[content note for discussions of child sexual assault]
Before we get started with today’s post, I’d like y’all to read these two pieces, especially if you’re not aware of what came out yesterday:
“What you Need to Know about the Josh Duggar Police Report” by Libby Anne
“Josh Duggar says he’s sorry. So what?” by Kathryn Elizabeth Brightbil
Libby Anne and Kathryn address many of the things I would have said, which I’m thankful for because now I can focus on making a broader point that I think applies to conservative evangelicalism as a culture and not just the Duggars as a family.
A close friend of mine has spent most of her adulthood in Spanish-speaking countries. During a recent visit, she told me a story about what it’s like to make the adjustments between languages. She was working with a bus ministry at her church and had to deal with a rambunctious boy who was invading the personal space of other children, including touching them without their consent. In order to try to reign him in, she wanted to tell him to “stop bothering her,” but what came out was “stop molesting her.”
In Spanish, the word for bother is molestar.
It was an amusing anecdote, but then she made the point that English tends to soften concepts that Spanish doesn’t. As a culture, we call what Josh Duggar did to his victims child molestation; even though we understand the connotation of the phrase, it doesn’t have the clarity that child sexual assault does.
Our culture is set up in almost every conceivable way to harbor abusers.
For example: racism, sexism, and any other form of systemic bigotry is, essentially the abuse of one people group by another. Individual white people benefit from a system that abuses people of color. Certain men receive benefits from rape culture, which allows the worst among us to take advantage of everything we collectively believe about women and sex.
Another way that our culture allows abuse to flourish is that we refuse to really deal with what is actually happening. Rape is referred to as “non-consensual sex,” and Josh sexually assaulted five little girls by groping their breasts and genitalia but that’s not what the media is calling it, and it certainly isn’t what anyone connected to the Duggars is calling it. It’s not being described as child sexual assault, not as the felony it is, but as molestation. Over and over again I’ve seen Christians calling it a “mistake.” In the different announcements we’ve gotten from the Duggars, it’s been coated over with a thick layer of Christian Speak. Anna, his wife, called it an “offense,” as if the sexual assault of a five-year-old were the same thing as calling her carrots.
It’s not just the Duggars that do this. We see this every single time one of these “scandals” comes to light. Whoever was responsible “apologizes,” but they never admit to anything. Josh said he “behaved inexcusably,” which doesn’t mean anything. If Josh had gotten up in front of everyone and said the words “I committed a felony, I sexually assaulted five little girls, and I’m sorry,” it would make it obvious to every single last person on the planet that oh, I’m sorry isn’t going to cut it.
But, in our culture, abusers can “apologize,” and that becomes the headline. And, as Kathryn pointed out, it makes the victims look bad in Christian culture if they don’t immediately “forgive.” We saw this with Sovereign Grace, and we’re seeing it now.
This is why I never use softening, minimizing language. I say assault and rape and abuse. And, if it comes to light that Josh digitally penetrated his victims, I’m going to start saying Joshua Duggar is a rapist.
The words we use matter.
The biggest reason why Josh will get away with sexually assaulting five girls is purity culture. If you’re a regular reader that connection should be apparent right now, as I’ve frequently talked about how my belief in “purity” kept me from talking about my rape for years.
Everything about this situation was not just mishandled, it was covered up. On purpose. That makes any mandatory reporter that knew about this a criminal (at the minimum, the church leadership and the original police officer, who did not file a report), and it makes Jim Bob and Michelle, in the words of Jesus, hypocrites and vipers. White-washed tombs, full of dead men’s bones and rotting corpses.
However, Jim Bob and Michelle and the church leadership and the police were able to cover this up because of the culture his victims belong to. They have been taught since they extremely young that women are capable of tempting the most holy man to sin, that women can provoke men into raping them, that if something bad happened they must always look for their part in the blame. The Duggars belong to an even more nightmarish subculture than I was exposed to, since they follow Bill Gothard. If you’re not familiar with ATI/IBLP, this is what Gothard teaches about sexual abuse.
That is the only framework that Josh’s victims had to process their assaults. Like me, they were forced by the only things they knew to evaluate how they could be responsible for what Josh did to them. It was their responsibility to repent of “immodesty” or any “sensuousness” they may have displayed, however innocently. Then, because they contributed to their own assault, they don’t have the ability to pursue justice. They were duty-bound to “forgive” their abuser because, after all, it was their fault, too.
If his victims were to come forward, to make police reports within the limited three-year window they had to get justice, they would have been dragged through a nightmare the likes of which we can’t even begin to imagine. It is extremely likely that every single last person they knew– their family, their church– would have turned their backs and rejected them. They would hear sermons preached about them about the “spirit of bitterness” and how it can destroy a young woman. They would have been sternly reminded that Christians handle problems among themselves and don’t involve the courts.
In ATI/IBLP, if they received any “counseling” at all (which seems unlikely, considering Michelle Duggar said that Josh’s “counseling” involved helping a family friend remodel his house), it would have been laser-focused on figuring out what the victims did “wrong” so they could be shamed for it.
This is what purity culture does. More than anything else, it silences victims.