I never meant any harm: on the Duggars, vicarious exoneration, and judging abusers by their intentions

Note: Part one of my husband’s story appears here: I had a nightmare: on the Duggars, Christianity, and abuse.

***

My mother-in-law touched down in Salt Lake City like a tornado twelve hours after I called–reluctantly–to inform her that her son is in the hospital with a mysterious illness.

“It could be meningitis,” I told her, though deep down I knew the culture would come back negative.

That morning, when I woke up to an empty pillow on my husband’s side of the bed and a voice mail from an ER in a suburb forty minutes away, I dry heaved before I hit play, envisioning a morgue drawer sliding open and me saying, “Yes, that’s him.” I was certain he had careened off the road or crashed his Honda FIT into an electrical pole.

For two weeks, he had succumbed to mysterious “spells,” crossing his arms over his chest and shaking his head “no”–not in response to questions, but as if some gear crank deep inside him had been wound. He twisted up his mouth as if trying to wrap his lips around an elusive alphabet. We agreed we needed to get him to a doctor, but then he would revert to his old self, and we pretended everything was “normal.” I think we both knew he was on the verge of a breakdown, and we didn’t want to face it.

We also knew his childhood abuse was to blame. Hence, my reluctant phone call.

“I want to help,” my mother-in-law said, and she booked the first flight from Iowa. In two days, she has destroyed our cookware, scratched the glass stove top repeatedly, demanded late-evening shopping trips to Whole Foods for her special quinoa, and called the extended family to complain about me in the third person while I watch. Hence, tornado.

Now, she is standing in my kitchen at 6:00 in the morning defending Rod, the man who molested my husband as a child, a felon the family took in for a faith-based rehabilitation program.

I picked the fight. Maybe I’m out of line, but I seized this moment to warn my mother-in-law that she is at risk of losing her son forever. He will go no contact if he has to, and I will support him 100%.

“Would you rather be right,” I say, “or would you rather have a relationship with your son?”

She heaves a sigh. “But you can only do evil if you intend it,” she says, whining in her Alabama drawl. I have heard this argument before, when my husband quoted her with disgust.

It’s her trump card: her Catholic faith, in which the morality of an action is judged by its objective, intention, and circumstances. In her mind, it was fine to use my husband as a pawn because the object was Rod’s recovery. If babysitting her little boy helped Rod become a better man, then so be it–never mind a psychiatric profile indicating Rod should not be left alone with any child, let alone her child.

To her, intention works like voodoo magic. If you don’t intend to hurt people, they are not really hurt.  On the flip side, if someone hurts her, it is proof positive of evil intent–like when my husband demands she take responsibility for his abuse, and she guilt trips him by saying he wants his own mother thrown in prison.

It’s narcissism fueled by faith: Her pain is the only pain in the world because she is doing God’s work.

Of course, she is twisting doctrine to suit her argument. Read the Catholic Catechism, and you will see that she is wrong. As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.” And some actions are so inherently evil that they are irredeemable. Like forcing your son to stay in close quarters with the man who molested him.

In her mind, though, she wasn’t forcing her son to continue contact with his molester. She was rehabilitating Rod. And around and around her logic goes.

I slam my coffee mug on the granite counter to stop myself from hurling it at her.

“You are destroying your son,” I scream, doubled over from the force of my rage. “Every single time you defend Rod, you chip away at him a little more.”

***

black and white photo of a man seated upright in a hospital bed wearing a dotted gown. He has a bass on his lap and is playing it with some difficulty because of his IV needle. He is looking down at the bass.

My husband, playing his bass in the isolation unit at St. Mark’s Hospital. Music has become his primary coping strategy, and for reasons that might be obvious, he calls his one-man band Satan’s Bestie.

***

It’s not that I want to paint sex offenders and abusers as “monsters.” If anything, that kind of black-and-white thinking prevents us from detecting abuse right under our noses. If we are only looking for “monsters,” we overlook the beloved brother, family friend, trusted teacher, or minister.

Nobody does bad things all the time. Rod was charming, my husband says. My mother-in-law, for all the chaos she creates, can be incredibly generous with her money and time, helping us out with medical bills or volunteering for hospice.

But this concept of offender intentions trumping victim damage is a rationalization with only one purpose: silencing survivors. How dare you speak up about damage, when you know I never intended to hurt you? It infantilizes abusers like my mother-in-law, allowing them to toddle through their worlds blissfully unaware of the damage in their wake.

Funny, though, my mother-in-law is so quick to acknowledge Rod’s damage from abuse. Yanked from his family by Child Protective Services for malnourishment, he suffered a lot of pain. I don’t deny it. I have read the case file, and his story is sickening and sad.

However, my husband suffered the exact same neglect. His pediatrician threatened to call CPS at one point because of malnourishment. Failure to thrive, he called it. To hear my mother-in-law tell it, though, she didn’t intend to starve him. My husband simply “refused” to eat. She would try to stick a spoon in his tiny mouth, and he would squirm and look away. He was “distracted,” she says.

In other words: he brought malnourishment on himself.

Ah, but my husband wasn’t distracted. He was a pint-sized security guard, tense and ready to repel all threats. His mother trained him for his relentless patrol by banging his little baby head against a door frame while ranting about changing diapers and cleaning the house. She became a mother because that’s what good Christian women do, and she took it out on him. More than once, she stomped around the house hoisting my husband aloft as she raged. His father witnessed it and did nothing.

But she didn’t intend any harm, so her son’s suffering–his damage–is imaginary. She will be the first to tell you that childbirth transformed her, that her baby was a miracle, and she was doing God’s work by becoming a mother.

Photo of a young boy wearing a blue oxford shirt with an Ames Law Enforcement Police Explorers patch. He wears square-framed glasses and is standing to the side of the camera, looking down at the ground.

