It Happens in "Nice" Families, Too: Seven Sobering Lessons We Can Learn from the Duggar Molestation Scandal

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 7/17/2015, 11:44 a.m.
Marianna Klebanov says childhood sexual abuse is far more common than most people realize. Now that TLC has cancelled 19 ...
The Duggars

San Francisco, CA (July 2015)—To many people, the recent Duggar molestation scandal came as a huge shock. And now that TLC has announced that 19 Kids and Counting will no longer appear on the air, it's time to reflect on why that might be. Given the reality-TV family's wholesome public image, Josh Duggar's admission that he inappropriately touched young girls, some of whom were his sisters, may seem surprising. But Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, says that's only because most people just don't realize how pervasive such sexual abuse is—and how often it happens in families that present a "morally upright" face to the world.

"I deal with these kinds of cases every day and I can tell you the level of child sexual abuse that happens inside families—and often inside families who look on the surface to be almost beyond reproach—is shocking," says Klebanov, coauthor along with Adam D. Travis of The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development (Routledge, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-138-02513-4, $46.95, www.anewconversationonparenting.com). "It's a huge untold story with massive implications for society."

Klebanov works as an attorney who specializes in matters relating to child welfare and family violence. She is committed to educating people on how severely all forms of child abuse—including sexual abuse—impact individuals and, by extension, our nation's culture.

"Childhood experiences determine how the brain develops," she explains. "Certain behaviors and patterns are hardwired into our psyches and they are incredibly hard to break. They can, and do, manifest in dysfunctional relationships in adulthood. This is why childhood sexual abuse and all the issues surrounding it simply cannot be downplayed or swept under the rug."

While Klebanov emphasizes that she doesn't wish to judge the Duggars—especially given how much speculation and contradictory information has been floating around these past few weeks—she does believe their story needs to be discussed and taken seriously. Here, she identifies seven lessons we can all learn from what happened:

Don't let appearances fool you: Sexual abuse can happen where it's least expected. Abuse knows no social, economic, or religious bounds. It can happen in "good" families as well as "bad" ones (quotes intentional). And it's not uncommon for abusers to portray a false image to the community as good, moral, upright people.

"The point is, if you have a good reason to suspect abuse is going on, don't let the family's image dissuade you from looking more closely," adds Klebanov. "If you are worried about a child and have any concrete evidence, including the child's self-report, I recommend reporting the concern to Child Protective Services. The child welfare agency will often start with just a phone call or a visit to the house, and normally would not pursue any further action without any supportable evidence."

Closed, repressive environments often breed abuse. While this is obviously not an across-the-board rule, limited access to the outside world and strict adherence to religious rules can lead to illicit activity behind closed doors. In the Duggars' case, we might point to a) their very "closed" family structure, and b) the apparent family rule that you can't even kiss your fiancée until after marriage as cases in point.