As a psychologist, talking head and author of books on the impact of celebrity culture, I love to analyze stories in the media and I love that I get to do so on television. Last week I was on Fox & Friends as well as HLN talking about a groundbreaking study as to what may have motivated Josh Duggar’s behavior in the first place.
Let me start by saying this is by no means an excuse for his heinous acts. Nor should offenders not be held accountable because of this research. On the contrary, this study and studies like this give us the opportunity to stop an offender before he has the chance to find his first victim. It’s important to understand that while there are offenders whose behavior could be managed, many will not stop until we stop them.
However, the larger question that has been asked is, what’s wrong with Josh? How can a teenager from a close-knit, religious family commit such a horrible act? This study seeks to answer that question.
The 2011 published work, conducted by Dr. Colin Hawkes in the London-based National Clinical Assessment and Treatment Service (NCats), found that one-third of all sex offenders carried out their first act before the age of 18. Further findings suggest that young offenders (14- and 15-year-olds like Josh was at the time) who perform any kind of sexual act on a younger sibling do so for one of two reasons. The first, the study says, is they themselves have been victims at some point in their lives, or second, they are copying what they have seen adults doing.
Dr. Hawkes’ and his colleagues’ work adds to a growing body of evidence about the devastating impact early childhood has on brain development, as well as the ability to predict this kind of sexual violent behavior in children before they can hurt anyone else.
I also should point out a sound bite the media keeps playing in regards to Josh’s culpability. The audio is that of the Duggar sisters saying that Josh was “a little too curious about girls.” That statement, if it helps Jill and Jessa heal, is a beneficial refrain for their own journey and I would never begrudge them that opportunity. That said, the research shows that boys who are sexually curious tend to act out those interests with peers and not siblings. We have built in mechanisms to keep us from incest that is hardwired into our DNA and survival instinct. Those who cross those boundaries are acting against nature.
Jill and Jessa point to statistics that two-thirds of girls have experienced some sort of sexual violence, when in fact, according to the CDC the numbers are more like one in five. If anything good can come out of all of this media exposure, it is that fans of the show who either have been or are presently being abused will have the courage to come forward.
If you are looking for more resources for help with any type of sexual abuse, please visit the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.