My husband as a member of the police explorers, which he loved because the world of law enforcement felt safe to him and tapped into the skills he developed to help him survive. He is not alone in this. Check out Good Cop, Bad Daughter by Karen Lynch, for another story of a survivor who found police work a natural fit for her adaptations to a chaotic childhood.

***

Rod, on the other hand: his damage is real. Acknowledging his damage absolves him of any wrongdoing–and by extension, absolves my mother-in-law. See how it works: The child molester wasn’t really a child molester but a wounded survivor, so my husband wasn’t really harmed by the “wee wee game,” and his mother isn’t really at fault for keeping Rod around … You see the twisted logic.

In short: My mother-in-law has sympathy for abusers because she is one. Let a fellow abuser off the hook, and she’s off the hook.

I call it vicarious exoneration, something I have watched unfold in the Duggar story as well.

Pay close attention to the wording in Josh Duggar’s statement: “I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”

Notice he doesn’t say, “I would end up ruining my victims’ lives.” It is all about his redemption, his pain. He didn’t learn that attitude in a vacuum. This is the Christian redemption story all over again, emphasis on rehabilitating the offender, not the victims. Never mind how Josh’s sisters might have felt during the time period his offenses went unreported. If the goal was to rehabilitate Josh, the family was doing God’s work.

Check out the “7 nauseating ways Duggar fans are defending his admitted sexual sins” #6:

“At least he took the actions to change his life around! Obviously Josh is living a good life. A wonderful family, a beautiful wife, and 4 children. Everyone will make mistakes in life but at least Josh admitted it! Most people would never even tell anyone until things got out of hand.”

Notice the entire focus is on Josh and his “rehabilitation.” Not one word about the victims.

I admit that intention — in criminal law, “mens rea”–gets trickier with underage offenders like Josh Duggar. However, regardless of what one thinks about Josh’s culpability, his parents had no excuse for continuing to expose their daughters to a brother who groped them in their sleep, and that’s where “vicarious exoneration” comes into play again. Michelle and Jim Bob “did nothing wrong” because their intentions were good: helping their son overcome his sin. And look! He did! So no harm, no foul.

Psst, don’t imagine the terror of bedtime in that house. Forget about it, because Josh is redeemed.

***

I watch my mother-in-law’s eyelid twitch as she processes my warning that she is destroying her son. Maybe if she hears it from me, I think, the light bulb will finally flicker on. But her phone chimes, reminding her it’s time to pray for someone in her church’s “prayer chain,” and she obeys, retreating to the bedroom for privacy. Once again, she is calling on a higher power to heal a stranger instead of doing the one thing that is in her power to heal her own son. Once again, her intentions are so, so good.

232 thoughts on “I never meant any harm: on the Duggars, vicarious exoneration, and judging abusers by their intentions

  1. Beautifully written – the post gave me chills. You have a way of distilling your husband’s story that is incredibly powerful and moving. Thanks again to both of you for sharing.

  2. Just a note: that ‘intentions’ stuff isn’t actual Catholic Theology- that’s some sort of lay-person hogwash. Your mother-in-law is on her own with that one, it’s not doctrine.

    1. For sure. That’s why I quoted St. Thomas Aquinas, but I can see how it wasn’t quite clear what I meant there.

      I just edited to clarify that her interpretation of doctrine is wrong. I don’t want to misrepresent Catholic beliefs.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Oh, the lies we tell ourselves, the escape routes we plan, the avoidance strategies we play (using religion or substances or whatever). If only we would realize that owning our mistakes not only gives others room to heal and to forgive, but it gives us the freedom we are ultimately seeking. Thank you for sharing this, Karrie. It’s beautifully written and very moving.

  4. These last two posts were terribly difficult for me to read. It took me a few days, but I did finally get through them, and you I am glad I went to the effort, because you speak on the subject with such clarity and finesse.

    My wife was also exposed to this sort of twisted Christian Logic when it comes to her own sexual abuse at the hands of her cousins. The mindset, the words, everything you describe could be referring to her life. It has hollowed her out and left her so damaged, as you said, more by her parents’ response to the abuse and the forced forgiveness of the abusers, than by the abuse itself. It disgusts me and makes me want to rage, but normally I just cry a lot with her.

    Thank you for being such an advocate for your husband, and for all of us dealing with his sort of abusive thinking. ❤

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. My heart goes out to your wife and to you. It’s so, so painful. I am so glad your wife has you to listen and to cry with her. Big ((hugs)) to you both.

  5. Is that picture of the young male your husband? By your grammer it appears as if your husband is middle aged and as if this abuse of your husband happened mamy years ago. The picture of the young man look as if he is too young to marry. The picture is also a modern day picture as the young man has a modern day hair style.

    1. Yes, that is him while he was in the police explorers as a young boy. The one at the top (in black & white, in the hospital playing his bass) is him currently. Thanks for reading!

  6. Many families out there deal with this only in different levels. Its true when the parents desire to help the troubled son/daughter but refuse to acknowledge the harm done to the rest of the fam because their focus is to help “the troubled one” leaving the other ones unattended or as their troubles less severe. This is all very hurtful for everyone involved but many times the mother lacks character to confront issues as many of us lack courage to also confess our faults in order to correct them, so she may never be able to admit to it unless she opens her heart to realize but she may be afraid as she wouldn’t know how to correct it now and repair the damage. In these cases someone has to be the bigger person and learn to forgive for the sake of ones own self!!

  7. What to say? I’m glad your husband has you in his life. I wish you both some sense of justice that can enable him to live in peace. You’ll cross my thoughts often, I’m sure.

  8. Well written and thought out.

    Words of wisdom from someone who weathered two scorching narcissists: ditch the codependency and guilt, put yourself first, and cut ties with the toxic mother-in-law. Change the phone and the locks if you have to. Don’t fuck around; this is survival. You’ll do just fine without her “help,” believe it.

