Preventing the next Josh Duggar is in our hands
The saga of Josh Duggar continues in the news, as his federal trial for possession and receipt of child abuse images — what the law calls child pornography — begins in Arkansas this week. The Duggar family, once household names for the story of their large, deeply religious family as depicted on TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” are now known more for the dark turn that ended the program’s run and tore the family apart. Few families know today that there is hope; the story of a child who has acted out sexually against another child doesn’t have to end like Josh’s.
Josh did not have to end up in federal court, in possession of gut-churning images which the Homeland Security investigator who found them described as being “in the top five of the worst of the worst that I’ve ever had to examine.” Josh’s father, Jim Bob Duggar, knew of Josh’s problem sexual behaviors way back when Josh first admitted to sexually abusing four of his little sisters and another younger child beginning in 2002 or 2003. Jim Bob could have done the hard thing that brave parents must do: reporting the abuse and seeking qualified help for his son, and for the trauma his daughters suffered.
Instead, he sent his son to a religious “treatment” program called the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) Training Center. The IPLB website today makes no mention of any services for youth behavioral issues, much less any treatment services offered, evidence-based or otherwise. Institutions that do not offer evidence-based treatments for youth with problematic sexual behaviors simply cannot promise a meaningful path to recovery. Children and youth with sexual behavior problems need and deserve the evidence-based treatment that can help them stop harmful behaviors and go on to lead normal adult lives.
Through the treatment model for youth with problematic sexual behaviors pioneered by our partners at the University of Oklahoma’s National Center for the Sexual Behavior of Youth, children with these kinds of problems stop the behavior 98 percent of the time after an appropriate course of treatment. Often, the first step to getting a child or youth help is for the parents to admit that this problem is too big to be solved within the family. Yet few families are aware that there are effective treatments. And, what they try on their own — sweeping what happened under the rug; failing to address the seriousness of it or the damage it caused; or relying on unproven interventions — may actually make the situation worse.
And, lest we think that this problem only arises in unusual family configurations or among reality TV stars, at our nation’s 933 Children’s Advocacy Centers, or CACs, 20–25% of all child sexual abuse cases each year involve one child or young person harming another. This problem is more common than we’d like to think.
In the end, this trial and the attention it brings isn’t only about Josh or the failing of his parents to get him the help he so clearly needed. It’s about parents watching Josh’s trial play out and wondering what it may mean their own child. Wondering where to turn for help. Wondering what will happen if they do seek help. If you are that parent or know one, turn to your local Children’s Advocacy Center for help. We work with both victims of child sexual abuse and youth with problematic sexual behavior every day. While it is too late for Josh Duggar, it isn’t too late for the tens of thousands of other children and youth who need help today.