My first thought when the Duggar story hit the news last week was to sort out all the facts, write about it, and enlighten the world. (visualize the sweep of my cape!)
In my humble opinion, rarely is any news or portrayal of child sexual abuse accurately reflected in the national media. (Quick story...my husband prohibits the viewing of Law and Order SVU in our home because of my screaming at the tv when they interview children....I don't care that it's a fictional show. That is not how it is done). But, alas, the opportunity to sort Duggar fact from fiction has come and gone due to contradictions, omissions and distortions from every direction. So I put my cape away and I will not sort out the Duggar mess today.
But there is much to learn about adolescent sexual offenses. To put things in perspective, nationally one third of all sexual abuse of children is committed by someone under the age of 18, who is usually a family member. (Pick up your jaw and continue reading please). The team at Dearing House is very familiar with allegations of children and teens with sexually harmful and abusive behaviors. No two cases are the same and neither are the families involved.
Would you agree sibling sexual abuse is a parent's worst nightmare. Put yourself in the shoes of a parent who has just discovered that one (or more) of their cherished children has been sexually abused by another of their cherished children? The range of emotions would no doubt be anger, fear, disbelief and overwhelming grief. What would any of us do in that situation? Most families have a plan for responding to a crisis like a fire or tornado, but are we equipped for this kind of "perfect storm?"
Children who sexually harm another child do so for very different reasons than an adult who abuses. Yes, the behavior is wrong, damaging and must be addressed, but I fear that the media leads you to believe that the behavior cannot be corrected. Not all inappropriate sexual acts indicate a sexual behavior problem. Behaviors in youth may be a result of other issues such as impulsivity, social skill deficits, family trauma, etc. Qualified youth treatment providers can make assessments to help determine the nature of the behavior as well as appropriate safety planning and services. As difficult and scary as intervention with law enforcement, social services, and counselors may be, timely response is key. The parent's love and encouragement, along with specialized treatment ,will make it easier for both children to stay safe and to recover successfully. Contrary to some news reports, it is ok to move forward and heal after an experience like this. Providing the essential support for a positive outcome for the family is our role at Dearing House.
I'm going to go back on my word, for just a moment. The heartbreaking commentary by the Duggar sisters that reliving the traumatic situation is "1,000 times worse" than the abuse itself," is a poignant reminder of how vital the services of Dearing House are to this community. With collaboration and community response at Dearing House, children in our hometown can be protected from re-victimization. While the trauma of national media exposure is unique to families with reality tv shows, it does affirm that the investigation process can be traumatic to children. It's the awareness of that that has created over 800 child advocacy centers across the country and globe. Every time I hear a child sexual abuse story in the news, my first question is "was that child helped at a child advocacy center?" and I hope it will be your first question too, knowing the importance of a timely and effective response by specially trained professionals who focus on PUTTING THE NEEDS OF CHILDREN FIRST!
You will find additional information on Why a Child May Sexually Abuse Another Child and other up-to-date research on our website. With this knowledge you can wear a cape and be a champion for children, too!