Commentary Religion

The Duggar Family Doesn’t Go to the Beach: Why That’s Bad for Their Kids

Vyckie Garrison

By keeping her daughters out of the pool and off the beach, away from real women in bathing suits, what Michelle’s doing to her daughters is setting them up for a life of shame and self-hatred.

by Sierra @No Longer Quivering

This just in from the Department of Unintended Irony: Michelle Duggar makes a public statement about modesty, just to be sure you know how modest they are – too modest for the beach – in case you were straining your neck looking for their modest stairstep children in the crowd while you immodestly sunned your heathen midriff. After all, they’re so modest, they wouldn’t want you thinking and worrying about them too much!

Okay, guys, I’m turning off my snark filter. Really. It’s starting to overheat.

Before I go any further, you may be interested in checking out Libby Anne’s post Carefully Scripted Lives: My concerns about the Duggars. I am going to talk a bit below about isolation and doctrines of modesty and purity, two things that Libby Anne explains alongside the other less savory bits of the Duggars’ lifestyle. If you’re not familiar with the Christian patriarchy movement, that post should put the rest of my post in context for you.

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Back to Michelle Duggar’s words.

This kind of article infuriates me. It does. I start chugging smoke out of my nostrils and seeing the world with an extra shiny pink tint, like a greasy undercooked steak. Is it because the idea of broadcasting your modesty to the world via a platform given to you by your televangelism (oh, excuse me, “reality show”) is stunningly hypocritical? Is it because of the obvious doublespeak pouring out of Michelle Duggar’s mouth when she claims that she doesn’t judge anyone else for their immodesty, but that God says exposed thighs mean nakedness and shame? Is it because the very act of setting yourself apart – and calling attention to your religious motives for doing so – is an inherently judgmental act? Yes, all of the above. But there’s one more thing.

Little girls have a hard enough time not hating their bodies without the modesty doctrine.

The Duggars are denying their children their only opportunity to see real bodies.

Michelle Duggar is worried about inciting lust in others, and about her sons lusting after other women on the beach. What she doesn’t seem to realize is that the beach and public pool are some of the world’s least sexy environments.

You know who goes to the beach? Everyone. From babies to octogenarians. People in all states of health, age, physical fitness, ability or disability, pregnancy, hairy or shiny, small or large, attractive or unattractive. That’s why I love it. What you see at the beach is real humanity, not the glossy, smoothed out images that scream “SEX!” from billboards. Real people. Michelle should be more worried about her young children staring rudely at people’s scars, cellulite, psoriasis and stretch marks than getting turned on at the beach.

The Boys:

By keeping her sons out of the pool and off the beach, away from real women in bathing suits, what Michelle’s doing is setting them up for even more lust, followed by disappointment with and judgment of their wives.

Some fundamentalist men enter marriage without even knowing that women have underarm and pubic hair.

As much as the Duggars will conspicuously turn away from magazines at the grocery store check-out aisle, they simply can’t shield their sons from picking up the falsified images of women on billboards, on flyers in the mail, on buses in cities, in storefronts, on the walls of malls they drive past – in short, everywhere. Jim Bob and Michelle may think that they’ve created an environment that’s totally sheltered from such influences, but I bet you could already get one of their toddlers to draw you a picture of a woman in a bikini if there was nobody around to stop him. Short of locking their kids on the ranch with a high-voltage fence, Hunger Games style, the Duggar parents can’t prevent their kids from seeing sexualized images of photoshopped naked women.

What they can do is make sure those are the only images of women their boys see until their wedding nights. They might be told that women don’t really look like that, but how should they know? They aren’t even allowed to see their sisters or mother in real swimsuits. How can you take a falsified image of female beauty and replace it with a healthy one when you aren’t allowed to see real people? How do you learn to appreciate real women’s bodies despite (or, heaven forfend, because of) their deviations from the standard? I would not want to be a bride facing her husband for the first time and knowing that he’s never seen a woman with “imperfections.”

The Girls:

An idealized female form.

By keeping her daughters out of the pool and off the beach, away from real women in bathing suits, what Michelle’s doing to her daughters is setting them up for a life of shame and self-hatred.

