What the Duggar child sexual abuse story teaches us

Janet Harmon, director of prevention and education, Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center
Janet Harmon, director of prevention and education, Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center Courtesy of Pat’s Place

From Janet Harmon, director of prevention and education at Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center

With so much media attention recently regarding the Duggar family and the actions of their eldest son Josh when he was a teenager, numerous issues have been raised surrounding sexual behavior problems in youth, and how parents and caregivers can appropriately respond to child sexual abuse.

For Pat’s Place and other Children’s Advocacy Centers, many of our most heart-wrenching cases involve families in which sibling abuse has occurred. Parents are distraught about the victimization of one child, while terribly worried about the legal consequences to another child.

Youth with sexual behavior problems are more common than most people realize. Approximately 23 percent of the cases seen by Pat’s Place last year involved youth that sexually harm – most often a sibling, cousin, or friend from the neighborhood or school.

There are many reasons children and youth may develop a sexual behavior problem. Whatever the reason, it is critical to ensure these youth receive evidence-supported treatment to interrupt this cycle of behavior, so that all children in the home can be safe. If we can identify these issues and interrupt this behavior early, evidence-based treatment yields a high success rate.

One excellent resource for parents and professionals is the National Center for the Sexual Behavior of Youth, which provides public awareness, training in evidence-based treatments, and technical assistance all tied to managing and responding to youth with problematic sexual behavior. For guidance locally, contact Pat’s Place at 704-335-2760 and ask to speak with the Director of Victim Services.

Most importantly, at the heart of every child sexual abuse case, are the child victims. We should not minimize the trauma child victims suffer as a result of abuse by youth with sexual behavior problems.

Since over 90 percent of cases involve a family member or someone known and trusted, child victims often struggle with both their fear of continued abuse and their love for the person who has harmed them. Any form of inappropriate sexual touching of a child must be taken seriously.

When this is suspected, a report must be made to the Department of Social Services where the child resides. In Mecklenburg County, reports should be made to 704-336-CARE or 704-336-2273.

Every child deserves to be safe and protected. Every child who has been harmed, and those who cause harm, deserves access to effective treatment.

Every adult can be an advocate. Pat’s Place offers training so all adults can learn to prevent, recognize, and respond to child sexual abuse. For more information, call 704-335-2760 or contact me at