I Would Have Defended My Abuser, Too

jessa**Content Note: If you are a survivor of child sex abuse, particularly involving incest, and you haven’t begun or completed your healing process, please take extra care when reading this post. Detailed discussion of abuse and its effects.** 

Today, I read about Jill and Jessa Duggar’s recent interview on Fox News, where they talked about their abuse experience and how they’ve forgiven their brother Josh for molesting them. According to the articles I’ve read, the young women minimized what was done to them, saying that Josh was merely “sexually curious” and that the abuse wasn’t that bad.

Honestly, this does not surprise me at all. Had a TV reporter sat down with me at age 24, I would have said pretty much the same thing.

Here is my story:

At age 8, I was similarly molested by someone close to me. At the time the abuse occurred, I knew that it was wrong, or at least very weird. But I didn’t understand it. Growing up in fundamentalism means that you often don’t have words to explain experiences that occur outside of your worldview–words like rape, consent, agency, autonomy, erotic, vagina, and molestation. For the first three years post abuse, I was merely confused about what happened. I wasn’t angry, just confused. I didn’t know what had happened to me or how to contextualize it.

But then, when I was about 11 years old, the reality just hit me out of the blue. Suddenly, I had a word to explain my experience. I don’t know how I discovered it, but it was suddenly there in my head. And with that word came the rage. I now knew without a doubt that I had been violated in a very terrible way.

The word gave me power. But it was a power I was not free to exercise. My abuser approached me one day for a hug, and I refused. Another family member, unaware of the abuse, was present and struck me angrily across the back, hard enough to nearly take the wind out of me. “Don’t treat him that way,” they said. “That’s rude. You don’t do that to people who love you.”

So I hugged him. Later, I wrote him poems. I made him cards. I gave him gifts. I loved him so well, I fooled everyone–including myself.

And the thing is, in spite of how angry and violated I felt, I wanted to love him. I wanted our relationship to be good. And he apologized for the abuse. He said he regretted it. That should have made everything ok, right?

Except it didn’t. Every time he hugged me, or smiled at me, or told me I was pretty, I felt sick inside. Was that compliment innocent? Or was he sexualizing my body again? Was he being genuinely affectionate? Or was he getting off on touching me?

There were times I didn’t have to wonder.

Yet I prayed. I prayed so hard. I prayed for God to help me forgive so I wouldn’t be so angry. So I wouldn’t shudder every time he touched me. If I could just get over the pain and revulsion caused by this one night of abuse, we could have a normal, healthy relationship. It would be a wonderful testimony of God’s restorative power.

I finally got to a point in my early 20’s where I believed I had forgiven and healed as much as was possible. If Megyn Kelly had dragged me on national TV then, I would have said that I had forgiven. I had moved on. The problem was taken care of. My abuser was sorry. It was just a mistake, a moment of weakness on his part. I would have said that my abuser was really a good person on the inside. A gentle man. A Christian man. Someone who had helped and was loved by so many people. And it would not have been a lie. I believed it.

I believed it until the wounds overwhelmed me and I fell apart two years ago.

I believed it until I saw my abuser for who he really was.

To really see the truth, I had more words to learn. I had to learn what repentance really means. I had to learn about entitlement. I had to learn about trauma, remorse and amends. I had to learn about perversion and covert incest. These words brought me into the true reality of my experience. It was only then that I understood that the abuse was not merely a “mistake.” It was not just a “shortcoming.” It was coercion. It was calculated exploitation of my trust, powerlessness and naivete by an authority figure who fancied himself entitled to my body. It was annihilation of my innocence and personhood.

Only after learning these words did I feel the full horror of what had been done to me. And only that has given me the power to heal and set necessary boundaries in my life.

My abuser says he is sorry. He has sobbed whenever I have mentioned the abuse. But he is not repentant. How do I know? Because he still doesn’t acknowledge that he has a problem. He still won’t seek professional counseling. He talks about how horrible the abuse was for him, but not for me, the actual victim. He has not encouraged my counseling or inquired as to how it is going. He doesn’t care. He feels he has suffered enough and doesn’t think he deserves to have boundaries set against him.

