Duggar publicity can be catalyst for good or cause 'further guilt & shame' for sex abuse victims

by Kimberly Pennington, National Correspondent |

TONITOWN, Ark. (Christian Examiner) – Ongoing controversy over comments Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar made when they discussed decade-old allegations of child sexual molestation against their son Josh Duggar point to an awareness that ongoing publicity may cause other victims of sexual abuse to return to memories of their own abuse, according to a noted research expert in the field of human sexuality.

Anyone who has experienced sexual abuse and whose painful wounds are reopened by reading/hearing about the Duggars should definitely seek counseling from someone experienced and skilled where addressing abuse issues are concerned.

The Duggar parents told FOX News host Megyn Kelly their story June 3 revealed that Jessa Duggar Seewald and Jill Duggar Dillard, two of Josh's victims (and sisters), did not want the information publicized.

"No, they didn't want this out. No victim wants their minor story to be told. Every victim should have the right to tell their own story, not a tabloid," Jim Bob informed Kelly.

Under the impression legal documents were permanently sealed due to Josh's status as a juvenile at the time the incidents occurred, Seewald and Dillard indicated they were shocked to learn their past was being made public by the tabloid In Touch Weekly. Josh Duggar resigned from the Family Research Council after the information was published.

"I called my husband in tears," Dillard said. "I couldn't believe what was going on. Whenever I heard the police reports had been released, that I said what – like they didn't have the right to do this. We're victims. They can't do this to us," she continued stating tabloid stories have been a re-victimization a thousand times worse than the original incidents.

Dr. Gary Strauss, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at La Mirada, California's Rosemead School of Psychology told Christian Examiner that the ongoing publicity about the Duggar case also can have a positive or negative for other victims of sexual abuse depending on the family.

"The Duggar family experience is not all that uncommon, but most families in which such behavior on the part of one or more of the children experience such shame that many, if not most, find themselves struggling with little understanding from others and, therefore, experience little support and help from the outside," he said. "Depending on what such a family who becomes aware of the Duggar's story reads or hears from what media sources, it can go either way."

In one way a family who is aware of the Duggar family struggle may react positively with a "sense of relief" understanding that they are not the only family that has such a painful chapter in their family life. The situation could prompt them to return to a major issue, even if it is painful, in order to fully deal with it.

"Alternatively, strongly critical and condemning messages regarding the Duggars can generate further guilt and shame, as well as fear of their own story become more widely known than it has been up to this point," Strauss said.

According to Kelly, the Josh Duggar story generated hundreds of thousands of headlines and plenty of criticism for stars of the hit reality show 19 Kids and Counting which the TLC Network is no longer airing.

Strauss encourages sexual abuse victims whose wounds are re-opened from the Duggar publicity to seek professional assistance.

"Anyone who has experienced sexual abuse and whose painful wounds are reopened by reading/hearing about the Duggars should definitely seek counseling from someone experienced and skilled where addressing abuse issues are concerned," he said.

Strauss also shared words of advice for parents who may find themselves in a position similar to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.

"Parents whose experience includes children who have engaged in abusive behavior are best served, I believe, by doing some honest soul searching to make sure that they are not being overly self-critical. Should parents have refused to believe what they were first told about their child, then they need to take responsibility for such refusal, and do further reexamination of what took place in their family's situation so that they can have some honest conversations with the child involved and apologize for not dealing with the reality of what happened at the time.

"If the parents, upon looking back, can reassure themselves that they did the best that they knew how at the time, they can do some further thinking now to see if there is more that they can learn and consider being willing to share with other such hurting parents their own challenges and process pursued in their situation," Strauss continued. "Should such parents find themselves dealing with reopened wounds that never received the attention needed at the time, it is never too late to go back and seek help with pursuing the healing they are still needing."

A skilled Christian counselor could play a part in walking parents through a similar situation, according to Strauss said who said parents who learn abusive behavior has or is currently taking place should be encouraged to not 'come unglued' or overreact with fear or anger, but to recognize these events are not altogether uncommon and there may not have been any warning signs to speak of.

"There may be reporting issues that will have to be faced and addressed according to the dictates of the law where child sexual abuse is concerned, but a wise and experienced counselor can help them move through and out the other side of such a necessity without undue trauma," Strauss said.

Strauss' encouragement came with a word of caution: "Never should a family try to avoid the truth and hope that they can escape having to deal with the reality of whatever childhood sexual abuse may have taken place."

The "ultimate well-being of the family" likely depends on its willingness to obtain professional help, he said.

Helping other families is what Jim Bob Duggar said he hopes comes of all of this.

On learning of the breaking story about his son's past, he told Kelly he prayed, "God, I know that there are a lot of families out there that are hurting . . . This isn't something we wanted to come out, but if people can see that Josh, who did these very bad things when he was a young person -- that God could forgive him for these terrible things -- then I hope other people realize that God can forgive them and also make them a new creature," he said.