A Call for More
By: Cassi Cox
Maybe it’s just me, but I am going to venture a guess that it’s not.
Watching the Josh Duggar saga continue to evolve over the last year has been incredibly difficult for me as someone who has experienced abuse within a closed system; A system that “handles everything internally,” assuming that those outside of it are villains, out to get us; A system that believes that those outside it can’t be trusted and would never understand “how we do things.”
What about you?
Has this been as difficult for you as it has been for me?
I lived this reality. It wasn’t an extreme religious branch like the Duggars for me, it was a closed family system. I grew up in a family system affected by generational trauma, generational abuse, neglect and exploitation, wrought with fear of being “found out.” What would happen if the world knew about “us?” How would they judge us? Who would be punished?
Because of the generational nature of the behaviors, adults looked the other way. Cognitive dissonance is real and for us, created an environment where it was much easier to pretend that these awful things couldn’t be happening, couldn’t be as bad as we claimed they were, and were “being handled.”
But they weren’t. We were scared. We were taught to believe that any outside supports were unsafe. The police were not to be trusted- they were out to get us and destroy our family. The Department of Child and Family Services certainly couldn’t be trusted. They were looking for a reason to “take us away,” and if they did then we’d never see our brothers and sisters again. Our teachers couldn’t be trusted either- they were in league with DCFS and the police. The only people we were taught to trust were our own.
Watching what has happened with the Duggars has been so real for me. When the news of Josh’s actions toward his sisters/babysitter as a teenager came out, I wasn’t surprised. I have seen many theories regarding where Josh’s behavior came from, and while it is possible that Josh was molested himself, that isn’t what jumps out at me. Josh was a teenager in a closed system that taught him that his sexual urges were evil-that any thought, urge or physical response that indicated his sexuality was emerging was impure and sinful. This closed system also taught him that these thoughts, urges and physical responses were of equal sinfulness to any other sin- including acting upon them without the other party’s consent. Once Josh had experienced the naturally evolving sexual curiosity of puberty, he was already sexually impure by his system’s standards. He had no healthy outlets for his naturally emerging sexuality and he had no opportunity to discuss his emerging sexuality with anyone who wouldn’t shame him for its mere existence. He was on his own.
Josh was never taught consent, because in this closed system there was no such thing as consent. You were to be asexual until you were married. Anything else was sinful. Then you were to marry and to engage in sex with your spouse upon demand. There was no such thing as consent because once married your body belonged to your spouse. As a man in this particular system, Josh would have been taught that once married his wife’s body was his to possess.
And Josh played out that fantasy on female children without their consent.
That abuse alone is horrific enough, but what came after makes it even worse. Because Josh never had to face real accountability. Yes- the Duggars attempted to “handle it,” but they did so within their closed system. They built their house in a way that forced the boys away from the girls and implemented a plethora of rules that in essence, blamed the victims. They made sure that the girls’ bodies were covered at all times, the girls were separated from the boys at all…vulnerable times, like night time, swimming, etc. They made rules like “boys can’t baby sit,” and “girls can’t sit on boys’ laps.”
Their attempts to “handle it themselves” sent the clear message that boys cannot control their desire to possess and consume female bodies like objects and girls-no matter the age- are responsible for protecting them from acting on that desire. After Josh’s violations, every female in that house was treated like a temptress and every male was treated like a predator.
And Josh? He was given a stern talking to by a police officer- one who was a part of the closed system and turned out to be a predator himself, and then Josh was sent “away” for awhile.
Any of us watching that had experienced abuse in a closed system saw the enabling in this. We knew what was coming. We just sat here, watching from the sidelines waiting for the ball to drop. First the Ashley Madison scandal came, but we knew. We knew that it was much, much worse. Josh’s first sexual experiences were of violating the consent those not young enough to even know what sexuality was, and that behavior had never been directly addressed- just redirected at his wife. Sure enough, the most recent charges were brought, and a conviction regarding CSAM.
