Monday, June 8, 2015

Erin Merryn discusses the Duggar's

       Erin Merryn is a childhood sexual abuse advocate. She works with educators and politicians to pass legislation called Erin's law. The law would make sexual abuse and safety programs in schools a requirement. I am very supportive of her work in this area and hope to see more states pass her law.

"Erin Merryn is a mother and an advocate for sexual abuse prevention. At age 6, she was molested and later raped by a friend’s uncle. At 11, her teenage cousin began abusing her. The author of three books about abuse, she is the creator of Erin’s Law, which requires public schools to teach sexual abuse prevention." Rachel Bertsche 

        I appreciate how Merryn has chosen to speak out about her own painful experiences and be a powerful voice for not only herself but other victims. Discussing childhood sexual abuse is still a difficult subject in our society. So many people shut out discussion or thought about it because they find it astonishing, brutal, and difficult to process. I think as survivors we find it to be similarly difficult, but worse so when our silence is the preferred treatment of it. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of Merryn's work and her role in public education.  She is someone who is easy to relate to and easy to accept as a public figure despite the difficulty of the subject matter.  

     I was therefore disappointed when I read an article on in which she defended the Duggar family and their current situation. She did state that she informed Michelle Duggar that she did not support how they handled things. However in an effort to be compassionate or take a neutral tone she left out some critical things and even created some others that were concerning.   

The Yahoo Article
Abuse Survivor Reveals Duggar Text Messages

 "The one thing I have to give the Duggar's credit for – they are not in denial. They may be protecting their son, but at least they aren’t in denial."  Erin Merryn

      The evidence she is pointing to in support of this; the fact that the Duggar's have been currently discussing what happened and their attesting that they did seek help when Josh came to them. But there has been a lot of denial. From aspects of telling the Josh story and steering away from the truth at times, to how they define what he did. The Duggar's may support education on what is not appropriate touch, but they do not show that they believe such incidents are sexual assault. Listening to their interview it seemed as if they really do not understand what bad touch, sexual assault, and rape really mean. And according to Merryn they invited her into their home to educate both them and their children many years ago on boundaries, bad touch etc.
Not only that but isn't there some level of denial when you do not seek the proper treatment for any of the family members involved?  She says in the interview that yes the Duggar's made mistakes and that she told them she hoped their daughters would not be re-victimized- but where is the criticism from someone who has had to deal with a painful experience and heal- about how the family treated the healing of everyone involved?  

"The very first page of my book, An Unimaginable Act, even has a quote from Michelle and Jim Bob. They wrote, ‘Erin Merryn is a dynamic Christian young lady who shares her tragic testimony of how she was abused growing up, but once she was able to open up, God set her free."  Erin Merryn
      I was really troubled by the fact that Merryn is an advocate for protecting children. She purports the belief that what happened to her was wrong; yet she seemed supportive of the Duggar's perception of her work and personal healing. The Duggar's perception and response to Merryn comes across as if her being a sexual abuse victim was before she found Christ- as if it was her own sin that caused her to be abused. It might seem like I am reading to much into their statement but I believe that the phrasing comes across in that manner. Also this would not be out of line with the Duggar's belief system. It would be acceptable to say the victims had sinned and the abuse is partly their fault. I couldn't stomach reading all the way through the Gothard literature on that particular belief but there are links if you wish to google it. 

    I want to praise Merryn for stating that she believed the Duggar's did not handle the situation  as they should have, but so many other things undermine this for me. Her statements about the Duggar girls wanting to protect their parents are accurate. However when she shares her own story of pasting on a smile so her Mom wouldn't be  grieved about the abuse she (Merryn) suffered- I shudder a little. It might be a natural instinct as she put it, but Merryn perhaps unintentionally normalizes this idea that her mothers feelings were her responsibility. In that situation neither her or the Duggar girls feelings are acknowledged and the parents take on the victim role- even though they were not the ones victimized. Merryn also does not acknowledge that the Duggar girls are protecting their parents and pasting on smiles because that is a core part of their beliefs. They are not just trying to put on a good show, and keep a stiff upper lip to be supportive- they believe not doing so is a bad attitude and grieves God.  

"Parents are supposed to protect their kids, but kids want to protect us, too. So I’m not surprised at all – I figured they would take this position. If they had a problem with their parents, or how they handled it, this would have come out long ago." Erin Merryn

     This statement is just galling. Merryn again seems to be completely unaware of the belief structure the Duggar's adhere to. In what world would the Duggar girls ever come out and say they have a problem with their parents?!  Even with being independent it would take a while to be able to break free from such an authoritative parenting style as well as the type of family structure. Not only that if they were to speak out against their parents the consequences could be estrangement. They could be cut off by their parents and might not be allowed to see their siblings.  Also to consider is that there is a lot of pressure for the Duggar girls to respond in a way that does not damage their parent's and families public image. It's more than just being naturally protective when you could get blamed for the entire dissolution of the families image and income. Merryn's lack of awareness also shows in her statement that the Duggar children were some of the most well behaved children she'd seen. Yes I bet they were! You would be well behaved to if you were afraid of the consequences for being seen as behaving badly.

    I appreciate how she tries to make the situation an educational moment, and asks parents to consider putting themselves in the Duggar's shoes- and how would they handle it. She said she hopes parents would follow the proper protocol and authority channels. That's all really lovely, but I am concerned  by some of the elements to her message- those which seem contrary.  She says it is not her job to judge- in her message to Michelle Duggar. I believe that it may not be our job to judge the Duggar's but it is our job to discuss and critique. It is not a judgement to look at their actions, evaluate, and to ask the tough questions. As a survivor what does "not judging" say about our right to call out dysfunctional families and systems that didn't protect us from abuse or even worse helped foster it? I'm frustrated and saddened by some of what she says, but also believe that Merryn likely has a ways to go in her own healing and evaluations of the messages and beliefs she holds onto. I just wish she would evaluate a little more quickly before creating any potential harm and confusion for survivors and others who look to her as a role model.   

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