by Samantha Field cross posted from her blog Defeating The Dragons
[content note for discussions of child sexual assault]
Before we get started with today’s post, I’d like y’all to read these two pieces, especially if you’re not aware of what came out yesterday:
“What you Need to Know about the Josh Duggar Police Report” by Libby Anne
“Josh Duggar says he’s sorry. So what?” by Kathryn Elizabeth Brightbill
Libby Anne and Kathryn address many of the things I would have said, which I’m thankful for because now I can focus on making a broader point that I think applies to conservative evangelicalism as a culture and not just the Duggars as a family.
A close friend of mine has spent most of her adulthood in Spanish-speaking countries. During a recent visit, she told me a story about what it’s like to make the adjustments between languages. She was working with a bus ministry at her church and had to deal with a rambunctious boy who was invading the personal space of other children, including touching them without their consent. In order to try to reign him in, she wanted to tell him to “stop bothering her,” but what came out was “stop molesting her.”
In Spanish, the word for bother is molestar.
It was an amusing anecdote, but then she made the point that English tends to soften concepts that Spanish doesn’t. As a culture, we call what Josh Duggar did to his victims child molestation; even though we understand the connotation of the phrase, it doesn’t have the clarity that child sexual assault does.
Our culture is set up in almost every conceivable way to harbor abusers.
For example: racism, sexism, and any other form of systemic bigotry is, essentially the abuse of one people group by another. Individual white people benefit from a system that abuses people of color. Certain men receive benefits from rape culture, which allows the worst among us to take advantage of everything we collectively believe about women and sex.
Another way that our culture allows abuse to flourish is that we refuse to really deal with what is actually happening. Rape is referred to as “non-consensual sex,” and Josh sexually assaulted five little girls by groping their breasts and genitalia but that’s not what the media is calling it, and it certainly isn’t what anyone connected to the Duggars is calling it. It’s not being described as child sexual assault, not as the felony it is, but as molestation. Over and over again I’ve seen Christians calling it a “mistake.” In the different announcements we’ve gotten from the Duggars, it’s been coated over with a thick layer of Christian Speak. Anna, his wife, called it an “offense,” as if the sexual assault of a five-year-old were the same thing as calling her carrots.
It’s not just the Duggars that do this. We see this every single time one of these “scandals” comes to light. Whoever was responsible “apologizes,” but they never admit to anything. Josh said he “behaved inexcusably,” which doesn’t mean anything. If Josh had gotten up in front of everyone and said the words “I committed a felony, I sexually assaulted five little girls, and I’m sorry,” it would make it obvious to every single last person on the planet that oh, I’m sorry isn’t going to cut it.
But, in our culture, abusers can “apologize,” and that becomes the headline. And, as Kathryn pointed out, it makes the victims look bad in Christian culture if they don’t immediately “forgive.” We saw this with Sovereign Grace, and we’re seeing it now.
This is why I never use softening, minimizing language. I say assault and rape and abuse. And, if it comes to light that Josh digitally penetrated his victims, I’m going to start saying Joshua Duggar is a rapist.
The words we use matter.