Desirae Brown, I Know Much of What the Duggars are Going Through, Surviving Abuse

I Know Much of What the Duggars are Going Through

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I watch the Duggar’s show, 19 Kids and Counting. A lot. A year ago, after the birth of my second child in two years, I watched marathons of the show in the wee hours of the morning while feeding my newborn son. Knowing that Michelle Duggar had done this 19 times was strangely comforting during a period when I was completely overwhelmed with two babies of my own.
I also come from a conservative, religious family that has spent some time in the spotlight. I am part of a family classical music group, The 5 Browns. We’ve performed concerts all over the world, been interviewed on pretty much every news magazine format and entertainment television show you can think of and participated in hundreds of interviews for print magazines and newspapers all over the world. That’s the kind of thing it takes to become only mildly “famous.” And I cringe just using the word because it feels false. The Duggar’s fame, on the other hand, has really blown up in the last few years. Several times a week they are all over People Magazine and other celebrity news outlets. As I followed the show, I thought this was an extremely precarious situation for them to be in. They projected themselves as the Christian ideal and I suspected something was terribly off.
The 5 Browns (from left to right: Melody, Gregory, Deondra, Desirae, Ryan)
The 5 Browns (from left to right: Melody, Gregory, Deondra, Desirae, Ryan)
Four years ago my family’s private life blew up in our faces and all over the media. My two sisters and I had been sexually abused by our father when we were children and teenagers. When we initially decided to prosecute we wanted it to be done as quietly as possible. My parents presented themselves, my siblings and I as the perfect Mormon family. We suspected it wouldn’t go well for us if news of the abuse somehow became public. Then my dad, with my mom as passenger, drove off a nearly 500 foot cliff in a Utah canyon. They both survived but what followed was a media firestorm that lasted until my father pleaded guilty to the sex abuse charges 6 weeks later.
I don’t know exactly what the Duggars are going through but I can take a pretty good guess. Within hours of the media hearing about my parent’s accident, press outlets had connected the dots, were requesting the sex-abuse police reports, and were piecing together who the victims were. In the days and weeks that followed my siblings and I had every national news outlet hounding our publicist and us, personally, for interviews. We each had cameras at the front doors of our homes. I remember hiding in my house with all the blinds shut wondering how I could ever go out in the real world again. I grew up in a culture that obsessively valued chastity and moral pureness. I remember feeling such shame and embarrassment that everyone I knew would know about this. I have no doubt the Duggar girls are feeling something similar. At this moment they probably just want it all to go away. But it won’t. Just as the abuse (that they want forgotten so badly they requested the police reports to be expunged) will never truly go away. Trying to forget these types of crimes won’t actually heal a victim. Christian culture pressures victims to “forgive” before being allowed the years it takes to work through the pain of sexual abuse. I know because I lived through that type of pressure. But I broke through the expectations of conservative christian culture and fought back.
Right now Josh Duggar and the Duggar parents are publicly trying to minimize the abuse by inferring that it was the folly of youth. Sexual abuse is a crime, whether the perpetrator is 14, 40 or 90 years old. One wouldn’t expect age or time to exonerate a murderer yet the public frequently excuses sex abuse and rape of a child as being “so long ago.” Frequently, some uneducated people think sex abuse victims should just be over it by now. Well, times are changing. Those statutes of limitations that have let Josh Duggar live in the world as a free man will soon be eliminated. Several states have begun eliminating the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases. Utah is one of those states. My sisters and I prosecuted in Utah and my father was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. The Foundation for Survivors of Abuse is making progress and working hard to ensure that every victim in every state will have the option to prosecute.
I feel for the Duggar girls. They have lived, and will continue to live, with a lot of pain, expectation and pressure. The press exposure will completely exacerbate all of the above. What they are going through with media exposure right now is 200x what my siblings and I went through, and I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. Living in such a conservative, isolating environment will make true healing complicated. But they are girls and women of character. Maybe someday, years from now, they will take a true accounting of what they’ve been through. They will realize that what they’ve been through is neither good or bad but TRUE. Maybe they can claim the truth one day. If I could give them any advice right now I would tell them to hold their heads high. You have nothing to be ashamed of – HOLD YOUR HEADS HIGH.
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