Savage Love Letter of the Day: What Should the Duggars Have Done?


So condemning gays isn't one of the treatments?
Thank you for this Dan. I think it's pretty, I don't know--magnanimous?-- to empathize with the Duggars and see their humanity in this unarguably horrid situation in spite of their general hatefulness, misogyny & cruelty toward LGBT people.

Also good information for us all to have.
Well spoken Meg. Always insightful and intelligent, and you always make me step back and reassess. Thank you for sharing this on such a widespread level.
So, basically, you expose the boy to a crappy life if you get help for him, or you expose other children to abuse by him. You have to choose between protecting the abuser or the abused. And if you're in a wackadoodle fundie cult that thinks women are subservient, the girls will always lose.
Thank you for this.

I mentioned on another site that, as a parent, my first step would not be to call the authorities on my 14 year old son, and I was treated as if I had a finger up a little girl myself.

It seems to me that a parent's priorities would be
1 - stop the behaviour - find a way to ensure the safety of the abused kids, and any other kids.
2 - get help for the abused kids
3 - get help for the abuser

Calling the cops would come into it if that was the only way to ensure the safety of the other kids.

Parents have a responsibility to care for all their kids - the abused, of course, but also the abuser.

I think the Duggars handled this wrong, but that could be forgiven as doing the best they could at the time, in uncharted waters, if they did not set themselves up as moral judges of other people. You would think that this experience would have taught them some compassion and some humility, and it didn't.
Well, when you have over a dozen kids, providing supervision is a challenge. The Duggar situation is at least partly attributable to their having a pathological need to produce more offspring than they could adequately care for.
I find that this issue seriously challenges my compassion.

I can separate how, as an adult, I see the 14-year-old offender Josh was vs. the professional bigot he became. I can feel compassion for that child, though less compassion for him than for the children he abused.

But then I think about the children who, without going into details, made so much of my childhood hell (in a non-sexual way, thank God). I doubt I'll ever find forgiveness or compassion for them. I doubt I'll ever want to.

If Josh Duggar made his sisters feel the way I felt, it's a damn shame he's wrong about hell.

But I definitely would rather live in a world with reasonable, effective, professional treatment programs than the alternative. Effective treatment has to mean less abuse, of every type. And I want to see conditions where parents can be encouraged to send their kids for treatment.
@ 6 I agree. Supervision and individual attention to each child would seem to be a contributing factor.

I come from a big family - nothing like the Duggars, but big enough. And "just do what your brother tells you" does tend to become the default, a bit. Older kids have some parentally mandated authority over younger ones, and then there are the weird and usually a little despotic underground power relationships that the kids work out themselves, under the parents' radar. In any "kid society", even a fundamentally healthy one, there is a little blackmail, a little bullying - childhood is where we practice to be social animals, and an essential part of practice is that you get it wrong sometimes. That's where adult supervision comes in, so you don't end up with Lord of the Flies. And I just don't see how these kids could be adequately supervised.

Another aspect, I'd bet, is pride. A lot of the Duggar self-image is built on the idea that they're doing it right - that they exemplify what is missing in modern society, and that others would do well to follow their lead. When you've got all that to protect, well, it's pretty easy to mistake your own wishful thinking for the voice of god. At the best of times, the voice of god in answer to prayer has a strong tendency to agree with to one doing the praying, and this was not the best of times.
Just a quick aside: I queried the Association of Treatment for Sexual Abusers* to get on their waiting list in 2011 or 2012, and have yet to have someone get back to me with a referral. I understand: this is a scary and thankless position to be in, and I'm sure they have a tremendous backlog and approximately zero support--- I'd volunteer myself, but I've no idea how or whether I'd be of use. But don't think the Josh Duggars of this world had the option of therapy just because there's somewhere that exists that says they might have resources.

*The gory details, to which ASTA was not privy: as a free-lovin' dippy-hippy chick in college in my mid-twenties, I had a sexual and "romantic" relationship with a sixteen-year-old male, who later came out as a survivor of child sexual molestation because of this. (FYI: never, ever trust your gut or your brain or any other part of yourself as to whether sex with a teenager, when you are not a teen yourself. You can't ever know if it's consensual--- because legally and morally speaking, it's not, no matter how enthusiastic it _looks_. I almost died of my guilt and shame, and God only knows what he went through.)
Let's call a spade a spade, and call Josh Duggar what he is, a rapist and sex offender. I am whole heartedly against the prison-industrial complex, especially with regards to minors, but I make a big exception for sex offenders.
As a parent, my first duty is to stop the behavior. That likely means the abuser out of the home and somewhere where either he/she is getting treatment OR at family/friend's house w/o children and the abuser going to treatment.

