This is important. Why? Because Christian parents do not talk about sexual issues as often as we should. And the stuff I am seeing on social media is scaring me. The excuses that people are making under the umbrella of ‘all humans make mistakes’ makes me want to vomit. So, let’s talk a bit about the sexual stuff we avoid. Play. Inappropriate touch. Abuse. Crime.
You don’t even need to read all the reports or timeline or statements to know that we are talking about crime. A crime that was covered up. When our four-year-old engaged in sexual play with someone, we took him to the Children’s Center. It wasn’t even abuse, but I didn’t know what to do. We checked in with a detective. I was bawling, so scared that they would take my kid away. It was completely new territory.
Most parents’ first reactions toward anything sexual and their own children is fear. So many unknowns. What exactly happened? Will they do this again? What will people think of me? What will people think of my kids? Will people stop playing at our house? Will we be on the news? I had all these thoughts as a mom. But guess what…my kid was 4. Not in his double digits. So my brain was working overtime, as a first-time mom. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I did the tough, and right, thing as a mom of a preschooler. I asked for help and took precautions.
The Duggar patriarch and matriarch screwed up. They failed their daughters and any other girls affected. They failed all their other children. They ‘protected’ the one who needed to be taken into a police station. Why? I’m not them, but I’m guessing they were afraid. And when parents do things out of fear, our children suffer. And when we cover things up, lies entangle us. Let’s stop acting like this is a parental rights issue, which it isn’t. And this isn’t persecution. When Christians are treated badly for doing wrong things, that’s not persecution.
Everything we do has consequences. And some crimes and sin have consequences that are much harder to deal with. If Graham steals a piece of candy, I don’t need to warn all the friends in our circle that he is experimenting with stealing candy. That we need to keep a vigilant eye on all candy. That he learned a candy game from someone.
But when Graham learned a ‘hiding game’ from someone, well, that affects all our interactions. We had to have talks about our body, and set up safeguards, and it was uncomfortable at best. We had to tell Sunday School techers. We had to private message parents of Graham’s friends. It was embarrassing. And when people pulled back and cancelled playdates, I was hurt. I didn’t blame anyone, but we were viewed differently. I knew we had done the right thing, but it was traumatic. Other people were glad we had checked to make sure their kids were safe. Happy we had reached out and been transparent. But it didn’t matter how anyone had reacted. We did the right thing. That was more important than our image.
Graham was 4. I did the best I could, but I still felt like we could do more. Healthy parenting causes us to ask, “How can I do the most good in this situation?” Not “How can I keep people from knowing about this?” The counselor we went to said it can be ‘normal behavior at Graham’s age, which is why parents need to be more intentional with educating their children on how we do and do not play’…just because something is normal, doesn’t make it acceptable. It’s also normal for kids to lie. But we teach them not to do that. It’s normal for kids to be greedy. We teach them to share. It’s normal for young kids to be curious, but we teach them not to let people see and touch their special parts. Normal doesn’t always mean acceptable.
But the Duggar teen wasn’t a kindergartener and wondering about things or thinking it was silly. He was a teen. It wasn’t normal. It was completely unacceptable. And when people say he did it because he was suppressed, that argument terrifies me. What he did was wrong on several levels. He was committing a crime. And exerting his power over others. And I am frightened by how many people are saying that everyone in the scenario just made some mistakes. No. A mistake is burning a birthday cake. Molestation is deliberately victimizing someone else for your own pleasure.
Did I overreact in seeking help when Graham was caught doing something that was wrong? No. Because we never know all the facts. I am not an officer or a social worker or a counselor. I can’t make the call about what is ‘normal’ for a 4-year-old. I can’t determine that the situation isn’t indicative of something else going on. I can’t decide what should and shouldn’t be kept to ourselves or shared with others.
I’m not saying that my parental rights are trumped. But I am saying that sexual incidents aren’t as simple as a kid stealing candy. We can’t operate and fail to report due to a fear of the unknown. This Duggar nightmare isn’t about parental rights. No parent has the right to cover up a sexual crime in order to protect the offender. Or even to supposedly protect the victims. When we do, we make an even bigger mess.
We teach our kids that their safety and health aren’t important to us. We train them with our actions to believe that we don’t actually treasure them and love them. Their well-being should be so much a priority, that it can’t even come into question. We are not supposed to be deciding how old is too old. How many times is too many times. How many months you should be removed from a home, before you are introduced back into that home. I’m sure those girls lost many nights of sleep.
And when you choose to cover things up, you teach your children that we lie about things that scare us or don’t make sense. And when you believe that wrongdoings and criminal activity are cancelled out just because someone supposedly repents and seeks forgiveness, you teach your kids that there aren’t long-reaching consequences for our actions. And when you choose the offender over the victims, you become the offender and further victimize them. And when you claim that no one has room to judge, because we are all sinners of some kind, you twist God’s word to meet your own agenda. That’s spiritual abuse. And you teach victims that God is some monster who just sees abuse as someone stealing a piece of candy.
Just apologize, get a victim to forgive, and everybody moves on. That’s not how our God operates. He makes it very clear in His word that time doesn’t erase crime and apologizing doesn’t erase consequences. And that you can’t demand forgiveness. That’s another form of spiritual abuse. People must be accountable for their actions. And survivors of abuse must be helped and nurtured and told over and over again that they are worthy. Worthy of police reports, counseling, and support on a journey of healing. Not made to be seen as less important than the offender.
We are a year and a half from our incident. If we can even call it that…the textbooks say sexual play. Again, it’s normal. But we had to explicitly teach that we don’t play that way. Normal wasn’t good. As a person whose father is locked up for child molestation, I needed to make sure that Graham understood our safety rules. And I’m glad I did. Some people said we overreacted. I disagree. I am still a hawk watching Graham with friends, cousins, and sisters. Making sure my son doesn’t do something he shouldn’t be doing.
Our friends and family have known since Day One. Everybody is on the same page. I never tried to hide it, out of fear that we would be suspected of something. And I never believed that we could just pretend it all away. “Please tell me you aren’t going to take our kids into foster care for this.” My actual words to the detective. I said them before I could stop myself. Because I am a mom and sometimes I am scared of things I don’t understand. But I still do them. Because parenting is hard. And we have been entrusted with precious humans who need us to do the really hard stuff.
And if you suspect it’s happening in your home or someone else’s, you need to go to the police. Don’t try to figure it out on your own. You do not have all the information or training or authority to make those kinds of calls. It’s very scary to think about all the things that could happen if you’re wrong. If you need a bravery boost: it’s worse to think about what is happening if you are right.
PS: If you have questions about how the church and families should be dealing with sexual abuse, please check out Boz Tchividjian’s resources. It’s time we stopped sweeping these issues under our man-made WWJD rugs and ignoring God’s heart to expel darkness with light and help those who need it.