    It comes down to this: which is more important, your life or hers? Because that is where you are right now, you’re measuring her disappointing her (and others) against having a healthy, happy, peaceful life with the man you love.

    It took me 45 years to choose myself and now I’m cleaning up the fall out. Be smarter than me. Live.

    1. Agreed! I don’t see any need to involve her any further in anything whatsoever. Cut ties with the toxic mother in law. My thoughts are with you and your husband. x

    2. Pretty much my first thought… I was thinking “I’d have told her ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions!’ and then kicked her out of my house!!” I know that can be easier said than done sometimes though. But Bravo for this post. Well written and heart wrenching. Good luck and blessing to you both.

  9. Please, please remember that Christianity is a good thing, these people have sickly twisted it to suit their own needs. Your family is in my prayers

  10. Since have such empathy for your husband as I have 2 (adopted) children of my own who were severely abused when younger. PTSD lives on, even if it doesn’t show its head right away. I hope your husband gets the help he needs to feel better. My concern is also for you, placing yourself with the abuser. Be strong enough to say no more. Your husband needs you to be strong for him, and dealing with his mom should be avoided at all costs. Good luck To!

    1. Thank you, thank you! And much love to you for caring for your children and helping them through their recovery as well. It’s so hard, and you are right: it can take a long time for PTSD to hit someone, and then bam! Life is so different. Thank you also for your wise words.

  11. The world of religion can often a very twisted one. I grew up in a very religious home, and even spent time studying at my church’s bible college before finally seeing things for what they are. Sometimes I think that people overlook the obvious when it comes to religion. I remember many many times when people would just nod knowingly when a person would be discussed, because I mean, really “that’s just how Annie is…” In retrospect I have determined that there is a significant segment of church goers who have underlying, untreated mental health issues (just as my father has) which everyone just accommodates. Why does this happen? Well think about it. When you have issues which make you behave in an unusual or different manner, where would YOU go to find acceptance? Why not go to the place that professes “the unconditional love of Christ” I mean that’s where I’d go. Those people HAVE to love me!!!

    I think that there is a significant connection here as well on this topic. It is not right or fair. It does not help the victims past, present or future. It should not be permitted to occur. I feel for your husband, and for the struggles you endure in trying to support him. Thankfully for him, you actually seem to know the meaning of what love is.

  12. Man…so, so good and so heart wrenching. Hard to read. Hard to stop reading, and much to think about in working it my own childhood abuse…thank you for your words

  13. Reblogged this on funtimepatty and commented:
    I feel the Duggars are in Denial, this issue should have been brought forward a long time ago, we all make mistakes and we learn from them not hide them. And far as Christianity I am sure God has forgiven them but there are consequences .

  14. So moved by the story. Also how you connected your husband’s story with that of The Duggars and the son’s redemption is greatly put. I know I shouldn’t judge your mother-in-law but it seems the lady very conveniently does what she likes, abandons which she can’t justify.

    I hope and wish your husband gets better. And he will.

    1. Thank you so much. He is doing much better now. He still has struggles and times where things are too much, but he is using music to help him get through it. He also recently attended a Restorative Justice conference to present about issues of accountability and power so he can hopefully prevent this happening again to another child.

  15. Wow. This was very powerful. It made me reminisce on a long-term abusive relationship I had with a man who was abused by his mother as a child. We lived with his mother for several months, so she often saw firsthand his abusive behavior towards me, and after every big blowout, she’d find a way to get me alone and – under the guise of being understanding and trying to help me – make excuses for him, claiming he didn’t really intend to hurt me. It made me feel crazy – as though I was blowing things out of proportion in my head and maybe they weren’t really that bad at all. Another case of an abuser justifying the actions of another abuser for their own self-preservation, and how painful it is for the victim. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Wow. That is intense. I am so sorry you went through it. Thank you for sharing your experience. The more survivors speak up, the more chance we have of helping others. ((hugs)) to you!

    2. I was in an abusive relationship for a couple years as a young teen… and it does really fuck with your head. Done ‘right’ they can make you believe it’s your problem and not theirs… that affected me (and all subsequent relationships) for several years… so I feel your pain aliowens 🙂 At least a portion. …My mum liked him and told me to be nicer to him though at least I don’t believe she ever knew(even to this day) what went on behind closed doors us.

  16. Powerful post. I would of thrown the coffee mug at her. It amazes me how she puts Rod before her own son. That is sick and twisted. Maybe she she does feel guilt on some level but her pride is getting in the way. We put our children on this planet. They do not choose to be here and it is down to us to protect them from harm.

  17. I just unintentionally stumbled on this. I was trying to click on something else but this popped out. But from all this there’s only one thing I can see and will tell you ; his mother is his potential destroyer (she hasn’t yet) and you are his only hope.

  18. Children of parent/s with narcissistic personality disorder often suffer abuse, physical or otherwise. i of course have not met with your mother in law, nor had more information than this post. Bells ring though. When the child of a parent with NPD understands why their parent is the way they are, healing can proceed. This may be something for you to explore if you haven’t already. A narcissistic person is unlikely to change and can create a toxic relationship.

  19. People who enabled abuse carry a tremendous guilt within them that they often cannot handle. They must downplay the abuse or deny it outright, because they cannot deal with the emotional pain of knowing that they were complicit. How could you live with yourself if you are partly responsible for the horrible physical and psychological trauma your child experienced? For some people, the answer is that literally they cannot.

  20. Oh my gosh, this is endemic in the world of parents of disabled and autistic kids, too. That they didn’t *mean* any harm with any given variety of physical or psychological abuse-as-therapy, so how dare adults who were subjected to these things ask them to understand that they *are harmful.*

    Then number of parents who would rather believe that they are incapable of doing harm to their children, than to understand why they might inadvertently because they don’t understand well enough the effects of what they’re doing….is incredibly scary.