You don't leave temptation in front of someone who already succumbed.
I can admit that my first reaction to this news was somewhat stigma-induced; especially when I considered what I would do in the situation. It's difficult to help but feel like this behavior is becoming too common since our reaction far too often is to try to sweep it under the rug. Hardly a day goes by without a story of some new celebrity, athlete, or politician that has committed sexual abuse with little or no consequence. All this does is send a message that this is acceptable. Perhaps I'm wrong though and what we're seeing is a higher reporting of these incidents. I suppose if there's one thing we can be thankful for, it's that this came to light before there were more victims.
I wish the media would deal with how the Duggars and their ilk seem to think it's actually kinda . . . normal. There's the comments from supporters saying that "most families" have something like this going on; the Duggars saying they now don't let the boys play hide-and-seek with the girls, as if *opportunities* were the root problem; and the stories coming out that sexual abuse is rampant in the Duggars' cult. It reminds me of Pitcairn Island. These people have normalized the pathology of their insular society, and they see it as just another a "sin," like not wearing a modest enough dress.
So all that mob are fiddling with their daughters? Disgusting.

That would be a hard Call to find one's child was abusing, can't watch them all the time.
Helpful advice from the guest,
Though where is the analysis for some people going this way and others not? I don't think the parents can be excluded from any blame. What environment would this loopy Duggars' kid have grown up in?
Pretty damn weird I'd say.
The professional Dan quoted doesn't make sense. First she says that if the parents ask for treatment for the abuser, the treating professional is a mandated reporter, and thus local law enforcement can choose what to do (and she gives an example of an abuser being put in prison for a long time). Then she recommends that parents get treatment for the abuser. So what does she really think that parents should do?
This is a great article for Duggar supporters and non-supporters to read alike in the face of the family tragedy! Really really well said! Check it out!…
Thanks KezRd...great article on the Duggars from a Christian's perspective.

Here's the complete link for convenience…
Dan, Dan, Dan. Always missing the RELEVANT question: What would Jesus do?
Oh, and also, the Duggars seem to believe that if the girls didn't know it was "improper touch," then they're just fine.

Look, I'm glad this is sparking a national conversation about what parents should do in this situation.

But asking what the DUGGARS should have done? That question is DOA. They are already so twisted and culpable. It's a bit like asking what Jeffrey Dahmer should have done when he discovered his freezer was full of body parts.
The thing that nobody seems to be addressing is this: Is Josh Duggar still abusing kids? Did he actually get the help he needed, or are his own children at risk? Is anybody looking at this?
Hmm. I haven't been following the Duggar situation closely, because why would I? But I am interested in the definition of sexual abuse when both people are minors.

I don't recall exact details, but for probably several months, when my brother was about 11 and I was about 9, we used to make out naked. He was pubescent and I was not, and he was the original initiator, but I enjoyed it. I think it was just kissing and nipple-fondling, but I can't be sure it didn't involve my genitals or his. I recall when it ended: I went into his room to see if we could make out, and he said it was wrong and we could never do it again. It hadn't occurred to me that that was wrong.

I don't feel like I experienced any trauma or shame from this, and my sexual relationships from age 17 onward have been very healthy. I'm now 17 years happily married. My brother and I have a good relationship. Both then and now I would just call this juvenile experimentation. It seems more harmful to pathologize this sort of thing, and to demonize minors, instead of to see it as part of development--normal in context, although needing curtailment as the child grows into an adult.

And to respond to Already Dumped Motherfucker, I had a sexual relationship when I was 20 with a teenage boy of 15. I often wonder what his report of events is. I remember him as an unusually brilliant, creative, and fun person. I hope I wasn't abusing him!

Margaret Ł @20. Nice one.
That Dr. Solution thing seems legit.
Milkshake - 9 and 11, and neither child being coerced - that's more like playing doctor. A fifteen year old and a five-year-old - that is abuse. Fourteen and fifteen year-old brains are not fully developed, adolescent impulse control is not all there and so on, so the adult Josh Duggar is not necessarily a pedophile; but it is not in any way normal for a 15-yr-old boy to want to fondle his five-year-old sister's genitals.
@27: Yes, Josh Duggar was 15, but keep in mind that in such an insulated environment that was all about purity and abstinence, he may not have understood the implications of his actions as much as a 15-year-old who had comprehensive sex ed and access to Dad's Hustler mags. The take-away from this, to me, is that comprehensive sex ed is needed to prevent and protect children from sexual abuse; it's easier for someone woefully ignorant about sex to abuse or be abused.

