Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Was Duggar molestation cover-up protecting Josh or Arkansas political establishment?

The Duggar molestation scandal has sparked endless discussion and debate, with condemnation of the sexual abuse to which eldest son Josh has confessed, the way it was handled at the time by his parents Jim Bob and Michelle, and disagreement over the validity of the statements issued by various family members in the wake of the controversy.

For me, the disturbing aspect of the whole affair is not in the molestation itself – yes, molestation should be condemned under any circumstances, but almost any therapist will tell you that it’s far more common than you may think. Furthermore, those who abuse often were abused themselves, so the urge to point a finger at Josh and yell ‘Criminal!’ is more emotionalism than reason. So while I’m not ambivalent about whatever acts Josh may have committed in his youth, there are still too many unknowns to justify joining the chorus of shock and disapproval.

The real scandal here is in how it was handled not only by the parents but also the local authorities, though not for what would seem like the obvious reasons. On the face of it, the family worked in tandem with acquaintances in the police and their church to ensure Josh would not face prosecution. (That the police officer who gave him a “stern” talk about molestation has since been convicted of child pornography, and that the man who ran the religious facility where Josh was sent for treatment now faces sexual assault allegations from up to 30 women, obviously looks bad on an epic scale, but then it’s easy to cast judgement with the luxury of hindsight.)

It would be bad enough if this were simply an understandable (if misguided) case of parents trying to shield their child from legal troubles (the harm done to his victims notwithstanding), but I have the uneasy feeling that what now seems like an apparent cover-up all these years was not for the sake of Josh, but the local political establishment.

Take another look at the time frame of the abuse, which apparently started around 2002 and continued for another year or so (assuming that’s when it ended). In 2002, Jim Bob was in the last year of his term sitting in the Arkansas House of Representatives, where he also served as Vice Chair of the House Corrections and Criminal Law Subcommittee. That same year, he ran (unsuccessfully) in the Republican Party of Arkansas primary election for the United States Senate.

Although the Duggars had yet to become celebrities, in 2002 they were a prominent family in their neck of the Arkansas woods, and in the years since have remained active in politics, both in endorsing candidates for Governor and President, and in publicly advocating socially-conservative positions on issues such as abortion and gay rights. It would appear they have always been a family with political aspirations, either as office-holders or influencers. Given that fact, it’s easy to see (in a purely strategic sense) how they would have been motivated to keep their family troubles on the down-low.

That the way in which the family, their faith community and the police responded to the molestation of its children by keeping it ‘in-house’ may have been merely a product of the local political establishment reflexively looking out for itself would be the ultimate tragedy in this story if accurate. I hope I’m wrong, but the news that only last week a judge connected with Duggar-endorsed presidential candidate Mike Huckabee ordered police records of the molestation affair destroyed (where such records would otherwise have been kept indefinitely) leaves me with the icky feeling that I’m not.