That’s why I’ve been so compelled to speak out on the Duggar issue. I know what it’s like to live in a strict religious community that deprives victims of the language that would help them properly contextualize their experience. I know what it’s like to feel obligated to forgive and reconcile for the sake of one’s Christian witness. I know what it’s like to desperately want to love someone close to you and, thus, choose to view their horrible actions as simply “mistakes.” When Jill and Jessa say they’ve forgiven, I believe it. I believe it because I’ve been in their shoes. Just a few years ago, I would have defended my abuser, too. And meant it.

I honestly hope Jill and Jessa have been allowed the space they need to heal. Knowing the kind of community they come from, I doubt it, but I think this interview may have been an important first step in that process.

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16 responses to “I Would Have Defended My Abuser, Too

  1. So moved by what you have shared here! I want to thank you, because it is absolutely vital that christians learn the difference between someone saying the word sorry, and someone showing their repentance by how they live it out!

  2. I’ve been thinking about writing a post similar to what you said. I didn’t grow up fundamentalist but I didn’t understand what abuse was, either, when it happened to me. Only when panic attacks started and I started seeing a therapist was I able to put the pieces together and realize that what happened, happened without my consent. I couldn’t forgive my abuser as long as I didn’t know I was being abused, because he was so skilled at manipulation and guilt. And he feels no remorse to this day. I truly feel for those girls, and hope one day they get the help they need.

      • I’m glad you shared. The point in all our stories is that sexual abuse is so evil and devastating that it’s difficult for the mind to comprehend. So we go through all sorts of gymnastics trying to explain it to ourselves (crossed wires, “mistake,” etc.). Because surely no one would be so selfish as to completely disregard a person’s dignity and violate them at the core of their being? It’s so egregious and against every social convention. That’s why it takes special words and special people (therapists) to help us understand that it was evil. I hope you have found healing.

  3. I wonder at what point we disrespect people’s own voice in the matter of abuse. It seems to be a very difficult thing. Are we taking away their autonomy in voice by saying that they defend out some kind of indoctrination?
    As someone with experience in this area as well, I feel that sometimes my voice was violated both ways. How do we give people the right and language and trust to voice these things in their own way?
    Just thinking. Thanks for the post.
    Blessings on your journey.

    • I read your blog post today and want to respond here. I want to reaffirm that I do believe what Jill and Jessa said in their interview. My point was, a victim’s reality is rarely static, and definitely not simple when in such a restricted environment. I don’t think they were merely parroting what their parents said. I don’t think they were reciting from a script. I think they have done their best to come to terms with the abuse as best they can with the knowledge they have.

      That said…

      Just because they didn’t call it molestation doesn’t change the fact that it was molestation. Just because they don’t feel terribly affected by it doesn’t mean that it was “mild.” There is no such thing as “mild” sexual predation and violence. Jill and Jessa believe their brother was merely sexually curious. They are wrong. Sexually curious teens look at Playboy or touch themselves or make out with other teens. They don’t fondle their preschool siblings in the middle of the night.

      Yes, let’s believe victims when they say they’ve forgiven and moved on. But let’s be wise in pointing out that abuse like this is ALWAYS serious, no matter how the victim may feel about it. That’s not disrespect. That’s good sense. I wouldn’t dare tell anyone, “Well, Jill and Jessa said it was ok, so no one needs to take it seriously this time.” Aside from the sheer ludicrousness that would be, we need to remember that Josh has 3 other victims who haven’t spoken yet. It may not be ok with them.

      And it’s very possible that Jill and Jessa will decide at some point that they’re not ok with it after all. And at that point, some people will say, “You liiiiiiiied! You said you were over it! How can you go back on that now?!” And we’ll need to be the ones saying, “This is their right. It’s part of the process.” Because it very often is.

      Sure, at 22 and 24 years old, Jill and Jessa are capable of understanding what happened to them. But that doesn’t mean they have all of the information they need. I didn’t at 24. And I went to a public college and had an open Internet connection.

