The Grapevine

The Duggars And Mental Health Professionals Disagree On What's Curious And Disordered Behavior

Josh Duggar
The Duggars defend their son against child abuse claims, but some experts disagree. REUTERS

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar don’t think their son Josh is a pedophile.

In their exclusive interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, the Duggars broke their silence to confirm the allegations Josh sexually abused four of his sisters and the family babysitter in 2003 — but they don’t believe this makes him a child molester. Jim Bob explained to Kelly “the legal definition is 16 and up for being an adult preying on a child … he was a child preying on a child.” And to Michelle, the fall-out of this news (TLC cancelling their show 19 Kids and Counting being one of them) has more to do with people’s personal agenda "to bring things out and twisting them to hurt and slander" than anything else.

Based on their interview, one might think the Duggars find their son’s actions a result of childlike curiosity; second to his age, Jim Bob and Michelle made a point to say Josh only touched his victims over their clothes “for like a few seconds.” But Dr. Ben Michaelis, clinical psychologist and author of Your Next Big Thing, would disagree. Michaelis told Medical Daily in an email there's a very big difference between curiosity and sex abuse. While he’s certain there are some cases where this is more of a gray area, these cases would be in the minority.

“When there are substantial gaps in age between the two parties, when this happens on multiple occasions with several children over long periods of time, when a power differential exists between the two parties, or when coercion is known or suspected, this is not curiosity — this is abuse,” Michaelis said. “Moreover, humans have an inborn psychological aversion to incest. Whenever that taboo is broken, or suspected of being broken, people in authority should immediately be concerned that this is not mere curiosity, but rather that something pernicious is taking place.”

Pedophilia becomes a crime once acted upon; before that it’s considered a paraphilic mental disorder. In order to be diagnosed, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) requires people “feel personal distress about their interest; have a sexual desire or behavior that involves another person’s psychological distress, injury, or death; or a desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons unable to give legal consent.” These requirements are based on “the latest science and effective clinical practice.”

That said, The Daily Beast found the science on this disorder is limited to those who have gotten caught, which is an estimated five percent, making for “a very unrepresentative group.” James Cantor, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, is among the few experts to find and support the idea there are notable differences within pedophile versus non-pedophile brains.

The Daily Beast cited Cantor has found pedophiles have an IQ 10 points lower when compared to the national population; they’re more likely to be right-handed; and they have significantly less white brain matter (the matter also associated with eating disorders) in two different regions. Without enough white matter, Cantor said, the brain doesn’t function like it’s supposed to.

These experts and studies would suggest Josh exhibited disordered, rather than curious behavior. And if this is the case, then "what should disgust us the most...is how [the Duggars] raised their kids in the aftermath of the abuse," suggests Cosmopolitan's Jill Filipovic. 

"Survivors of sexual violence have their rights to their own body momentarily taken away by someone else," Filipovic continued. "Sexual violations are particularly egregious because they're located on a part of the body that should feel good; they take an act that at its best is one of the most transcendent, enjoyable things human beings are capable of experiencing, and turn it into an act of violence, compulsion and control. Restoring a sense of ownership, control, and pleasure over the most intimate parts of oneself is crucial to healing."

Only now do the Duggars believe their daughters have been victimized as a result of the media's investigation into their private lives. Michelle told Kelly their daughters "didn't even understand or know that anything had happened until after the fact when they were told about it. In our hearts before God, we haven't been keeping secrets. We have been protecting those who honestly should be protected. And now what's happened is they've been victimized."

Jim Bob and Michelle's hesitation to view their son as a pedophile and their daughters as victims of sexual assault factors into their "purity culture," perhaps among other things, but it also has to do with the stigma attached to both mental disorders and sex abuse. As Michaelis said, abuse, especially incest, is still considered taboo and difficult to talk about. RAINN reported 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. While RAINN noted sexual assault has decreased by more than half since 1993, there's still an average of 293,000 victims of rape and sexual assault each year.

"Before individuals who have been affected by sexual abuse will be given a solid chance to heal and before future abuse will be effectively prevented, the stigma that looms over the entire issue like a dark cloud must first be conquered," Matt Pipkin, founder and CEO of Speak Your Silence, wrote for the Huffington Post. "What is needed is the ability for people to support the cause, to speak out about it, and to be activists, but in a way that is unique to them that they will enjoy."

Pipkin went on to say people are heavily influenced by what they see their friends and loved ones doing. So if more people in the United States rally to reduce stigma, and have open and frank discussions regarding mental health and abuse, the stigma could easily be conquered.

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