Friday, June 05, 2015

A Tangled, But Complex, Web

Some things are clear; others are more complicated. The Duggars (at least a few of them), clearly, are a slimy bunch.  In the grand tradition of the best defense being a good offense

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar called media coverage of their son’s molestation as a teenager “an unprecedented attack on our family” and an illegal exposure of sealed juvenile records.

During their first TV interview on the scandal, the 19 Kids and Counting parents told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly what happened when they learned more than a decade ago that their oldest son touched four of his sisters and the family babysitter while they were sleeping. Josh resigned from the Family Research Council when the news came out in late May....

They said that the police reports released by tabloid magazine In Touch represent an effort to slander and punish their conservative Christian family, while purporting to defend the victims.

Release of the report was made in compliance with applicable law. Names of the minors were redacted and it appears that because "the requested record was not sealed or expunged and at the time the report was filed, the person listed in the report was an adult," as the city attorney stated.

Nonetheless, Jim Bob continued

They didn’t want this out. Every victim should have the right to tell their own story, not the tabloids. His wife added that their daughters—including 24-year-old Jill and 22-year-old Jessa, who will be interviewed by Kelly on Friday—“have been victimized more by what has happened in these last couple weeks” than the incidents of abuse.

Jim Bob and Michelle decided several years ago to go on display by appearing regularly on cable television, accepting the scrutiny that inevitably brings.  It has brought not only (according to one estimate) approximately $95,000 per episode, but other financial benefits.  While most families have chosen a private life, they have welcomed public attention, with all the warts that decision exposes to public view.  Surely they were aware that might include the apparent molestation which took place in 2002-2003.

And in a stunning demonstration of hypocrisy (short clip of Megyn Kelly interview below), last August the family matriarch put out a robocall arguing

Hello, this is Michelle Duggar. I’m calling to inform you of some shocking news that would affect the safety of Northwest Arkansas women and children. The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men – yes, I said men – to use women's and girls' restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only. I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls....

Other things, however, are not so clear. Amidst all the wailing and gnashing of teeth (some of it justified) about over-policing and the often punitive nature of our criminal justice system, there is widespread astonishment and criticism over the failure of the parents not to have moved more aggressively once they became aware of the behavior of their son Josh toward five young girls.

Though with details dependent upon state law, professionals or para-professionals in most states are required to report to law enforcement authorities when child or sex abuse is suspected.  No exception is Arkansas, in which employees of the Department of Human Services, members of the clergy, doctors, nurses, and mental health professionals, and workers at community-based social service agencies are among the individuals statutorily included (page 9 here).  (The law seems to have been passed in 2010, with the requirements- or practices- earlier in Arkansas more murky.)

Be very careful about involving the police- or for that matter, sheriff's departments or prosecutors' offices. The implications and ramifications of bringing in the critical justice system are not well understood, and often not pretty. In that vein

Emily Horowitz, a sociology professor at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, said the Duggars' decision to keep law enforcement out of it at first is understandable — even defensible.

"I don't condone this behavior, but I spoke to so many families that did the 'right thing' and the reaction was so excessive and Draconian that it destroyed the lives of their children," said Horowitz, author of the new book "Protecting Our Kids: How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing."

Horowitz said that juvenile offenders are the most treatable group of sex abusers, but law enforcement is more focused on punishment, including criminal prosecution with possible jail terms and lifetime listing on a sex-offender registry.

She said Justice Department data shows that one-third of sex offenses involving children also involve underage perpetrators. The most common age, she said, is 14 — the age Josh Duggar was.

"I'm pro-punishment," Horowitz said. "I'm just not pro-Draconian, permanent punishment."

Whatever the merits or demerits of the course of action the parents took when confronted with the behavior of one of their sons, they ought to consider themselves lucky there has been relatively little attention thus far paid to the "religious homeschooling cult" or the role played by their Quiverfull philosophy and lifestyle.  Controversy over their failure to pursue conventional mental health help or contact law enforcement is nothing compared to the scrutiny they, or the worldview they espouse, could be getting.

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