At some point the Duggars learn about the abuse that Josh perpetrates. At some point, they decide to tell the police. At some point they turn to their church. At some point they turn to a “trusted” friend (who is now serving a 56 year sentence on child pornography charges). “At some point” is an important phrase and one that should be banished when dealing with the disclosure of child sexual abuse.
STEP FOUR: We report the abuse to the authorities as soon as we know about it.
In Tennessee the law requires that anyone with a suspicion of child sexual abuse is legally required to report to the Department of Children’s Services at 1.877.237.0004 or at www.state.tn.us/youth/. This means it is illegal not to report. All adults are mandated reporters and no relationship is excluded including counselors, teachers, or clergy. Additionally, the law also says that no employer is permitted to prohibit an employee from making this report. This means that policies must allow the person with the suspicion to have the direct responsibility for making the report. It is permissible for employers to provide support to their employee but their policy must not demand or encourage an internal investigation before a report is made. When faced with a situation like the Duggars, there is a tension between protecting the child who is a victim and the child who has engaged in inappropriate sexual contact. Unfortunately, many parents make the choice to protect the child who has acted inappropriately from the authorities, mistakenly thinking this will be better for everyone. Excuses are made that a report will ruin the juvenile offender’s life and that the abuse wasn’t really all that bad for the victim. This sets up an environment where the victims’ impact is minimized and denied which compounds the already difficult journey they have to make AND it does not help the juvenile who has acted out. It is important to understand that DCS’ philosophy is to support family units while protecting the safety of all involved in the least restrictive environment. It is probable that a child who has sexually acted out will be removed from the home if the victim resides there; however, reunification of the family is possible. Reunification is a complicated process where lots of thought and time must be given to processing what has happened, understanding the impact, and addressing safety concerns. But. Reunification is not only possible, it can be done very successfully under the guidance of professionals who can provide the appropriate support to all parties during this process. In situations where both sides are kids, adults in this field have a vested interest in making the reunification successful for everyone because they understand that what is held in the balance is the future health and safety of our society. If the Duggars had understood the importance of involving the authorities swiftly, their story may now be one of triumph instead of what it currently is – defensive, minimizing, justifying, and denying.
COMING UP: PART 5 – HOW DO WE TALK ABOUT THIS?
Written by: Valerie Craig, Co-Founder and Director of Education