I had a boyfriend who grew up in Nepal, where he received pretty much no sex ed whatsoever. When he lost his virginity, a woman essentially threw herself at him and he blindly went along with it, having no idea whatsoever what was going on. He was 17 at the time. He doesn't seem to mind, but can you imagine how it could have gone if he had gotten a venereal disease, or gotten her pregnant, or had to face a jealous husband, with no understanding of these potential implications?
I wish people would use the correct terms.

An audiophile doesn't have sex with speakers.
A bibliophile doesn't have sex with books.
And a pedophile doesn't have sex with children. Jesus, or Mother Teresa, are pedophiles because they love children. But they did not have sex with them.

But a pedosexual is someone whose sexual preference is a child.

I think the reason why Dan Savage and the others trying to mainstream Gay don't use the correct terms is because it sounds to much like Homosexual, which as mentioned, they wan to integrate into suburban America as just another sexuality (more power to you by the way).

Dan's not responsible for the actions of all the gays.
@7, etc. Danny troll, is that you?

Thanks Kez @17. That is a really great article, and it is refreshing to read a Christian perspective on this that I can fully agree with.

If anyone else wants to give it a look [it is concise], here it is again:
One thing that maybe doesn't get mentioned is how much the environment in which the Duggars were raised contributed to a culture of abuse. When your religion doesn't differentiate between kissing and fondling your girlfriend (which most people consider okay) and feeling up your younger sisters (which most people don't) because all are sexual sin in their eyes, and if teens don't have healthy sexual outlets; it's going to open them up to abuse. I believe one of the Duggars remarked that this sort of thing is quite common,which should have sent up a big red flag that there's something wrong with the way these insular religious groups raise their children.

Given that many child molesters were themselves abused, I wonder if Josh Duggar was abused. I also wonder if he's abusing his own children and if he'll abuse his nieces as his siblings have children of their own.
Thank you Dan for reaching out Meghan Faqundes with this important question that many parents have. At Stop It Now! (, we do in fact hear from many parents wondering how to help their child who has sexually harmed another child. We know the fear and confusion families face when making choices about how to protect all children. Meghan nailed it when she discussed the difficulties parents experience when seeking treatment for their children. And again, she is accurate in her description of the role of secrecy and the need to change the way we speak about youth with sexually abusive behaviors. At Stop It Now!, we have learned that when adults have a safe place to talk about their concerns, their fears and their options, they are better prepared to actively take steps to address sex abuse in children's lives. Please include Stop It Now!'s toll-free and confidential helpline (1.800.PREVENT), as well as our email service ( as a resource for parents and other caregivers seeking information, guidance and support to keep children safe.

@35 - completely unlike Dr. Solution, your organization appears to be completely legitimate. Good for you guys, and I commend the work you're doing. Hope Dan resposts your comment.
How about feedback for someone who's high school boyfriend cheated on her with his younger sister? Multiple times. True story. This business with the Duggars has opened up a lot of old, very confusing wounds.
@16 I think what she was alluding to was that the parents are going to have to decide about what they are going to disclose, including to the professional they seek treatment from. If they *do* disclose, the incident will have to be reported.

I do agree given that she's witnessed bad reactions from CWS, that she doesn't straight up recommend not disclosing.
And to anyone who's based in the UK there's a Stop It Now helpline here too, run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. If you are tempted to abuse or have, or are affected by abuse in any way, then you can ring them .…

What they do is incredibly important and they deserve our support.
Agreeing with comment #16. This advice was utterly useless, in that she basically contradicts herself completely in the "here's the right thing to do if one of you children is sexually molesting another" field.
Apparently, her advice is to immediately get professional help for both, and, oh yeah, the professional *is* legally obligated to report to the police, so also be prepared for your child to be taken away, charged, prosecuted, labeled as a sex offender, and put in a juvenile facility.
In dodging the direct question of what the Duggars should have done, she neatly highlights why so few parents are able discern "the right thing" to do when life hands them this shit sandwich. (Their bizarre and disgusting rationalizing after the fact notwithstanding.)
This is such a sad, confusing, but utterly thought provoking subject. Much as I want to throw mud at the Duggars' cult, I don't think it really matters in this situation. I think an awful lot of people grossly underestimate the number of abusive situations out there. The more light that is shed on it the better, that's the only way to affect change.
KBOO in Portland aired a program about this kind of thing last year.…
I am a person who frequently works with these types of families. The expert didn't say this, but the truth is that what to do is an excruciatingly difficult one for parents. If you do report, generally the kids get help, but at the expense of the older sibling, who almost always goes through court. If you don't report, then the kids don't get help (because if they go to therapy it will be reported). And many times if it is discovered later because one of the younger siblings discloses and a mandated report is made, you as a parent risk losing your younger kids for failing to protect them. Even if you dont lose your kids, you will be viewed as a person who chose the well-being of an abusive child over the kid(s) who were victimized.