      • I agree with most of what you have said. I did state in the post that people need to be cognizant of changing attitudes toward their abuse. I do believe that if they say it was mild, they feel it was just that.
        My cousin goosed me when I was little and he was quite young. Was I molested by him, no. There is such a thing as a mild violation of personal space.
        We have to be careful that we don’t press our own experiences on others. Their situation may actually have been mild. For God’s sake at Jessa’s wedding a sister freaked out because she saw the married ones kissing after the ceremony. Can we just for a second entertain the idea that the girls are not totally indoctrinated and actually feel the way they do?
        I’d also like to point out that these two are the married ones. I wonder if the parents don’t particularly like the idea that they talked to the press.
        Also, when I saw the parents interview I was enraged at how the father reacted- detached, dispassionate. He seemed to only care about the slip to the media. After listening to the girls, it made sense to me that he was angry because the girls felt re-traumatized ‘x1000.’
        It is my main point that we don’t lessen their voices because we don’t find them reliable. Not now, not should they decide that it was not mild. We should believe their story and show them that when they speak they are heard. Isn’t that the best way to treat a victim of abuse? Belief.
        Thanks you so much for contributing in a meaningful and constructive way! I hope that I was respectful of your post and your situation (past, present and future). If I am not, please help to correct my path.
        Blessings on your journey!

  4. Repentance is the key, I’m sorry means nothing . I gave up on the repentance , these people are sociopaths . I don’t hate him but I’m putting him on the out side of my life. Where disrespectful and abusers belong .

  5. The reason they have so many children is because they are following the principle that God gives children so who are we to say no to a gift from God? The Bible says God plans our life and we should let Him have his way. The Duggars I’m sure don’t have sex any more often than every married couple! They just don’t prevent pregnancy because they are trusting God.

  6. There is a big difference between nymphomania and pedophilia. Pedophiles are predators. They prey on children because children are vulnerable and pliant. For them, the rush comes from the exercise of power and entitlement, not merely arousal. It is not normal for a teenager to view a preschooler as a source of sexual pleasure. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand basic human development.

  7. Don’t think only men are evil, by the way. When I was a kid, my mom (I.e. a woman) brought a dysfunctional situation into our home. At the time, I protested and cried, but she never listened (partly because she was powerless to do much about it after it began).

    Years later, when I was an adult and had finally escaped to peace and freedom, sometimes when I would talk to her she would complain about the situation. She would lament how horrible it was, and I would scream at her about how she had no right to complain to me about a situation that she brought on both of us when I was the one who truly had no choice (since I was only a child).

    This is part of the reason I’m an anarchist instead of a male feminist. I don’t trust anyone (especially people who claim to “love” me). I find peace in knowing I can never truly trust anyone. I don’t get my feelings hurt as often.

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  10. Thanks for sharing. I can relate to your entire post. Although the inappropriate exposure was years before my recent stint with fundamentalism. The Jill/Jessa interview is all over youtube if you want to watch. The interview was very contradictory. First, particularly, Jill’s response to the release of the news didn’t match how they described the incident. But now after reading your article when they say they “didn’t understand” it doesn’t necessarily mean that he just brushed himself against them, it means they literally weren’t taught the language and they weren’t taught a right to grieve, process and even be angry. I can definitely agree that in a fundamentalist environment they jump to the Christian happy ending goal ASAP. Fundamentalists definitely encourage people to skip any kind of processing and quickly forgive and move on. This is the primary reason why I left my cult. Because something similar to the Duggar happened among members and the leader said ship shop, tip top, there’s work to do. The very next day. The other thing contradictory in the interview is that the family is very hurt, feels persecution because of their critics and yet the parents and the girls both light up at the thought of the show continuing. Literally, Jill is crying one moment and then Kelly asks if the show should continue and they start smiling. Its clear the bottom line for them is to keep the gravy train going. There are lots of mouths to feed and they get tons of perks. Because these networks pay for family trips and honeymoons just so it can be taped. And then because of the exposure of the show they are also celebrities. And its clear from the interview they like it. They’re crying and but they want to stay on TV.

    • “…they jump to the Christian happy ending goal ASAP.”

      And I have found that if you don’t jump to that goal too, you are treated like a pariah and then denounced for being “bitter and unforgiving”.

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