Josh Duggar's Wife Thought He Was Cured — But Can Sex Offenders Ever Truly Be Rehabilitated?

Photo: Washington County Sheriff’s Office 
Josh Duggar's Mug Shot

Josh Duggar first made news for criminal behavior when it was revealed that he sexually abused five girls when he was around 15 years old. Four of the girls were his sisters. 

After his parents learned about the abuse, Duggar was sent to a Christian "treatment center" in Little Rock, Arkansas for several months during 2003 where he was “cleansed,” according to camp leaders who spoke with The Daily Mail.

In 2015, when the abuse became public, Duggar admitted to “wrongdoing” and his wife, Anna, claimed counseling had “changed his life.” 

Then, at the beginning of May 2021, Duggar was indicted on charges of receiving and possessing child pornography. The material allegedly involves children from the ages of 18 months to 12 years old and has been described as the “worst of the worst” by investigators. 

Sadly, it appears Anna Duggar was wrong about her husband's recovery. 

The best way to treat sex offenders has always been considered controversial, and has proven unsuccessful in this case, if the child sexual abuse material accusations prove to be true. The particular treatment that Duggar received at the Integrity Construction Institute was, admittedly, a less-than-traditonal therapeutic program.

According to Bill Gothard, who founded and was involved with the IBLP when Duggar was in the program, told The Daily Mail that Josh participated in carpetry, counseling and programs such as "lust counseling".

Gothard has since left the organization after multiple credible accusations of sexual harassment and abuse.

RELATED: Why Josh Duggar Was Granted 'Unlimited Contact' With His Kids After Child Pornography Arrest & Prior Molestation Of His Sisters

But even in more traditional clincial settings, is it possible for sex offenders to change their ways? Do any of these programs work?

Treatment requires an understanding of why child molesters offend, and this alone is challenging. The abhorrent nature of these crimes makes it difficult to want to help sex offenders.

Equally, treating it as a kind of illness detaches molestation from the reality that it is a criminal offense that actively harms another person, and those behaviors can never be excused. 

However, if child sex molesters can be rehabilitated, and even one child can be saved from sexual abuse, surely it is a worthwhile effort. 

Can sex offenders be rehabilitated? 

First, it's important to note that perpetrators of child sexual abuse come from varied backgrounds, ages, races, ethnicities and genders. 

The age of the perpetrator is particularly important when addressing interventions and treatments. There are cases of young children sexually abusing other children, and the interventions involved with that child is different from what one would expect for a 15 year-old. In that vein, the treatment a 15 year-old should be given may vary from that of an adult perpetrator.

Addressing the treatment of child sexual abuse perpetrators is complex, so in order to talk about this subject, we will be looking at stats and information regarding older teen and adult perpetrators. 

Sex offenders who are given prevention treatment after offending have a recidivism rate of 14%, which is lower than their untreated counterparts, who have a recidivism rate of 26%.

Yet, this statistic relies on arrests or self-reporting, making it difficult to account for the many unreported sexual crimes.

There is also the painful reality of what this treatment means for victims. Most sexual abusers are known to their victims, and welcoming them back into society after their offense can be traumatic.

Clinical psychologist Patricia O’Gorman tells us it may be necessary for an entire family to seek treatment if a child is abused in the home.

“This treatment may need to continue off and on over an extended period of time — being sexually abused at age 5 means one thing when you are 5, and another when you are 16, and now possibly sexually active, and yet another when you are in a committed relationship,” she says.  

She emphasizes that bringing an abuser back into the home is extremely complicated and will require ongoing treatment, constant communication, and a prioritization of the children in the family.

But this controversial and complex treatment is a difficult and risky process to navigate.

RELATED: 15 Lies People Still Believe About Loving An Abuse Survivor — As Told By One

What treatments can sex offenders seek? 

Research also shows that prison does not reduce reoffending for most criminal offenders. Sex offenders, in particular, have to find a means of survival in prison which often leaves them at risk when they enter treatment programs. 

While it may seem fair to socially isolate sex offenders, studies show that creating a more therapeutic environment gives offenders a stronger desire to change.

Sexual abuse offenders often don’t serve life sentences. The average sentence for a sexual abuse crime is 191 months. Meaningful rehabilitation is necessary if these offenders are to reintegrate back into society once they leave prison. 

Research also shows that intervention is more effective within the community than it is in prison. 

However, given what we know about Duggar’s treatment, it can be difficult to trust this. 

The treatment offered to offenders has shortcomings. Duggar was sent to a Christian camp where he was given “lust counseling” and taught to abstain from sex until marriage. This creates an inaccurate link between predatorial behaviors and consensual premarital sex. 

O’Gorman says banishing impulses may not work for repeat offenders like Duggar: “At its core, rehabilitation may mean that the person has learned to control their impulses; not that these impulses are somehow stamped out, although they may be.”

RELATED: Josh Duggar's Sisters Were Allegedly Forced To Forgive Him For Molesting Them

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment

Sex crimes vary greatly in severity, victims and offenders vary in age, and treatment must be carefully selected based on the offense. 

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O’Gorman says getting to the root of why a person sexually abuses others is helpful, though she stresses this is not an attempt to excuse criminal behavior. 

“They may feel very inadequate and want to feel powerful. Children by their nature are vulnerable and so abusing a child may make someone feel strong, capable, because inside they feel they are weak and not as powerful as other adults,” she offers as one motive behind sexual abuse. 

“They may be sexually excited by the fear and the harm they induce in a child by harming them, or by seeing children violated and harmed.”

She also says that an offender may have been abused as a child and recreate the abuse because it is familiar to them or has become confused with showing love. 

O’Gorman says these elements, and others, need to be considered and addressed in ongoing treatment.

“In my experience, a Safety Plan needs to be developed, one that is continually reviewed in ongoing treatment,” she adds. “Safety Plans need to be individualized to take into account the trigger(s) of the abusers.”

Some Safety Plan considerations O’Gorman recommends to offenders include: 

  • Forgo their career of teaching elementary school.
  • Not be within 10 feet of a child under age 6. 
  • Not having a child sit on their lap. 
  • Not bathing a baby.
  • Not hug a child.
  • Not watch or look at any porn.
  • Not watch or look at child phonography.

“Triggers need to be monitored as they can change. Safety Plans need to be continually updated,” she adds. 

Initiatives such as Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) have been shown to reduce rearrest by 88% in one Minnesota study. This initiative provides social, emotional, and practical support for high-risk sexual offenders.

However, as a word of caution with the data provided, experts estimate that large numbers of sexual abuse crimes, particularly child sexual abuse, go unreported. 

Much of the data acquired is from known offenders who are willing to self-report, making the numbers somewhat unreliable. 

But that doesn't mean we should stop striving to obtain better data and find increasingly more effective methods for preventing child sexual abuse and treating perpetetrators so as to prevent further children from being victimized. 

RELATED: 11 Celebs And Politicians Who Support The Duggars' Family Values

If you are a survivor of sexual violence, please know that hope and healing are possible. Reach out to RAINN or 1in6.org for support.

Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.