    1. It breaks my heart to think of disabled and autistic children enduring abuse … and to think of parents rationalizing it as “therapy.” Oh, it just makes me sick. It is indeed very scary.

  21. This piece is so well said. Very best wishes for your husband as he recovers, and for your family. This post reminds me of how we are very loathe to talk about- or even acknowledge – that, without generalizing an entire gender, not all women are natural mothers, or would choose motherhood without tremendous ouside pressure.

    1. Thank you, thank you! Yes, exactly! We have to change how we think about motherhood. I remember a lot of people (including my mother-in-law) pressuring me to have children, and I didn’t want them. They all said I would change my mind, but I didn’t. Children deserve parents who want them!

  22. Fantastic write, Karrie. This really hit hard on a lot of what I’m feeling about the Duggar cover-up and the way American Christians treat molestation in general. I will probably reference your piece in one of my upcoming articles. Keep writing.

    -Cee

    1. Thanks so much! And I am so glad you are writing about it! It’s such a relief to finally see this conversation happening about Christianity and molestation.

      1. I’ll link to you when I’m done – yes, several of my closest friends in the homeschooling circle were molested and I’m tired of seeing it swept under the rug as if they, as children, “asked for it.”

  23. When we dismiss another person’s pain, we only end up hurting ourselves. I am praying for your husband and your family. I hope your mother in law can recognize her son’s pain and rebuild the relationship. This is such a stirring story. Thank you for being so honest.

    1. Exactly! You nailed it. We must recognize other people’s pain or risk hardening our hearts, closing our minds, and continuing cycles of abuse — whether it be in the family or in society as a whole. Ultimately, it hurts everyone. Thank you so much!

  24. Reblogged this on Tana Daily Telegraph and commented:
    So so shockingly intense! Especially when the abuser in this narrative has developed a misguided sense of contributing to defending some ‘moral’ or ‘general theological beliefs’ as though without such contribution, ‘the faith’ would suffer irreparably. No punning is intended here, though. Know what Karrie, be encouraged to holding tight onto your convictions because God is instead so able to give life to dry bones, stones, and rocks to rise up and defend ‘the faith’ if and when circumstances demand such a course of action. Narcissism has no honourable place in society. Period.

    1. Thank you so much, Tana! I love the way you phrased this … It does give me hope! And thanks for re-blogging, too. I will be sure to check out your blog!

  25. You raise so many important points I don’t know where to start. Obviously one starts with your mother in law who is no more a Christian than Herod. She sounds typical of a certain type of Southern State American who had had their minds twisted out of all human shape when she herself was just a small child. I could never defend the way she behaves in your post, she is is just proof that the majority of child molesters are women who themselves were abused when very small. This makes her both a victim and a sinner and I can only hope she she sees the insanity of her approach to life as quickly as she can before she hurts far more people than she helps. But turning to you and your husband, why don’t you just shut the door on her and all the lunatic people she surrounds herself with. Depriving her of her son’s company for the rest of her life is the only hope you have of your husband being able to come to terms with the awful hand of cards life has dealt him. But it is you yourself for whom I feel the greatest sorrow. How do you get through each day surrounded by the atmosphere and situation in which you live? You really do need to get all the people you care about way out of reach of the predatory perverts who are harming them so dreadfully. Be strong and tell them all what you think of them, even if you’ve done it before, and then pack your bags and never set eyes on them again. It’s the only way if you want to save your marriage and your husband’s sanity.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Anton! I appreciate it more than I can say! Yes, yes, we are actively working on maintaining our geographic distance. Right now, we live a few states away from both our families. There was a time awhile back when it seemed inevitable to move back to Iowa for a short time while my husband recovered, and I was very worried about my husband being in his parents’ orbit again. I strongly felt that they would manipulate him and possibly cause another breakdown. Thank goodness we didn’t go! Instead, he took time off work to rest & recover and stay home. It was much, much better for him. I have told him we absolutely cannot move back to Iowa. It’s not safe for him or me. Right now, we are looking at getting back to Portland, Oregon!

      You will be glad to know that I eventually booted the mother-in-law out of the house. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t called her at all or at least had said, “No!” when she said she was catching a plane. It was the first time having my husband in the hospital, and I felt like I “should” call his family. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t think anyone would fly out. It shocked me, honestly. I eventually wound up having my own breakdown from the stress of her being around, which triggered my own issues.

      My husband is doing better these days. He still has his struggles, but he gets stronger every day and has been coping through music. He recently blocked his family on Facebook, which for him was an important and big move. He needed a buffer. Right now, he doesn’t have much interaction with them.

      You raise an important point about female abusers. We don’t hear much about them, but they are out there! Several of my friends have abusive mothers, and they feel so alone because it’s hard to even talk about it. It’s important that we, as a culture, recognize that women can be abusers, too. I have often wondered what may have happened to my husband’s mother as a child. I know only a few things about her childhood.

      Again, thank you!

  26. Amazingly written. Your husband is blessed by God to have you for his wife. You’re probably his only human experience with unconditional love. Stay strong and keep loving him. I’m so sorry that happened to him. To this day my mom swears she doesn’t remember some of the abusive things she did. It’s super frustrating.

    1. Oh, I am so sorry you have had to deal with your mother conveniently “forgetting.” My heart goes out to you. Sometimes I feel like the gaslighting about what happened is just as (if not more) damaging than the abuse itself. ((Hugs)) to you. Thank you for sharing!

  27. Abuse is a viscous chain. Find one abuser and read their history. It’s story after story of abuse that goes up the generations. My husband works as a crime analyst and reads report after report and you can almost wager the house that this one abuser, whether it be molesting another person, or child, or beating the dog to death, comes from a line of other abusers. It’s sad and frustrating. The chain has to be broken but a lot of times we don’t know the chain is there until it happens. I have a friend at church who did break the chain of hateful abusive fathers and it’s always an amazing thing to see. I hope that your mother-in-law is able to break her denial and see the truth.

