Weighing in on the Duggar story is something I was not going to do. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is my decision in past public hype, to stay out of it. I tire quickly of it. And the whole thing, in most cases, is media driven poison that is detrimental to healing and hope. Therefore it doesn’t interest me, because healing and hope are my mission.
I work with abuse victims and I am an abuse victim, well, an overcomer now, but I was victimized many times. And I, like many of my clients, was violated by family members. I also have very close friends who were sexually molested by family members. And we do not all agree with bold statements being made on our behalf, about how victims feel with Josh Duggar. That’s actually the thing that tipped me ‘over the edge’ into writing about it, a bold statement on behalf of victims. And I, as a victim, do not support much of what I read and I’m hoping I can offer some hope and healing. Besides, I needed to sleep tonight, and writing is how I usually ‘clear my chest’.
Having been victimized and now working with victims, I occasionally end up in front of offenders when I support a victim who is confronting their abuser or alleged abuser, and I serve as mediator. Other times I work with the offenders who seek help for the crimes committed. (If victims are under 16, I report. If not, the voice has to be theirs, and they decide if they wish to report or not.) Sometimes my gizzard gets all in a tangle about the offender–whether a family member of the victim or not–even the ‘very young’ one, because there is an arrogant and unrepentant heart, usually exposed by denial and excuses. And sometimes they are ‘repentant’ when confronted, and then spend the rest of their lives finding ways to bully and blame the victim. These are dangerous offenders. There is nothing of their behaviour that makes me believe they wouldn’t offend again, and I’m all for dealing accordingly.
There are times, however, when the offender is repentant and humble, and their behaviours support repentance. They are broken, and make no excuses, wanting only for their victims to find help. I’ve worked with both, and the latter evoke something very different in my heart and spirit than the former.
In both cases there are consequences for both the victim and the offender. In both cases there are wounds and scars, guilt and shame, and always, always brokenness. Molestation is always damaging. That is the harsh reality of it, no matter the situation, the repentance, the brokenness. I do not downplay that.
However, that does not always mean that a family should be ripped apart and the victim and offender be kept apart for life. I do not believe in pushing the ‘forgive, forget and move on’ agenda to provide a quick cover up and push the consequence on the victim that way and make it the victim’s problem to ‘let it go’. That is wicked beyond wicked, and often does even more damage than the initial abuse, from what victims tell me. But I do believe in ‘forgiveness with boundaries’. I do believe that the offender should not be alone with the victim or other vulnerable (younger) children. It is on the part of wisdom to protect the children, and ensure there are no questionable or risky situations. That’s not genius; it’s the most basic of common sense. Unfortunately still missed by many.
Where the Duggar case goes south for me in a hurry, is the vehement judgement from people everywhere, considering that Josh has made no excuses for his sins and crimes. I was molested by a fifteen year old, and I have no desire to see him dragged through the legal system for what he did to me than I have to see Josh dragged through. My offender apologized and owned it. Unfortunately he did much worse to others over the same time, and refuses to this day to take ownership for those crimes, therefore I do not trust him at all. If those victims decided to take him to court, I’d be there to support them. I never trust an offender who does not own the wickedness of his/her crimes against another, and finds ways to put the crimes on the victim. That is deserving of punishment and legal justice.
I am not a ‘Duggar fan’. I’ve not watched them, even once, or followed their story. I do not care if their show ever airs again or not, on a personal level. It’s simply never interested me. But I do care about truth and justice, and justice and mercy, and I do have a problem with the media attacking Josh and the Duggars and the general public chiming in with no apparent compassion. And the reason for my feelings are multifaceted: 1. Josh was a minor. 2. Jesus changes lives. 3. Victims should have some input, or they simply become victimized again, and their voices are taken away… again. (And it makes me cross, to be honest, to see some of what is being said about ‘victims’ out there and how molestation destroys us for life. Also not true. I am not destroyed; I am empowered. So, if you’re not one, don’t decide for us. If you are one, decide for yourself.)
What Josh did was very wrong. He ‘owned’ that. He has made no excuses, that I’ve seen or heard. He has not blamed his victims. And he was a minor. Fourteen, my friends. Fourteen… That is incredibly young! In my home right now I have a thirteen year old, and he is very young. He has the advantage of talking openly with me and daddy about sex, but even so, he is very young.
Even where I was victimized, there is no way anyone will convince me that the fifteen year old who violated me fully understood, or understood at all, the consequences of his actions. I’m sure he knew what he did was wrong, but understanding what it was he did to me… not possible. So I forgive him, with boundaries.
When I see Christians throwing their rocks at Josh, it troubles me. I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus died for all my sins. I believe that He transforms lives, and that people change. Even those who molested. If Jesus cannot do that, then He is neither God, nor the Messiah. Then Christianity is a farce. Either He can save and restore all, or He can save and restore none. There is no middle ground.
The popular belief of ‘once a molester, always molester’ is a tragic life sentence to put on anyone, and a slap in the face of God/Jesus. And I do not support it. I never have, and I never will. Admittedly I feel most hope for those who come forward on their own with their sins, repent, and ask for help. I also feel hope for those who are caught at a young age and are forced to get help. They have the advantage of not establishing life patterns. And the manipulative, lying ones… they’re not repentant or looking for change; I am not speaking of them.