In Washington, most kids end up on the sex offender registry. Because of the age of most of the victims in these cases, it is for life. Kids can petition to get off the registry and have their record sealed down the road. But that isn't guaranteed. And in Washington State if it isn't sealed it is an "A" Felony (same category as murder). Most kids aren't on the internet version of the Washington sex offender registry, but some are.

The expert did mention that there is also the emotional pain and confusion for parents. Many blame themselves for this happening. But no reasonable parent thinks "My son is going to abuse his younger brothers and/or sisters." That really isn't a normal thought. Unless there have been a series of warning signs to alert them that there is a problem.

I believe the Duggars should have done more. I would be more understanding of their dilemma if it had happened with one younger person.. But this happened with several younger kids. As a parent, no matter how much you love your kid, you have an obligation to others as well. They not only put their own kids at risk, but others as well.

Having said that, the reality is that the recidivism rates for juveniles who have sexually acted out is actually extremely low, and many stop on their own, especially after detection. So it is quite possible that the intervention was sufficient. And if the younger siblings report that there were door locks and more precautions taken, then it adds a little more comfort to the idea that perhaps the issue was at least somewhat contained and managed.
Having talked with a Seattle area expert regarding sexual assault and trauma, she said there is a large number of people in her practice who were abused as kids (intrafamilial) who are getting mental health services as adults. And one of their biggest issues is that they weren't kept safe as a kid. They report that adults in their lives knew and chose not to get the perpetrator help and they had to continue living in the situation. And even though the sexual abuse may have stopped, the fear didn't end.

In closing, this is why I recommend that parents report. Even though the older kid is going to have a difficult life, your younger kid(s) are likely to experience an equally difficult life if you don't. And they were the ones who were already victimized. They deserve more from the adults in their lives. No matter how difficult it is for you to do.
What I have come to recommend after 32 years of treating adult and adolescent sex offenders:
FIRST: Find out what DOES happen when a report is made re sexual abuse in your county - especially with juveniles.
IF there is even a chance that they will be on a registry (wh RISKS RUINING THEIR LIVES w/o necessity), GET AN ATTY.
As has been pointed out by some, the re-offense rate is generally VERY LOW-especially w treatment from a specialist) (Not to mention, that many of hem were victims of some sort of physical, or sexual or emotional abuse themselves. ALL- IF YOU INCLUDE REPRESSIVE VIEWS OF SEXUALITY, WH are rampant in extreme fundamentalism...wh I consider a form of abuse, as though well intended it sets a kid up for problems.
PROBLEM = (as mentioned) we therapists ARE mandatory reporters, and in some jurisdictions, law enforcement and courts believe the myths, not the facts!)
POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Go to an atty that has done these types of cases, as THEY ARE NOT MANDATED reporters, tell him/her what happened, and that you want to come forward, and get treatment, and are willing to get and specialized evaluation and follow the recommendations, but only if the officials would implement some sort of diversion approach (e g = deferred prosecution) Legal sanctions would only be implemented if there is no follow through.
In this way, the rare higher risk adolescent can be charged - if necessary - victims can be protected and treated (IF necessary!
NOTE: I am continually saddened by how often everyone assumes that all victims need treatment when it is NOT true.
What is true is that all parents of "offenders" AND victims need good resources AND ACCURATE INFO re how to prevent future occurrences, possible victim impacts at different developmental stages,etc.
See Toni Johnson (google her) workbooks for parents and caregivers of < 13 yr old acter outers, as well as the info and resources for adolescents on the NEARI website!
When I began this work there was no registry, and so we operated under the radar successfully for about a decade and a half...then came the regressive Adam Walsh Act that increased punishments to the point where for the 1st time since the 90's...when, sadly, because of the over-reactions that started happening, I started hearing families say that they would not say anything if something happened again! (because of the draconian approach that the officials took-eg: informing all school personnel of what happened or putting low risk kids on the registry for all their peers to see!)
SO, get an atty, and hope that the officials involved will choose to support a family doing the right thing, and not create a situation that makes recovery even harder.