With so much attention in the media this past week regarding the Duggar family and the actions of their eldest son Josh when he was a teenager, numerous issues have been raised surrounding sexual behavior problems in youth and how parents and caregivers can appropriately respond.
At Day One’s Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), many of our most heart-wrenching cases involve families in which sibling abuse has occurred. Parents are distraught about the victimization of one child, while terribly worried about the legal consequences to another child. The anguish of parents as they struggle to provide emotional support and effective intervention to both the child victim and the child with sexual behavior problems is real and palpable.
Thankfully, our CAC locations in Rhode Island and our multidisciplinary team (MDT) approach can help families navigate this difficult time. CACs serve as a gateway to services that can help victims heal and ensure youth with sexual behavior problems receive effective treatment and are held accountable for changing their behavior.
It is important to note that youth with sexual behavior problems are more common than most people realize. Thirty percent of the over 100 sexual abuse cases seen at Day One’s CACs so far in 2015 involved an offender under the age of 18 – most often a sibling, cousin, or friend from the neighborhood or school.
There are many reasons children and youth may develop a sexual behavior problem: lack of privacy and boundaries; exposure to sexualized materials or environment; curiosity that gets out of hand; a sexual abuse history of their own, and others. Whatever the reason, it is critical to ensure these youth receive evidence-supported treatment to interrupt this cycle of behavior, so that all children in the home can be safe.
If we can identify these issues and interrupt this behavior early and appropriately with treatment, we may ultimately prevent future child sexual abuse from occurring. One excellent resource for parents and professionals is the National Center for the Sexual Behavior of Youth, which provides public awareness, training in evidence-based treatments, and technical assistance all tied to managing and responding to youth with problematic sexual behavior.
Finally, and most importantly, at the heart of every child sexual abuse case are the child victims. We should not minimize the trauma child victims suffer as a result of abuse by youth with sexual behavior problems. Whether the offender is a sibling, friend, or extended family member, the victims suffer a betrayal of trust and a loss of personal safety that is deeply wounding. Similar to other forms of child sexual abuse where the offender is within the family, these child victims struggle with both their fear of continued abuse and their love for the family member who has harmed them.
As a society, we have failed to protect these victims and we owe them the evidence-based treatment needed to heal, as well as our support as they go through the challenging healing process. Critical to that healing process is the privacy and space to heal outside of the glare of the television camera and the reporter’s news cycles.
When victims are “outed” publicly in the way the Duggar sisters were, this experience can be as traumatic as the abusive incident. Victims routinely report media attention as stressful and many are ill prepared for the consequences of such media scrutiny. The loss of privacy and control over this most intimate part of their life can mirror the loss of control felt at the time of the abuse. Some adult survivors find speaking out about their experiences empowering. However, the common thread in this experience is one of choice – the victim made the choice to tell their story and exerted some control over the timing and narrative. We can all help victims become survivors by sending a clear message to media that we do not want the names of victims shared without their permission, nor should victims be hounded to tell “their side” of the story.
As a professional who has witnessed countless cases of child abuse and neglect over the years, I hope this instance will only further draw attention to the issue of child abuse and how we all are responsible for protecting Rhode Island’s children. I also encourage parents and caregivers to visit Day One’s web site to learn more about the services offered by our Children’s Advocacy Center. With CAC locations across the state, there are intervention and prevention services readily available so those in similar situations to the Duggar family may seek the help and treatment they need and deserve.
Peg Langhammer, Executive Director, Day One