What goes for the boys also goes for the girls. How are they supposed to combat those same photoshopped, sexualized images and value their own bodies under those circumstances? They are fighting the body image battle alone. They are surrounded by touched-up photos of seamless, lumpless, hairless divas and their only counterexample is the bathroom mirror. Contrary to what most parents who teach the modesty doctrine want to believe, modesty does not erase competition or comparison. It just removes your frame of reference. Even now, after I’ve worked through most of my body image issues and no longer torment myself by withdrawing from food, going to the pool is an incredible release of pressure to me. I get there, sit around with normal people, notice the features that look like mine, and feel good. Like I’m normal. Just another human girl.

Women who don’t see other women end up imagining that they really all look flawless under their clothes. Because, let’s face it, clothes are deceptive. Even if they aren’t trying to be sexy, clothes create a mystery. How would a Duggar girl know if one of her sisters has asymmetrical breasts? How would a Duggar girl know that her underarm hair is normal? It’s not like they’re free to sit around and talk about their bodies like that. They’re almost as isolated from one another’s bodies as they are from the bodies on the beach. When the mind can’t replace that blank space with a real human body, it imagines the closest thing it can find: that fake image.

Growing up in “modest dress” was a profoundly lonely and insecure experience for me. I felt like a freak of nature when I saw women on billboards, magazines, and TV shows. I thought my muscles – my very source of power! – were ugly. I shaved the hair off my arms thinking it was too masculine. Eventually, I starved myself, too. Even skinny, I couldn’t figure out why I still had certain bulges that wouldn’t conform to the Standard Female Body. The only real women I saw were decked out in their most flattering outfits – even if they were skimpy, they managed to conceal any idiosyncrasies. I was literally convinced that I was the only girl in the world with stretch marks on her thighs and visible triceps (I didn’t even know what triceps were called!).

So let’s put two and two together now. Suppose a Modest Christian Girl marries a Modest Christian Boy. She brings all that insecurity into the marriage. He brings all his unfair expectations of her body. What could possibly go wrong?

The Dugggars aren’t just practicing one of their weird religious rituals. They’re actively isolating their children and implicitly training them to feel both superior and hopelessly insecure. They’re raising entitled boys with unrealistic expectations of their wives, and girls convinced that their bodies are flawed. Do I think the whole family is going to develop eating disorders or have horrible wedding nights? No, of course not. Do I think isolation hurts kids? Absolutely.

Respect

Perhaps the worst outcome of all is that both sexes of children are learning that people who expose their bodies at the beach do not deserve respect. Because Michelle and Jim Bob are fixated on keeping their children sheltered from raw humanity, the kids are receiving the message that imperfect bodies must be hidden (although fake, “perfect” bodies are everywhere to see). They are also learning that superiority that Michelle denies. Isolation does this almost by default. If you feel lonely and ostracized, you make up reasons why that makes you better than the crowd. And as a Duggar child, you don’t have to reach far to get hold of “sin” as the tool for defining the people you’re set apart from.

Boys are learning that women who go to the beach and wear swimsuits are trying to attract male lust, are “easy,” are immoral and unworthy of respect. They learn that men at the beach are there to gawk at women, are depraved and weak and unworthy of respect.

Girls are learning that women who go to the beach and wear swimsuits are trying to attract male lust, are insecure, weak and unworthy of respect. They learn that men at the beach are there to gawk at them, that they are just waiting to be “defrauded” and are bound for hell. Again, unworthy of respect.

The common thread is that both of them are judging others (yes, usually women) on their presence at the beach and choice of clothes. Real substantive measurements there, huh?

The beach and the pool are learning opportunities.

It’s good for children to experience a place where their bodies don’t attract particular attention, where they can learn to relate to others without always thinking about sex. Where they can see all kinds of bodies at all stages of life and feel less ashamed of themselves for being human. Where boys can learn to interact with girls as people, respectfully. Where girls can experience not having their bodies gawked or whistled at.

The pool is my favorite place to be. I’ve never been sexually harassed there. Even though there are lots of people around, it’s just me, my body, the water and the sun. The other people around me, relaxing contentedly, just add to the feeling of peace and happiness. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like part of a community of simple shared humanity. We’re people, we like to be warm and splash around a little. That’s all we need to know.