    1. Yes, exactly! What is that old saying? “Hurt people hurt people,” I think. Heartbreaking, really–all that destruction left in abusers’ wakes.

  28. The more amazing thing is, with all the struggle your husband has had to deal with, he is still keeping strong ushering in a new way for his family.

    I don’t know why its is so hard for people to account for their part in a particular situation, even if it wasn’t them that committed the act, to sit there and allow it afterwards seems unacceptable.

    Thanks for sharing your stories.

  29. I am a Christian …. I mean I truly love the Lord and believe that He loves people….But some of the things we allow … except…ignore …. and excuse are deplorable….Thanks for sharing this.

  30. I feel for you and your husband, abuse is devistating and when done by the hands of your parents “your protectors” it mentally destroys a part of you forever. Unfortunately people like her give a bad name to the church, Christians are to love and protect etc etc. She is hiding behind guilt (and most like convinced herself she’s done nothing wrong, part of the narsaccism) and trying to project it onto y’all instead of trying to learn to live with what she has done. If she can’t admit the truth and show y’all love and be a positive person in yalls life. Cut her out. (Easier said then done I know but you and your family are whats most important now, not her)

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Yes, I love what you say about projection as a self-protection mechanism. I have long thought that she hates herself, and I believe she projects that hate onto the nearest, most convenient target so she can get through the day. Sad.

  31. Thank God that you referred to St. Thomas Aquinas because for just a split moment, I wondered where your mother in law got her principles on the doctrine of faith. I am Catholic and I don’t share such erroneous belief that because there was no intent, therefore no harm is caused. The Duggars seem delusional in their reasoning.

    1. Exactly! I don’t know where my mother-in-law’s interpretation comes from, but I think the Catechism (and Aquinas) are very clear that she is wrong. On the one hand, I think she appeals to faith because she thinks it will shield her from all criticism. On the other, I think she has convinced herself of her correctness, which will make it very hard for her to ever acknowledge her wrongdoing.

  32. This Duggar thing…it has ripped open so many secrets for so many families…I was abused by my brother as a child…when he was a child as well..and I have decided now that I refuse to let my parents continue to rationalize his actions…to claim that they must love all their children equally…and to tell me that telling my story publicly is unfair…to him and them. Thanks for this – for joining the community of people who are willing to stand on the right side. Your support for a victim travels all over the world and gives all of us some hope.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story! My heart goes out to you. I was abused by an adult sibling, and so many people try to rationalize his actions. I was reading a study on sibling abuse the other day, which states that it is the most common form of childhood abuse and the least reported. Not only that, but it seems to have a particularly negative impact on survivors, in large part because of all the rationalizing that parents will do. ((Hugs)) to you!

  33. My husband works as a crime analyst and reads report after report and you can almost wager the house that this one abuser, whether it be molesting another person, or child, or beating the dog to death, comes from a line of other abusers. It’s sad and frustrating.

  34. One thing I learned is that Narcissists, like your mother-in-law will never ever admit any wrongdoing, ever. Not happening. She probably will think that you and your husband are so unjustly ungrateful. But will never understand the damage she has caused. Just need to ignore her. Took me about 10 years to train myself to ignore my own Narcissist in the family.

  35. Your mother in law is equally responsible. Rod physically abused your husband and she emotionally abused him. Why does she shield this Rod person. Horrible woman…. Not the right person to be mother

  36. Thank you so much for sharing all of this!!! I can finally say that I’m a survivor, I though had to go through the healing process with only a therapist, I had no real outside support. I am so glad that your husband has you to stand up for him and be so strong!! Lots of love to the both of you.

  37. This is powerfully written. Very Amazing set of circumstances you present. Great writing.

  38. How could your mother in be in denial? Weird woman … This is no way to treat your son by totally ignoring what he is saying and who exactly is Rod? What power does he have over her? She is equally responsible for the abuse. She doesn’t realise the amount of mental and emotional abuse she has caused your husband , please confront her together this has to end … This denial has to end.

  39. I read this , went to work. After deep consideration of all the factors involved, I can only suggest a prudent course: kick her out! Put her on the sidewalk and leave her to her own devices…

  40. From personal experience as a victim I know how important it is to hear,”I am sorry.” But often, as in my case that never happens. So what do we do? We have to realize that the same ‘sick’ person who hurt us is not going to apologize. Most often people do not see their error. Your reasoning is beyond their own twisted way of thinking. To heal you must accept the circumstances of the act that was taken against you, accept their was nothing you could do to prevent that from happening to you, accept you were innocent and taken advantage of, accept you are no longer powerless, accept that even though you feel like damaged goods you are still valuable and loveable and normal. You have to let go of the past and keep replacing the old thoughts of defeat with new thoughts of your value as a person. Praise God I overcame what happened to me and I have healed and feel like s whole person and you can too. Things on positive thoughts. Keep replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts until positive thinking become natural to you. I did it and you can too

    1. It’s an interesting assumption that we must be having “negative” thoughts. Nowhere in the piece do you learn anything about our general approach to life or whether we are “negative” or “positive.” PTSD and major depressive disorders are not “choices.” Perpetrating that myth is extremely damaging, and not only that, but it’s ableism.

      For example, perhaps you missed the first post on this topic, where I mention that my husband goes to Restorative Justice conferences and presents on accountability issues. He is using his trauma to effect social change. That’s not negative. In fact, it’s inherently hopeful.

      But thank you for reading and taking time to comment!

      1. I struggled with depression, widespread bodily pain and other life changing illnesses for years. Still have my own personal struggle. I was speaking from my experience. I am so sorry if I offended you. Please forgive me.

