dunham v. duggar

Lena Dunham and John Duggar have both been in the media of late due to the revelations of their sexual behavior as children.  In her autobiography Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham admits to sexually exploring with her little sister as a young child by spreading her vagina, kissing her on the mouth, and masturbating next to her in bed.  Josh Duggar recently admitted to sexually touching and fondling a number of sleeping younger girls while in his teens, including four of his sisters.  While both cases seem to involve inappropriate sexual contact on the surface, the details of each story must be compared to highlight the crucial differences.

Sarah Palin, while not condoning the actions of Josh Duggar, lambasted Lena Dunham via Twitter by calling her a pedophile who has gotten rich off of her “perversions.”  Using the term pedophile to describe the actions of Lena Dunham is both legally and factually incorrect.  The definition of a pedophile is an individual aged sixteen or over who has intense, recurrent sexual fantasies or behaviors involving prepubescent children who are at least five years younger than they.  Pedophiles also desire and prefer their sexual activity to involve children.  Unfortunately for Sarah Palin, according to the legal and clinical definition of pedophilia, Lena Dunham certainly does not meet this criteria; however, because of his age at the time of his inappropriate sexual contact with young girls, neither does Josh Duggar.

A child molester is defined as an individual who engages in sexual activity of any form with a child, and that all child molesters are not necessarily pedophiles.  Most instances of sexual molestation are committed by family members and acquaintances, and both of these cases involved siblings.  At first glance, it seems that both the Dunham and Duggar cases suggest sexual molestation, but because both involved children fondling other children, these cases would not be legally categorized as child molestation.

Lena Dunham was about seven years old and prepubescent during the sexual behavior with her younger sister, and there were no other children involved in her exploration; while Josh Duggar was fourteen and fifteen, pubescent, and acted out sexually with a number of prepubescent girls over multiple occasions.  It is common for preschoolers to touch each other’s bodies and for and school-age children to play games involving sexual exposure.  At only seven, Lena Dunham’s behavior with her sister falls within the continuum of normal sexual development. Children under the age of 12 who engage in sexual exploration with younger children are exhibiting a behavioral problem, not a crime.  This fact separates these two cases into a behavioral issue because of Dunham’s young age, versus a criminal issue due to Duggar’s older age during his offenses.

There is another difference between these two cases, and this contrast is paramount.  Lena Dunham freely admitted to her childhood sexual behavior, while Josh Duggar did not choose to acknowledge his wrongdoing until a media scandal erupted.  Could this be because Lena Dunham does and should not feel shame about her actions, as they were not criminal and are viewed as a natural part of childhood; while Josh Duggar knew his behavior as an adolescent was wrong, shameful, and criminal?

Josh Duggar is an outspoken opponent of marriage equality, and his father ran an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign that openly condemned incest as a “heinous” crime that should be classified as a capital offense, punishable by death. Sarah Palin’s daughter was an unwed teenage mother, even though Palin advocates abstinence-only sexual education. It seems odd that these individuals feel justified in holding such staunch, judgmental beliefs about what constitutes “acceptable” sexual behavior, considering their family sexual histories and public scandals.


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