For part two of Power, Abuse, and the Duggars, read here.
“None of them were aware of Josh’s wrong doings.”
“They didn’t probably even understand that it was an improper touch.”
“They didn’t even know he’d done it.”
If you caught Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar’s interview with Megyn Kelly last night, you probably recall their repeated insistence that the girls molested by their son Josh, most of whom are their daughters, were unaware of the violation when asked about it. Jim Bob in particular wanted those watching to know that the violations were “not rape or anything like that” but rather “touching somebody over their clothes,” though he did admit that among Josh’s “wrongdoings” were “a couple instances where he touched them under their clothes.” These statements are enraging on so many levels, but they also serve as an opportunity for all of us to have a much needed conversation about sexual abuse.
Survivors of sexual abuse tell themselves some of the very same things that Michelle and Jim Bob said in their interview. They question if the violation was really that terrible or if they were violated at all. Our rape culture automatically questions victims of sexual violence, and that public skepticism often gets internalized as self-doubt.
What if, instead of coming from Michelle and Jim Bob, these statements came from one of their daughters whom Josh molested? What if one of them had said, “My brother touched my breasts, but it was while I was half-asleep. And he just did it over my shirt, and it only lasted a few seconds,” what would our reaction be? Would we say to her, “Well, that was wrong, but it wasn’t rape or anything like that”? I certainly hope not.
Our reaction to any allegation or admittance of sexual abuse should not primarily focused on determining just how horrible the act itself was. Sexual violence takes place on a spectrum, but in every instance, no matter how someone might try to trivialize the particularities of a violation, it always involves the abuse of power. That is the conversation we aren’t having in the midst of this public controversy. Those with power get to control the narrative in order to protect themselves. Those with power get to focus on what’s at stake for the abuser, not the abused. Those with power can influence victims–and in the case of the Duggars, the public as a whole–into thinking what happened to them might not be such a big deal.
On Friday the Duggar daughters will have their turn to speak. But when they do, let’s not forget who really has the power in this situation. And let’s turn our collective outrage toward the abuses of power that seek to dismiss and silence their stories.