    2. I did miss the first post on the topic and I was not saying that you are thinking negative thoughts. I merely felt moved to share my own story and how I was affected by it and how I overcame my negative thoughts about myself. I was speaking generally to anyone who feels badly about themselves because I personally found that my thoughts are very important to how I feel about myself. I am sorry if I have offended, please forgive me.

  41. Wow, thank you for sharing this story. I love being able to read something so beautiful and honest every once in awhile. All the best to you and your husband.

  42. Great stuff about intentions, of course the intentions don’t matter – especially because they’re un-testable and un-provable. What crime could ever get prosecuted with a rule like that? Plus damage and hurt feelings are subjective matters. If I feel I have been raped, I have been raped no? Same with abuse, it clearly can’t be up to the perpetrators to define the crime!
    And that’s the point, if she wants a philosophical battle – “But you can only do evil if you intend it!” Of course that rule let’s Hitler off – should the perpetrators define the crimes, all of them, everybody, abortion doctors, genocidal megalomaniacs, Obama? Or just her and her ruined man?

    Oh, this is so up my alley . . .

    That wasn’t even what I wanted to say! What was it? – oh yeah, Intentions.

    Intentions not exonerating people for the above huge reasons aside, it applies at every level of abuse, every level of hurt. ALL punishments use that rational, no possible harm because of good intentions, and it all needs to be looked at differently.

    Would you mind I throw a few links to blogs I have that relate closely to this subject?

    Jeff / Neighsayer

    1. Fantastic points about intentions being unprovable and un-testable! Yes, please share the links! I will also be sure to follow your blog. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment!

  43. I wish you could just cut her out of your life. She is toxic and in my humble opinion not worth the effort to fix. At least not with comparison to what contact costs you and your husband.

  44. I am sorry for your husband… It’s actually really heavy to carry this kind of things. And I am pretty sure that His mum is conscious of all the harm, not admitting it doesn’t mean She doesn’t know she screwed up. I hope one day your husband will heal from his past and that his mum will apologize to Him and to You. All the best.

  45. Wow, I can totally understand your anger and frustration through what you wrote. I’m really sorry for what both your husband and you are going through. Sending lots of strength your way xoxo

  46. I am a survivor of rape and I know how hard it was for me to get past my abuser wasn’t someone I saw every day he was someone I was familiar with. So I can’t imagine the horror of it being my sibling. The same fact you’re pointing out is the same one I noticed while watching the Duggar case on the news. Everything is in support of the abuser

    1. First of all, my heart goes out to you for being a survivor. Sending all my love! Thanks for your thoughtful comment and for sharing a little of your story.

      1. Thanks it took me a while to be OK. Hopefully my survival story will others, I’m still working to get it all out

  47. Thought provoking article. Best wishes to your husband for a better health and full recovery. Forgiveness is key to healing the evils of the world but must include making amends to the victims. You cannot take away the past but you can at least acknowledge the legitimacy of their pain. And you avoid situations where you might repeat the offense. Your mother in law sounds maddening. I am finding how tenaciously people will cling for dear life to their narratives and rationalizations. It makes me question my own thought ruts. Through writing and reading, prayer and meditation, and through conscious listening, I make an effort to see things from new angles.

    1. Excellent point! These kinds of stories/experiences are opportunities for all of us to reflect on our own ruts and how we can improve as human beings. I certainly have ruts that I need to get out of! And yes, it is shocking how people will cling to rationalizations at all costs. Thank you, thank you for this thoughtful comment! Sending hugs your way!

  48. I understand your frustration with how the Duggars handled the situation and your husbands went through a horrible ordeal. With that said, I think you are being unfair with the comparison. You are projecting a personal, close, situation onto something which has come out completely different. First…the man in your husbands life was a CHILD MOLESTER! He was an adult who preyed on children. According to the victims….they didn’t even know it was happening and it was through their clothes. So he was an adolescent curious about breasts and girls. I wrote about their situation as well : http://halipawz.com/2015/05/22/what-is-the-real-anger-behind-the-josh-dugger-story-parent-cover-up-mistakes-as-a-teen-just-wanting-to-be-hateful-halipawz/ as I think there is a little more to the story. I think everyone is forgetting the victims in the fact they are having to relive it now at a time when their lives are so happy, marriage, children, etc. In this comparison, it doesn’t sound like your husbands mom did anything to protect her child. At least the Duggars were trying to protect their children in the manner they felt best at the time. Both situations are troubling but I still have to say I don’t think they are equal or comparative.

    I wish you and your husband all the best. Family dynamics can be difficult.

    1. You might be surprised to learn that the scientific literature shows intra-sibling abuse is one of the most traumatic and damaging forms of abuse, including incest … and that this holds true regardless of whether the offender is underage. In fact, the reason it’s so devastating is because so many families minimize it.

      (Edited for clarity and formatting)

      The facts about age and sibling abuse:

      1. The greater the age gap, the more likely to be classified as abuse — meaning here, less likely to be consensual or “playing doctor.” (Josh Duggar offended against siblings as much as ten years younger AND asleep, meaning consent is off the table. It was not play. It was not curiosity. It was flat-out abuse.) NOTE: It can STILL be abuse even if offender-victim are close in age. The issue is consent, not just age. Also please note that larger age gaps can result in greater trauma, though it depends on circumstances.

      2. Oftentimes, parents and other adults brush off sibling sexual abuse as “playing doctor” or expressing “natural curiosity” because the offender is underage or close to the age of the victim. When they minimize it like this, it is *extremely* traumatizing to the victim, who feels unprotected and unsafe in his or her own home. I am not speaking here of *actual* games of “doctor,” but rather, abuse. Note that Josh Duggar offended against victims who were asleep, meaning it was not consensual, so therefore not doctor. It is clear and unambiguous abuse.

