Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made a statement on Facebook Friday addressing the revelations that eldest son Josh Duggar admitted to sexually molesting “girls,” presumably his own sisters, as a teenager.
The former Arkansas governor largely defended the actions of the family since the abuse and said he wanted to “affirm” support for the family. “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,'” Huckabee’s statement said. The Duggar family endorsed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the 2012 election, but have backed Huckabee for the Republican presidential nomination this time around.
Huckabee continued, “No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story. Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things. The reason that the law protects disclosure of many actions on the part of a minor is that the society has traditionally understood something that today’s blood-thirsty media does not understand—that being a minor means that one’s judgement is not mature.”
But many experts disagree that it’s not worth addressing abuses that happened a long time ago. Though it’s certainly uncomfortable for Josh Duggar to confront, it’s likely also uncomfortable for the alleged victims. But talking about what happened openly is part of the process of restorative justice, in which the perpetrator and the victim both discuss the crime and the harm it has caused. Even if it is no longer possible to pursue crimes in the legal justice system, many have found restorative justice to be effective at dealing with the trauma of abuse. This method of dealing with past abuse or assault has been deemed so effective the United Nations endorsed it as a way of dealing with childhood sexual abuse around the world. Some victims of abuse within the Catholic Church, have also found restorative justice to be effective. Addressing crimes committed by high-profile people can also empower other victims to speak out against their abusers.
Huckabee also wrote, “No one needs to defend Josh’s actions as a teenager, but the fact that he confessed his sins to those he harmed, sought help, and has gone forward to live a responsible and circumspect life as an adult is testament to his family’s authenticity and humility.”
Josh Duggar actually “confessed his sins” to People magazine only after a police report surfaced by InTouch magazine made national news, suggesting that he may not have ever admitted to such abuse if the police report had never become public. Furthermore, his family and the church did not report the authorities for more than three months after the initial abuse occurred. The family’s patriarch, Jim Bob Duggar, came to church elders before he went to the police. The elders punished Josh Duggar with a “program [that] consisted of hard physical work and counseling.” Even after reporting it to the police, he refused to allow the police to interview Josh when they opened an investigation into the incident as a felony in 2006, more than three years after the report was filed. Instead, Jim Bob returned home with a State Trooper and gave Josh a “very stern talk.”
Even the message of treating abuse as a “sin” is wrongheaded, many argue. As feminist blogger Libby Anne writes on her blog, treating sexual abuse as a “sin” rather than a crime, sends the message that molestation is treated the same as other sexual behavior the parents or church may disapprove of, like masturbating or having sex before marriage. Such a message can leave children confused about what is actually harmful behavior and what is merely something of which his or her religion does not approve. There is also evidence that using accurate medical terms to educate children in an age-appropriate way can be effective at allowing children to report abuse when it happens to them.
Huckabee also berated those who have drawn attention to Josh Duggar’s alleged abuse: “Those who have enjoyed revealing this long ago sins in order to discredit the Duggar family have actually revealed their own insensitive bloodthirst, for there was no consideration of the fact that the victims wanted this to be left in the past and ultimately a judge had the information on file destroyed—not to protect Josh, but the innocent victims.”
Sending the message that raising awareness of abuse is merely an attempt to tarnish the abuser’s reputiation is an often-used strategy to discredit victims of sexual assault and abuse. It’s actually one employed by comedian Bill Cosby as more than two dozen women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault and abuse.
Hukabee concluded his statement with another iteration of support for the Duggar family. “Today, Janet and I want to show up and stand up for our friends. Let others run from them. We will run to them with our support,” he wrote.