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

"There is nothing wrong with homeschooling," says Klebanov. "It can be a valuable form of education. It's just that often, abuse is reported by people outside the home, such as teachers or counselors who notice something is amiss and who are mandated reporters of abuse. In homeschooling situations where there's little contact with the world outside the family unit, red flags may be easier to miss. Also, there is plenty of evidence regarding what happens in religious environments in which priests aren't allowed to marry."

Abuse rarely stops with one incident. Sexual abuse is typically not a one-time event. If an abuser strikes once, he or she will usually strike again. What's more, in a family where sexual abuse is occurring, other kinds of destructive behaviors are also likely to be present, says Klebanov.

"I am not saying this is necessarily true in the Duggars' case, but in many cases we see every day in dependency court, there are often multiple issues in a family—such as severe corporal punishment/physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, severe neglect, etc. I'd go so far as to say it's unusual for there to just be one type of problem in a family in which abuse has occurred."

You have a responsibility to report sexual abuse inside your family to proper authorities—even if it goes against every parental instinct. Many, if not most, parents are reluctant to report child sexual abuse to the authorities, says Klebanov. However, keeping such issues "in the family"—as the Duggars apparently did for a while—is a huge mistake.

"If something like this happens in your family, you have an obligation to report it to a child protection service agency," she emphasizes. "Keeping quiet puts the victims and other family members at risk, and it keeps the perpetrator from getting desperately needed treatment."

Abusers and victims need specialized professional counseling. This should be done by a qualified therapist specializing in treating sexual abuse. Josh was reportedly sent away to a Christian training camp. It's not clear what type of therapy the victims received, though Michelle Duggar says all of the children received "professional counseling." However, says Klebanov, we don't know whether Josh or his victims received the level of help they needed.

"The Duggars may have been lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that Josh self-reported," she says. "But even sexual abusers who know that their behavior is wrong and sincerely want to stop simply can't always stop on their own. They need qualified therapists to help them get to the heart of the issue—often they abuse because they themselves were abused—and learn how to modify their behavior."

You have an absolute duty to protect the other children in the house—even if they say they're fine or deny they need help. The Duggars have stated that the abused girls forgave Josh. In fact, two of his sisters even defended him by labeling his behavior as "very mild" and the result of having been "a little too curious about girls." Yet children can be affected by sexual abuse in ways they can't comprehend, says Klebanov. Even if they insist they aren't traumatized, it may not be true.