at agencies that serve at-risk populations. I have seen more than my share of sibling molestation cases involving under-16 perpetrators, and for the most part, they are heartbreaking. In my experience (and I know this is not universal) the young perpetrator is a victim himself, who was trying in a confused way to work through the muddled feelings engendered by his own frightening experience.

What should happen when a responsible adult discovers the crime is this: the police or child protective services are called. The perpetrator is removed from the home and placed with a child-free relative or, if that is not possible, in foster care. Depending on his age and the (legal) severity of the crime, the perpetrator may serve time, but in a facility geared toward rehabilitation. The perpetrator and victims receive therapy. Any visits with the perpetrator are supervised, and victims visit only at their own request. When and if the victims are ready to be in the same room with their molester for an extended period, family counseling is initiated. In some cases the families are eventually reunited (keep in mind, we have seen perpetrators as young as 7 who acted in violent ways on babies and preschoolers, and as awful as that is to contemplate I don't think most of us would argue that a 7-year-old is unsalvageable), but the likely effect on the victims is always the first consideration.

Something like this should have happened with the Duggars. I wish it had. I hope those girls and young women will get real help now that this is out in the open. And while I'm hoping, I hope that Mike Huckabee will rethink his position on Tamir Rice in light of his recent realization that 14-year-olds shouldn't be held fully responsible for their lack of judgment. But I won't hold my breath.



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