Shame’s insidious fingerprints are all over the latest abuse-cover-up scandal involving Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting fame. How could such abuse be covered up for 12 years by a family living life “in the open”? A family with a reality TV show, no less. Shame thrives with a conspiracy of silence, and abuse of all sorts provides ample fodder – but particularly so when you add in the factors of abuse of a sexual nature, abuse of a minor, a perpetrator who’s publicly known, and a perpetrator who belongs to a faith community. As a counselor and a Christian involved in church my entire life, I have seen these scandals played out in a hauntingly familiar pattern over and over again. I want to suggest a few ways that shame keeps an abuse scandal secret in such a scenario.
Shame’s whispered lies for the victim:
1 – It’s up to you to protect your perpetrator’s reputation by staying silent.
2 – God forgives him/her, so why can’t you? (And forgiveness=forgetting.)
3 – What happened wasn’t really that bad.
4 – You did something to deserve it. You didn’t say “no” – or you were dressing “immodestly” or allowed yourself to be alone with him/her.
5 – To speak up about the abuse would bring embarrassment to you and your family. It’s best to deal with it alone and not bring anyone else into the shame you feel.
Shame’s protective shield of lies for the perpetrator:
1 – It only happened once (or twice or 3 x’s) … so it’s not that big of a deal.
2 – I was young and immature, and I didn’t know better.
3 – The less it’s discussed, the better off I will be.
4 – Because God forgives my sin, I don’t need to ask forgiveness from my victim or talk to the appropriate authorities.
5 – S/he made me do it. It’s really his/her fault.
Shame’s lies believed by a faith community who discovers the abuse (and doesn’t report it immediately):
1 – God’s reputation is at stake, so it’s best to keep this quiet and not let anyone else know.
2 – We can handle it. No need to get the authorities involved.
3 – The laws of the land about mandated reporting do not apply to us – we’re under God’s law.
4 – It’s up to us to protect the reputation of the perpetrator.
5 – God’s mercy negates God’s justice.
Shame’s role in such a scandal is to exacerbate it – keeping the victims and the perpetrator locked in silence – a place where neither of them can find the healing they truly need. It would have been merciful for the abuse to have come to light 12 years ago instead of today. There would be much less of a scandal-element for the Duggar family, and certainly there would have been more freedom for the victim(s) to know and see justice being done. And to be protected from contact from him. And even for future victims to be rescued from the same.
If you find yourself identifying with any of these places – that of victim, or of perpetrator, or of a faith community member who’s covering up abuse – speak up. It’s the only way shame begins to lose its power. And it’s the only way full redemption and restoration can begin to occur.
*Shame is the subject of my upcoming book with Crossway – shame of all varieties and the freedom and healing that comes through Christ. Expected release date of June 2016.