Josh never faced accountability. Instead of holding him accountable, his closed system created rules and systems that policed the behavior of others within the community…particularly the potential victims.
We still see this today. We see this in closed systems all over the place. I still see it in my family system, although I am doing my best to break open the closets and shovel out the skeletons.
I imagine, though, that you might be tempted to think that you are safe from these experiences- safe from being a part of a system that looks the other way while someone is abusive and then skates past accountability for the sake of the community rather than the safety of the vulnerable. It’s a common phenomenon, believing “this will never happen to me.” If you are thinking that, let me give you a few more examples I have personally experienced or watched play out over the last few years.
- Hollywood, prior to the #metoo movement
- The Catholic church’s decision to move priests who were abusing children to new locations rather than addressing the pervasive issue of child sex abusive happening at the hands of Catholic priests.
- My recent experience in a small, rural church. After an interaction with the worship leader discussing what defines lust- and me arguing a position oppositional to theirs- They approached me alone in the church building, in front of my children to discuss “not having a threesome.” I had never propositioned them for sex of any kind, nor indicated a desire to engage in sexual activity with them. This would be considered sexual harassment in any other setting, and yet that individual is still on the stage as a worship leader. They have never even taken a break from that position despite church leadership being made fully aware of the situation.
- A good friend of mine was a part of a church that had the following policy. Men could not be alone in a room with women because they could either be tempted or she could accuse him of sexual misconduct. The policy existed specifically to protect men from accusations and from temptation. Implicit in this policy is the assumption that accusations are JUST accusations, and that false accusations of misconduct are so pervasive that a church needed a policy to protect men from women making them. *NOTE* This is not an uncommon policy in evangelical churches
- Abby Johnson, who runs And Then There Were None and is a well known Pro-Life speaker bringing in millions of dollars for pro-life causes recently publicly attacked a rape survivor. She accused her of fabricating her entire story, stated she had evidence and then failed to produce any evidence. She has made all sorts of demands on the survivor that violate her confidentiality and safety, participated in gossip and slander and allowed videos of psychological breakdowns and attacks on the survivors minor children to thrive on her social media while deleting all comments supporting the survivor and correcting Abby’s misinformation. I wrote about this in my previous piece, My Love Louder Journey. She is still actively threatening to share nude photos of the rape survivor’s body after her partial mastectomy publicly. Abby has expressed concern about her sons being falsely accused of rape and referenced that part of the problem is that “women aren’t acting respectable.” Abby has a history of making racially charged comments, including “Ok K-pop,” stating that police should racially profile her son because he is black and called a black minister a “thug,” a stain on the black community as well as the name “Tyrone” (that is not his name) after getting into an online altercation with him regarding abortion. Her own testimony may or may not be stolen (see the book Redeemed by Grace by Ramona Travino) and her fame-making story begins as a disgruntled employee that may or may not be seeking revenge. In all of this, Abby ends her abuse by stating that she is going to pray for the people that she is abusing.
The pro-life community has continued to look the other way as she has engaged in these behaviors. Even recently, when the rape survivor she attacked was one of their own, the movement made excuses for Abby, justified her behavior and hid behind the “the accusations must be true if Abby is saying it,” approach. Many pro-life platforms removed all content created by the survivor without discussing it with her and those who have not loudly supported Abby in the midst of all of it continue to platform her, have not removed her content and have openly expressed anxiety regarding no longer working with her. Why? Money and the Movement.
The system, the movement, the cause… all more valuable than the survivors and those who are vulnerable.
These are not all that different from the Duggars. Predators being protected. The survivors and the vulnerable being trampled and cast aside in the name of preserving a closed system.
Until predators are held accountable- truly accountable- there will be no safety in any system. The pro-life movement will not thrive. The name of Christ will taste sour in the mouths of those desperately in need of his touch. Churches will not feel safe and families will not produce children that value human dignity and thriving over reputation and image management.
That status quo is not enough.
The time is now.
Today is the day.
Use your voices, friends.
Be Bold. Live out loud.
Until Next Time,