The revelation of sexual abuse by Josh, the eldest son in the Duggar family, famous for the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting, has caused strong reactions. There has been an overwhelming call from child abuse advocates to pull the show for a multitude of reasons including the parents’ failure to protect their children by removing Josh from the home and getting swift professional help, failure to report the crimes to authorities when they occurred, the Duggars’ attempts to minimize the seriousness of the abuses, and the Duggars' affiliation with ATI (Advanced Training Institute)—a cult with a history of victim blaming and covering up abuse. Advocates also call for the show to be pulled to create space for counseling and healing for the victims. On the other hand, there have been equally insistent defenders of the show, who insist that it is a clean show about a lovable family, whose flaws in handling a tragic situation are not unforgivable. A number of online petitions have urged TLC to bring back the show.
I was very grateful to hear the news recently about TLC’s decision to pull the show, and to partner with Darkness to Light, a child sexual abuse awareness program, and the Ms. Foundation, an organization dedicated to protecting and empowering women and girls, to create a documentary raising awareness of the issues of sexual abuse. I wholeheartedly agree with advocates who point out that the issues involved in this situation are far too serious to be brushed aside to return to a feel-good show about a unique family. But I am also encouraged by the fact that, despite the many responses by those who still don’t “get” appropriate response to abuse, abuse in the Christian setting is finally starting to be seriously talked about.
It is unfortunate for the Duggar victims that their ordeal had to come out in such a public fashion, but the publicness of their lives has also created space for a public conversation about abuse, one that rarely happens in church settings where issues of abuse, if they are talked about at all, are usually talked about in hushed tones behind closed doors, and often swept under the rug. I pray that watching scandals such as these from the outside will be one of the forces that compel churches to start talking about abuse openly and pave the way towards an environment that is safe for those hurting from all kinds of abuse.
What do you think? What will it take to move the church to speak more openly and courageously about abuse?