I’ve watched reactions to Josh Duggar’s molestation charges with morbid interest over the last several days. Aside from being yet another celebrity “scandal” (one involving a family with absolute Christian values, no less), you wouldn’t think this news would affect me personally. I didn’t grow up in a cult, or in any kind of abusive household, and I’ve never known a form of religion as narrow and severe as what the Duggars practice.
What I’ve latched onto are the words of Jim Bob Duggar himself in an interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News last night, which have also been found in comment threads all over the blogosphere: It’s not like he committed rape or anything like that.
That gets to me. A lot.
Legally speaking, maybe Josh Duggar didn’t “rape” his sisters (or anyone else we haven’t heard of yet), but I’ve found that the word “rape” can, in many cases, be subjective. In other words, forced intercourse isn’t the only way to violate someone. What about people who are forced to perform other sex acts, or who are penetrated by objects other than body parts? This is where the law often fails rape victims, because the latter form of violation may not leave any DNA, and being fondled under one’s clothes may not leave any visible marks.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a crime. That doesn’t make it any less traumatic than a “completed rape.”
It absolutely infuriates me when people treat other forms of assault as somehow less traumatic and therefore less deserving of attention or justice than forcible intercourse. The trauma is not always in the physical damage of the assault itself, but in what goes through the victim’s mind and psyche during. Ask yourself how you would feel if someone you loved and trusted touched you without your permission. Imagine your “no” being ignored, and realizing that you don’t know what this person is going to do to you. Imagine holding your breath and preparing for the worst, realizing he isn’t going to stop, he isn’t going to let you escape, and you might cause more trouble if you cry out and wake your family members, who might not believe you anyway.
It really doesn’t matter whether there is physical evidence left behind, or any visible bruising. Assault happens when your free agency over your body is taken away. The Duggar children were never taught about bodily autonomy and consent, if you understand anything about ATI and the atmosphere in which they live. This is not a happy, smiley, modern-day Christian Cleaver family that the TLC network wants you to believe. This is a sick family in desperate need of counseling, and you don’t have to be a victim of any kind to be outraged by the utter failure of Jim Bob and Michelle for covering up their son’s abuse of his sisters, for signing on for a TV show already aware of that fact, for doing everything in their power to “cure” Josh instead of reporting him to the police.
Any decent person should be outraged by the great miscarriage of justice for his victims, his own siblings, who now have to relive the trauma under a spotlight with every other aspect of their controlled lives.
In any other circumstance I would agree to disagree with people who see a situation differently and I would accept that everyone is entitled to their opinion. But in this case, I can’t. Any Christian who says “But everyone sins!” doesn’t understand the magnitude of abuse, which is a far cry from a “mistake” like stealing cookies out of the jar before dinner or breaking a window playing baseball. Sexual abuse is a crime, a deliberate choice. Normal, healthy people just don’t do that. Truly repentant people don’t hide behind Mommy and Daddy and later confess once their past is publicly exposed, and apologize using the most minimal, bullshit excuses.
Please consider that if you are tempted to keep on excusing the Duggars with banal Christian platitudes. You understand NOTHING about the long-lasting effects of abuse and how those words can further trigger the survivors.