      3. Smaller age gaps can be extremely traumatic because victims sometimes have feelings of guilt about “complicity,” even if they weren’t complicit or in fact succumbed to force or trickery. Also, as noted previously, parents will minimize sexual abuse when offender-victim are close in age, therefore making the victim feel unsafe and unloved.

      I was a victim of sibling incest of an adult brother (18 years older than me–he is now deceased). My family minimizes it because he was a sibling, and I live with PTSD and other issues now.

      The literature is very clear on this: Incest and sexual abuse is not a “lesser” trauma if the offender is near in age. It simply isn’t.

      And the Duggars, quite frankly, did not handle it well at all, IMO. You have a right to your opinion, of course, but I have read all I can on the case, and I do not — and will not– agree.

      Also, it took me until I was in my thirties to break out of denial about my trauma. By then, I had already harmed myself in various ways. I hope that doesn’t happen to the Duggar girls, but just because you don’t know of any trauma they have, doesn’t mean it isn’t there or won’t come out.

      As for my husband’s situation, it absolutely is comparable. His parents used Christianity to justify keeping his abuser around and also to excuse the crime. I have received countless comments and emails from people who survived sexual abuse under similar circumstances to my husband, and to the person, they see the similarities. So to deny that is to deny survivors their truth. And that is VERY damaging. Likewise, my husband’s parents kept him in close quarters with his abuser, just as the Duggars did. You are entitled to your opinion, but I am entitled to see it as an uninformed opinion.

      Finally, while I am sympathetic to the view that dragging the story out could damage victims, the only reason that’s true is because of apologists who minimize the trauma and/or blame the victims. Shouldn’t be that way.

  49. This is very powerful storytelling, and I would like to applaud your courage. Child abuse is not something many people are capable of dealing with, or talking about, but it is very prevalent in our society…

  50. Wow – this is powerful stuff. I re-read the paragraph that all is not black and white – if you look for Monsters, you would overlook the true perpetrator. And the nightmare of bedtime. And overlooking the victims. You touched on a lot here and may have opened a lot of eyes.

  51. Reblogged this on Piggie's Place and commented:
    For the offenders, I think that intentions do matter. But the effects of their crimes are the same, regardless of the intention. Manslaughter results in a dead person just as much as murder 1. The victim’s suffering is not negated by anything that the offender can do. They may be able to make peace with themselves, but that offers no peace to their victims. In my profession, I have worked with both. The victim is by far, the one who always pays the bigger price. And I agree that detail often gets forgotten. I just don’t understand how.

    1. So true. Excellent point! Obviously, mens rea is an extremely important element to a crime (as it should be). I think the imbalance might come from treating life outside the justice system context the same as how a trial operates, as if survivors should weight and judge their experiences exactly as a court of law (or jury) would. It’s quite a burden. Human beings are not courts of law.

      Thanks for the re-blog also! I will check out your blog as well!

      1. Thanks for posting it. I really think people need to be reminded of this kind of thing. Blaming the victim can be as damaging as the original crime.

  52. I also randomly came upon this and was hoping it was fiction. I applaud you for sticking up for your husband against his mother. Amazing support systems and lots of strength can go a long long way.

    I’ve lived as an only child surrounded by adults my entire life, under one roof I lived with my parents, god parents, grand parents and aunts and uncles. Adults are supposed to protect you from the harm in the world; it’s never expected that harm can come from within the family. I was 7 or 8 when i had an uncle who was a drunk forcibly kiss me on the lips and shove his tongue down my throat, thankfully I was able to push him off before anything else could happen, and that it was a one time incident. I kept it a secret from my family because I didn’t think they’d believe me, I felt ashamed, was afraid they’d think my imagination was running wild. It wasn’t till I was 18 and had my first boyfriend who decided to impulsively kiss me as a first kiss that triggered that repressed memory and sense of terror of being taken advantage of. My then boyfriend was extremely supportive and understanding and encouraged me to talk to my family about it. That was the time I decided to come clean to my family because clearly it still affected me if it had been triggered so easily, I’ve never confronted my uncle, but he’s very very far away from me now and more likely than not doesn’t remember the incident…

    eek, i rambled a bit! Sorry! but thank you so much for sharing and for such a great post!

    1. No apologies necessary! Your experience sounds awful and traumatic, and I am glad you shared it. ((Hugs)) to you! I feel like there is a lot of pressure to minimize experiences, but our society needs to realize that silence, shame, fear, and not being protected can compound traumas. Quite often, the familial response (or lack thereof) either makes the initial trauma worse or becomes a trauma in and of itself. Children deserve to feel safe, and when families do not provide that feeling, it is shattering. I am glad you had a supportive boyfriend who helped you unburden your secret. I hope you still have support around you now, and I am glad the uncle is far, far away. Sending you wishes for healing!

  53. This is the second time I read this. Only way to help is to keep the offender away from the victim. Don’t understand your mother in law . How could she allow this something is seriously wrong with the woman …

  54. Your courage to share so openly had changed me in ways I don’t think I can’t accurately describe to you. I can relate. I am a victim as well. I am trying to start talking about this l, because as you know, it is a large part of how I view the world, how I view myself, and how my fears have driven a lot of my decisions even as an adult. Thank you for your bravery. It has inspired me to begin to talk. To write. I am new to this blogging world and you have given me the strength to keep it up.

  55. This is just the sickness of the minds. It’s the most hideous of the sins. I abhor incest. It’s ridiculously pathetic for any of us to defend this type of crime. They should be severely punished in the public. I don’t believe they get to rehabilitation programs instead of prison.

  56. I am appalled at the lack of compassion and (real love) obviously missing from your husband’s parents toward him. I am a dedicated Christian, but I cannot understand their way of thinking. I received care from a Christian facility for abuse I suffered growing up. At this place abusers were made to face up to their crimes and take their consequences, and my feelings and hurts were totally validated. And telling my story was part of the healing process, no matter how much the abuser didn’t want to hear it. My God is a God of healing, yes, but He is also a God of justice. I pray your husband will get his justice and his parents will come to a full understanding of where /how they failed him and genuinely seek his forgiveness and help him walk through his healing. Thank you for sharing his story (and yours).