See also this great post on why body image matters.

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog The Phoenix and the Olive Branch.

Culture & Conversation Abortion

The Comic Book That Guided Women Through Abortion Months After ‘Roe’

Sam Meier

Abortion Eve used the stories of fictional girls and women to help real ones understand their options and the law. At the same time the comic explained how to access abortion, it also asserted that abortion was crucial to women's health and liberation.

“Can you picture a comic book on abortion on the stands next to Superman?”

In June 1973, Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli wrote to the National Organization for Women in Chicago, asking this question of their “dear sisters” and pushing them to envision a world where women’s experiences could be considered as valiant as the superhero’s adventures. They enclosed a copy of their new comic book, Abortion Eve.

Published mere months after the Supreme Court’s January 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, Abortion Eve was intended to be a cheap, effective way to inform women about the realities of abortion. Like the few other contemporaneous comic books dealing with abortion, Abortion Eve‘s primary purpose was to educate. But for a comic dominated by technical information about surgical procedures and state laws, Abortion Eve nonetheless manages to be radical. Though abortion had so recently been illegal—and the stigma remained—the comic portrays abortion as a valid personal decision and women as moral agents fully capable of making that decision.

The comic follows five women, all named variations of “Eve,” as counselor Mary Multipary shepherds them through the process of obtaining abortions. Evelyn is an older white college professor, Eva a white dope-smoking hippie, Evie a white teenage Catholic, Eve a working Black woman, and Evita a Latina woman. Evelyn, Eve, and Evita are all married and mothers already.

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Their motivations for getting an abortion differ, too. Evita and Eve, for instance, wish to protect themselves and their loved ones by keeping their families smaller. Sixteen-year-old Evie is the poster child for sexual naiveté. Pregnant after her first time having sex, she spends most of the comic wrestling with guilt. “It’s all so ugly!” she exclaims. “I thought sex was supposed to be beautiful!”

Teenager Evie, one of the characters in the comic book Abortion Eve, breaks down as counselor Mary Multipary asks questions about her pregnancy. (Joyce Farmer)

Nonplussed, the older Eves talk her through her choices. As Eve reminds her, “Like it or not, you are a woman now, and you are going to have to decide.”

In an interview with Rewire, Farmer said that the plot of Abortion Eve was a direct outgrowth of her and Chevli’s experiences in the nascent women’s health movement. Both women had started working as birth control and “problem pregnancy” counselors at the Free Clinic in Laguna Beach, California, soon after it opened in 1970. Archival documents at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute show that Chevli and Farmer visited Los Angeles abortion providers in December 1972, on a business trip for the Free Clinic. According to Farmer, one of the doctors they met approached the pair with the idea of doing a comic about abortion to publicize his clinic.

Earlier that year, the women had produced one of the first U.S. comic books written, drawn, and published by women, Tits & Clits alpha (the “alpha” distinguished the comic from subsequent issues). So they took the doctor’s idea and ran with it. They decided to use their newly founded comics publishing company, Nanny Goat Productions, to educate women, particularly teenagers, about abortion.

At the Free Clinic, Chevli and Farmer had seen all kinds of women in all kinds of situations, and Abortion Eve attempts to reflect this diversity. As Farmer noted in an interview, she and Chevli made sure that the Eves were all different races, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds in order to demonstrate that all kinds of women get abortions.

Farmer had made the choice to get an abortion herself, when her IUD failed in 1970. The mother—of a 12-year-old son—who was putting herself through college at the University of California at Irvine, she decided that she couldn’t afford another child.

California had liberalized its abortion laws with the Therapeutic Abortion Act of 1967, but the law was still far from truly liberal. Before Roe, California women seeking abortions needed doctors (a gynecologist and two “specialists in the field”) to submit recommendations on their behalf to the hospital where the abortion would take place. Then, a committee of physicians approved or denied the application. Only women who could pay for therapeutic abortions—those needed for medical reasonscould get them.

