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'19 Kids & Counting' scandal exposes familial child sex abuse

Reality television has long allowed Americans to view individuals and families who, ironically, don't seem real. There are, of course, plenty of shows that manufacture conflict and petty behavior for audience entertainment. But on the other end of the spectrum are families, often wholesome in a way that makes viewers wonder whether it is genuine. For many fans of the show "19 Kids and Counting," the wholesome image that defined the Duggar family was shattered recently in the wake of some serious allegations.

For those who don't know, the Duggars are an Arkansas family with 19 children. The oldest child, Josh, was an adult by the time the show first started filming. Earlier this week, it was revealed that in 2002, when Josh was 14, he began a pattern of sexual abuse involving five girls, also minors. Several victims were his younger sisters.

Child sexual abuse is serious and devastating in and of itself - especially when it involves incest. But what makes many observers particularly angry is the terrible way that this case has been handled from the very beginning.

By the time law enforcement became involved in any significant way, the statute of limitations had expired. And Josh's parents, in their apparent efforts to punish and rehabilitate their son, sent him to what they have previously said was a program of "hard work" and "counseling." In reality, they sent him to work a job alongside a family friend.

In the wake of this scandal going public, both Josh Duggar and his parents have released public statements describing his behavior as "some very bad mistakes." Many sex abuse victims have taken issue with that phrase, as it seemingly equates sex abuse with an everyday accident that could happen to anyone.

Finally, many fans and former fans of the show have a difficult time with the hypocrisy displayed by Josh and his father. Before recently resigning (due to the scandal), Josh had a leadership position in the "Family Research Council." The FRC is a Christian lobbying organization that says it promotes "family values," but it has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In the early 2000s, Jim Bob (Josh's dad) ran for the state legislature. On his campaign website, he shared his belief that “rape and incest represent heinous crimes and as such should be treated as capital crimes.” His apparent response to his own son's crimes was to help him minimize or avoid criminal prosecution.

While the Duggar scandal has become very public, it exposes an issue that is too often kept behind closed doors and underneath a mask of virtue. Child sex abuse can happen in nearly any family. When it does, victims need and deserve all of the advocacy they can get.

Source: BuzzFeed News, "The Duggars' Description Of Josh’s 'Mistakes' Minimizes Sibling Sexual Abuse, Survivors And Experts Say," Stephanie McNeal, May 25, 2015

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