Duggar scandal renews focus on child sexual abuse, via The Kennebec Journal:
The issue of child sexual abuse rose to the surface abruptly last month when “19 Kids and Counting” star Josh Duggar admitted to repeatedly sexually abusing his sisters when he was a teenager. The results have included suspension of the reality TV show from the lineup of the TLC cable network and increased attention to child sexual abuse.
Among the issues that have been raised include sexual behavior problems by young people, and how parents and caregivers can respond appropriately.
Many of the most heart-wrenching cases at the Children’s Advocacy Centers involve families in which sibling abuse has occurred. Parents are distraught about the victimization of one child, while worried about the legal consequences to another child. The parents struggle to provide emotional support and effective intervention to both the child victim and the child who committed the offense.
Staff at Children’s Advocacy Centers and their multidisciplinary teams can help families navigate this difficult time by serving as a gateway to services that can help victims heal.
Young people who have sexual behavior problems are more common than most people realize. In fact, 18 percent of the more than 315,000 sexual abuse cases seen by Children’s Advocacy Centers last year involved an offender younger than 18 — most often a sibling, cousin or friend from the neighborhood or school.
Among the many reasons children and teens may develop a sexual behavior problem are lack of privacy and boundaries, exposure to sexualized materials or environment, curiosity that gets out of hand and a sexual abuse history of their own.
Whatever the reason, however, it is critical to ensure these young people receive evidence-supported treatment to interrupt this cycle of behavior, so that all children in the home can be safe. If we can identify these issues and interrupt this behavior early and treat it appropriately, we as a society ultimately may prevent future child sexual abuse from occurring.
One excellent resource for parents and professionals is the National Center for the Sexual Behavior of Youth, which provides public awareness, training in evidence-based treatments and technical assistance, all tied to managing and responding to youth with problematic sexual behavior. Helpful information for parents and links to treatment providers also can be found through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a network of mental health experts in child trauma intervention.
Finally, and most importantly, at the heart of every child sexual abuse case is the child victim. We should not minimize the trauma child victims suffer as a result of abuse by other young people. Whether the offender is a sibling, friend or extended family member, the victims suffer a betrayal of trust and a loss of personal safety that is deeply wounding. Similar to other forms of child sexual abuse where the offender is within the family, these child victims struggle with both their fear of continued abuse and their love for the family member who has harmed them.
As a society, we have failed to protect these victims, and we owe them the treatment they need to heal, as well as our support as they go through the challenging healing process. Critical to that healing process is the privacy and space to heal outside of the media glare.
When the abuse is made public, as it was in the case of the Duggar family, the exposure can be as traumatic to the victims as the original abusive incident. Victims routinely report media attention as stressful, and many are ill-prepared for the consequences of such media scrutiny. The loss of privacy and control over this most intimate part of their life can mirror the loss of control felt at the time of the abuse.
Some adult survivors find speaking out about their experiences empowering. The common thread in this experience, however, is one of choice. The victim chooses to tell her or his story, exerted some control over the timing and narrative and is psychologically ready for such a public disclosure.
We all can help victims become survivors by sending a clear message to media that the names of victims should not be used without their permission, nor should they be hounded to tell “their side” of the story.
As executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Kennebec and Somerset counties, I have witnessed the effects of countless cases of child sexual abuse over the years, I hope this most recent instance will draw additional attention to the issue of child sexual abuse and how we all are responsible for protecting our nation’s children.
I also encourage parents and caregivers to visit the National Center for the Sexual Behavior of Youth, and to learn more about the services offered by local Children’s Advocacy Centers. With more than 800 Children’s Advocacy Centers across the country and now including Maine, intervention and prevention services are readily available so those in similar situations to the Duggar family may seek the help and treatment they need and deserve.
(A 24-hour confidential sexual assault crisis and support line: 800-841-7741.)
Donna Strickler is executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center in Winthrop.