When the Perpetrators Matter More than the Victims

In March 2002, Jim Bob Duggar found out that his fourteen-year-old son, Josh, was sexually molesting prepubescent girls. Jim Bob did not say anything about this to the authorities until July 2003, even as it continued to happen and the list of victims grew. And in the wake of these revelations, I have been absolutely horrified by the number of people who have said they would not have immediately reported their fourteen-year-old son for molesting prepubescent girls either.

I have a six-year-old daughter. The number of people who have said they wouldn’t report their teenage son for molesting girls either makes me worried for my own daughter. I look around at families with teenage sons and I wonder. If that boy molested children, would his parents turn him in, or would they cover for him? Whose safety and wellbeing would they prioritize—their son’s, or my daughter’s?

Here is Matt Walsh’s answer:

3) I know I’m opening myself up to serious criticism here, but let me be honest with you: If my own son, God forbid, came to me and admitted to doing what Josh Duggar did, I don’t know that I’d immediately run to the cops.

Would you? Is it really that simple? The decision to have your child arrested as a sex offender would be an automatic thing for you? Really?

I guess I’m just a horrible person then.

. . .

As a parent, you have to think whether your 14 year old son deserves to have his life ruined over his mistakes. Maybe you’d decide that he does. I can’t say I’d agree.

Mistakes?! That’s what we’re calling sexually assaulting a child now?!

Do you see what I mean about prioritizing the wellbeing of the abuser over that of his current and future victims? Walsh says a fourteen-year-old child molester doesn’t deserve “to have his life ruined over his mistakes,” because apparently ensuring that he is punished for his abuse and prevented from abusing in the future is just too much to ask for.

Did I mention that I have a six-year-old daughter?

I suspect Walsh would say that his hypothetical son’s abuse would be punished and future abuse prevented, it’s just that this would be carried out by him as father rather than by the authorities. But we have authorities and a process for dealing with child sexual abuse for a reason. Parents frequently make excuses for their own children, as we see Walsh doing in his hypothetical. Parents are less likely to play hardball and more likely to believe justifications or excuses.

I’m sure Jim Bob felt he appropriately punished Josh in March 2002, when he first learned of Josh’s behavior, but for a full year after that Josh went on to victimize more girls. Had Jim Bob immediately taken the matter to the authorities and sought professional help for his son, this might have been prevented.

I’m honestly not sure how it’s not painfully obvious that parents should not be the ones handling punishment and prevention if their child sexually assaults another child. It is very common for someone who has molested one child to molest other children. Josh Duggar, for his part, molested five girls from two different families. Parents should not be the ones dealing with this. We have authorities and professionals for a reason!

Well sure, Walsh would say, but what if you had a teenage son and found out he’d sexually fondled a young girl? Would you turn him in, and ruin his life? Yes I absolutely would, but I reject the framing of the question. Turning someone in for child sexual assault helps ensure that they will get help, that they will get treatment, and (hopefully) that they will turn their lives around and not victimize more children. And yes, I do have a son. He’s not fourteen yet, but he will be someday.

Turning someone in for child sexual assault can only be framed as “ruining their life” if you remove their victims, present and future, from the picture entirely. Does life as a registered sex offender truly weigh more on the scale than the life of a sexually abused child whose abuser walks the street with no record or legal consequences for his actions?

My daughter’s school does background checks not only for teachers and school staff but also for volunteers and chaperones. An increasing number of churches do background checks for their childcare workers and Sunday school teachers as well. The goal is to protect children by ensuring that they will not be placed in the care of someone with a history of molesting children. Denying child sex offenders this sort of access also helps ensure that they will not reoffend. If Josh Duggar wanted to volunteer at my daughter’s school, or work in the religious education program at our church, he would be permitted to do so, because a background check wouldn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary, even though he sexually molested five girls, some as young as five years old.

Background checks only do what they’re supposed to do if people report child sexual abuse, no matter who the perpetrator is.

Mostly, right now, I want Matt Walsh and all of the other conservatives saying that they, too, would not have reported their son to get off the moral high horse they ride so often when it comes to religion and family. How can they proclaim “family values” from the rooftops and yet openly state that they would cover for their fourteen-year-old son if they found out he was sexually assaulting children?

Matt Walsh is on record arguing that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt, because of the potential harm to children, and that transgender women shouldn’t be allowed to use the women’s bathroom because of concerns about women’s safety. But when it comes to the potential harm to children and threat to children’s safety posed by unreported child sexual abuse, suddenly what matters is protecting the abuser? For all Walsh’s claims of “progressive hypocrisy,” he really needs to look in mirror.


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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.