  57. Thank you for this. It’s exactly this train of thought that is one (of the many) reasons my mother is no longer welcome in my life and my children’s lives.

  58. Sometimes, it’s so much easier for an abuser to live in their own reality in order to justify their own wrongdoings instead of facing the facts.

  59. This moved me. It was great that you understand and acknowledged your husband’s pain often we find the victims alone while everyone trying fix the offender. This literally give me chills. I think your mother in law is hurting as well because she knows deep down inside and that is her strategy to cope. Thanks for posting this one.

      1. A person’s religion is supposed to be their values. We are discounting evil as a condition. I don’t get why we do that. Evil is what it is and is defined in the dictionary as profoundly immoral and wicked. This is what these people are – profoundly immoral and wicked – it isn’t religion that does this to them. Perhaps such people get involved in religion because they want to hide their behavior, attempt to fix themselves, or some other reason but we are not being fair on genuine religious people, or fair to ourselves when we allow religion to be used as an excuse to justify the evil in some people. Even more so, we are living a very big lie without cure because we cannot ever begin to find the logic when we have arrived at the wrong conclusion because we worked with the wrong evidence to begin with. These people that do evil are evil – we need to stop finding justifications for their actions and just accept it for what it is; only then will we find useful solutions to some of the sickest most twisted problems we have in our homes, communities, and societies.

  60. Read the first part ‘I had a nightmare….’ as well. Gave me the chills! This is… I don’t know, how could the parents do that? What kind of a twisted logic is that? Outrageous!

  61. I’ve never read something so spot on about sweeping the damage done to the victim under the rug. It is not spoken about enough. Thank you for sharing.

  62. How does someone molest a child by accident? How disgusting to put a molester’s well-being above a child’s, one’s own child. Such a mother is an accomplice in the crime committed against her son. My heart goes out to your husband.

  63. My uncle was the “shhhhhh, don’t tell” person in my family. I was just a little kid, maybe 3 years old maybe 4 when we stopped going to their house because my dad found out what he was doing but “shhhh don’t tell” (although I think my dad beat the crap out of that uncle who was my mom’s sister’s husband-I just think my dad did it when nobody was looking-shhhhhhhhh don’t tell.”

  64. As if he hasn’t suffered enough, it sounds like this relationship between he and hs mother is possibly revictimizing him. Her continued denial of the severity of the situation, and her role in it, is like poison. I wish you guys well.

  65. Your husband is fortunate to have married such an articulate woman. You’ve done good by him. I hope for the best for him and you. Thanks for sharing!

  66. Wow. So many thoughts are running through my mind that I’m not sure where to start. Your story is a powerful one, to be sure, and I commend you on your willingness to support and stand with your husband as he heals from a horrific childhood. A childhood that, unfortunately, I am all too familiar with.

    I too come from a background of extreme child abuse. My father was an angry, evil, and violent man who made me the scapegoat of his rage. I had to become multiple (Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder) in order to physically and emotionally survive. They got divorced when I was ten, so most of the abuse stopped at that point, but the damage had already been done.

    Once I reached adulthood and tried to function in society~and couldn’t~I had to face the reality that maybe something had happened to me when I was a child, but what? For the first time I wondered why I remembered nothing from my first ten years, a fact I had always known but never questioned, and thus I started on an odyssey of discovery~which ultimately turned into a wellspring of horror as I found out that my childhood was not the happy one of my dreams, but rather the stuff of nightmares.

    Fast-forward a number of years, and I’m no longer multiple. I tried suicide nine times, but that’s no longer an issue. God and my cat keep me in line. 😉 Thankfully, I’ve been able to forgive both my parents for what they did to me, something I had long desired. I still have many struggles, to wit, I don’t trust men and I’m terrified of sex, and relationships in general are difficult. I could happily be a hermit with my cat as long as I have a computer with an internet connection. The upshot of it is that I’m happier and more at peace than I ever thought possible, especially given my beginnings, a fact I attribute to the presence of God in my life and a lot of good therapy and the prayers of a lot of faithful friends. I am keeping a blog on my progress and I’m reblogging your post, a new experience for me. Yippee!! Here’s the link: https://godsnotthroughwithmeyet.wordpress.com

  67. Thank you for sharing this. I am a Christian that survived sexual abuse as a child, and get nauseated by other Christians that try and defend the Duggar’s handling of their son Josh. I hope your husband continues to improve. I just broke a three year stent of near constant panic, I’m not good with a musical interment but I have writing and a supportive wife. Stay strong both of you, sorry you guys have to go through this.

  68. After reading this blog entry, I was so damn moved. I wondered what it would be like to have a woman like you alongside for the ride. The experience is indescribable, and yet you pull it off here with great clarity. Special thanks.

  69. I’m sorry about your family problems. I’m sorry for your husband’s pain. What a precious person you are to be standing in the gap for your hubby, and fending off more abuse at the hands of an enabling extremist mother. I am forever thankful for people like you – without you, what would become of victims is too harrowing to think about. Thank you for loving your husband enough and thank you for loving the ‘right thing’ enough. I hope this post encourages more people to take a stance or at least shows them the right way to be. Sadly being a good person does not come with a manual or some natural form of justice. All some of us have is faith in the Universe fixing its mistakes or God who will deliver His own brand of justice. Having said that, I don’t condone or allow anyone claiming to be religious get away with using religion as an excuse to hurt or find a cure; that makes no sense to me, and as a religious person, a Christian, – my faith is not about that life. I hope your family can heal. As a Christian I am praying healing for you and your family. Thank you for sharing this story – it is was a powerful read.

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