But the notion that they are all molesters for life is not truth. I doubt we can begin to grasp the impact that kind of teaching has on people. So I will look every young offender in the eye, if they are repentant, and tell them I believe in them. I want them to believe in themselves. I want them to believe they can overcome and are not sentenced to a life of crime. I want them to set a higher standard for themselves. And I want them to look to God, through Jesus, for that strength. I want them to understand consequences and comply with the laws of the land, because it is scriptural, but I want them to know they can be free, that they never have to do it again. So, yes, I am willing to swim upstream and speak against the tide of judgement, condemnation and hopelessness. Because I believe in God, and what He can do.
If I understand right, Duggars removed Josh from the home for a while. No doubt they were reeling in shock, uncertain what to do. They should have reported right away, true. And, yes, it took them a year, but Mr. Duggar turned his own son in for his crimes. That is unheard of. I work with sexual abuse almost daily. Even on weekends I get messages and emails. Never, in my five years of working closely with sexual abuse–or my twenty-five years of speaking openly about it and listening to stories–have I heard of a father turning in his own son. And as a young teen. Not until now. (Note and addition: In this paragraph, in particular I had some inaccurate information. I have addressed these things in a follow up Blog: “The Duggars; a Few Things… And a Secret of My Own” I have posted the link again, below.)
And if I think back fifteen years to when this happened, the topic was not open like it is today, which makes that reality doubly shocking. In many ways they acted ahead of their time, and from what I can find and read, seem to have done all that they knew to do, and more than most would have done. For that reason, along with what seems a humble and repentant heart in Josh, not to mention my faith in Jesus Christ, I cannot and will not join the crucifixion march. I am appalled at what I see and hear from Christians on this matter and I cannot help but wonder what we have done with Jesus, and what He would do with this situation. He looks very differently on the repentant heart that is open about sins than the hidden thing. (And if you’re going to cry ‘but they hid it’, let me remind you that they went to the police, and he was a minor protected by law from public exposure, if I understand correctly.)
I write this as someone who struggled through the confusion and aftermath of having a teenage boy rub himself all up against me, groping me, grabbing me and doing things to my body I never wanted done. Please don’t decide for those of us who were victimized, how we should heal and that all those who offended us at a young age should be marked for life. Some of us want them to get help and go on and live whole lives, if they are repentant. And please don’t tell me my Jesus isn’t big enough. I won’t buy into that lie. And I hope Josh doesn’t either.
And, for the sake of those who hold the hammer and nails for his crucifixion march, let me repeat, I do not believe in cheap forgiveness. I believe in forgiveness with healthy boundaries and protection, and for the victims to be empowered to heal. And I believe victims should not be forced to have a close relationship with their offenders, even if they are family members, and if the scars are so deep that psychological trauma results from being near the offenders, they should have the liberty to keep a safe distance. But all of us do not want that.
I will end with this; I am healed and whole. And as a healed and whole adult, I have a very healthy and mutually respectful relationship with several of the individuals who touched me inappropriately as young teens. I have forgiven all other offenders as well, but I do not feel safe around them, because they did not take ownership of their crimes, and I have no desire for a relationship. With my father I kept safe boundaries for myself and our children, even after he asked me to forgive him. It was my responsibility to do that, and take care of my family; those are consequences. He was my father, and should have protected me. As a father, and as an adult, he violated that trust. Still, I sat by his hospital bed in the last two years of his life, held his hands, and cried with him and told him I loved him. It was healing for both of us, and set me more free than I’ve ever been, and it gave back my voice (or ‘power’, as some say it).
So please don’t sentence teenagers to a life of crime with thoughtless judgement. If ever he offends as an adult, I’ll offer no defense. I’ll still not let you borrow my hammer and nails, but I will understand the outcry. Until then, I will thank God for His grace in my life, and do my best to extend it to others.
And please don’t rob us, as victims, of that deepest healing, where we reclaim our voice by offering forgiveness in a way that gives life to our spirits. I know most, if not all of my clients would echo this. I’ve not had many (if any) who did not want to extend forgiveness with boundaries they were comfortable with. And I’ve not had any clients who, when I finished working with them, were not healed, whole and confident adults who reclaimed their voices, yet offered forgiveness. That freedom is what Jesus came to offer, so I will boldly declare it, even if it means swimming up stream… alone… through a crowd.
Follow up Blog: Here
~ T ~
Ps. For those who read how a teen rubbed himself against me and groped me, and presume I have no concept of ‘real’ victimization, I refer to that isolated case here b/c of the age comparison. Two things: that *is* real victimization, and I went through a lot more ‘hell’ than all that. In my book Between 2 Gods; a Memoir of Abuse in the Mennonite Community I tell of repeated molestation and later being raped in my teens. I understand abuse. And my first ‘passion’ is *always* compassion and care for victims. There is never excuse for molestation.
© Trudy Metzger
July 9 – 12 Pennsylvania:
I plan to be in Lancaster Pennsylvania, July 9 – 12. To receive updates on where I will be speaking, join our email list by sending your name and email address via my “Contact Trudy” page. I would love to meet you if you’re in the area!