For Farmer, as for so many others, the process was onerous. After an hour, the psychiatrist who had interviewed her announced that she would not be eligible, as she was mentally fit to be a mother. Stunned, Farmer told the doctor that if he denied her an abortion, she would do it herself. Taking this as a suicide threat, her doctor quickly changed his mind. She wrote later that this experience began her political radicalization: “I was astounded that I had to prove to the state that I was suicidal, when all I wanted was an abortion, clean and safe.”

Farmer and Chevli began work on Abortion Eve before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was still illegal in many states. After the Supreme Court’s decision, they added a page for “more info” on the ruling. Yet even as they celebrated Roe, the women weren’t yet sure what would come of it.

The comic reflects a general confusion regarding abortion rights post-Roe, as well as women’s righteous anger over the fight to gain those rights. On the day of her abortion, for example, Evita tells Eve that, at five months pregnant, she just “slipped in” the gestational limits during which women could have abortions.

Eve explains that women now have the right to an abortion during the first three to six months of a pregnancy, but that the matter is far from settled in the courts. After all, Roe v. Wade said that states did have some interest in regulating abortion, particularly in the third trimester.

“I get mad when they control my body by their laws!” Eve says. “Bring in a woman, an’ if the problem is below her belly button and it ain’t her appendix, man—you got judges an’ lawyers an’ priests an’ assorted greybeards sniffin’ an’ fussin’ an’ tellin’ that woman what she gonna do an’ how she gonna do it!”

Abortion Eve Dialogue

Abortion Eve confronts the reality that abortion is a necessity if women are to live full sexual lives. Writing to the underground sex magazine Screw in September 1973 to advertise the comic, Chevli noted, “Surely if [your readers] screw as much as we hope, they must have need for an occasional abortion—and our book tells all about it.”

Six months after they published the comic, in December 1973, Chevli and Farmer traveled to an Anaheim rally in support of Roe outside the American Medical Association conference. They were met by a much larger group of abortion opponents. Chevli described the scene in a letter to a friend:

300 to 8. We weren’t ready, but we were there. Bodies … acquiescing, vulnerable females, wanting to show our signs, wanting to be there, ready to learn. Oh, Christ. Did we learn. It was exhausting. It was exciting. We were enervated, draged [sic] around, brung up, made to feel like goddesses, depressed, enlightened … bunches of intangible things. I have rarely experienced HATE to such a massive extent. 

That wasn’t the last feedback that Chevli and Farmer received about their views on abortion. In fact, during the course of Nanny Goat’s publishing stint, the majority of complaints that the independent press received had to do with Abortion Eve. Several self-identified Catholics objected to the “blasphemous” back cover, which featured MAD Magazine‘s Alfred E. Neuman as a visibly pregnant Virgin Mary with the caption: “What me worry?”

As archival documents at the Kinsey Institute show, other critics castigated Chevli and Farmer for setting a bad example for young women, failing to teach them right from wrong. One woman wrote them a letter in 1978, saying “You have not only wasted your paper, time, money, but you’ve probably aided in the decision of young impressionable girls and women who went and aborted their babies.”

Farmer and Chevli responded to such charges by first thanking their critics and then explaining their reasons for creating Abortion Eve. In another response, also in the Kinsey archives, Chevli wrote, “Whether abortion is right or wrong is not our concern because we do not want to dictate moral values to others. What we do want to do is educate others to the fact that abortion is legal, safe, and presents women with a choice which they can make.”

Today, abortion opponents like Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson (R) frame abortion as the “dismemberment” of unborn children, suggesting that women who seek abortions are, in essence, murderers. With Abortion Eve, Chevli and Farmer dared to suggest that abortion was and is an integral part of women’s social and sexual liberation. Abortion Eve is unapologetic in asserting that view. The idea that abortion could be a woman’s decision alone, made in consultation with herself, for the good of herself and of her loved ones, is as radical an idea today as it was in the 1970s.

Analysis Human Rights

Family Separation, A Natural Byproduct of the U.S. Immigration System

Tina Vasquez

There are millions of children in the United States born into households where one or more of their parents are undocumented—and thousands of these parents are deported each year.

To honor migrant mothers in detention this Mother’s Day, the immigrant rights organization CultureStrike has partnered with Presente.org, NWDC Resistance, and Strong Families. Visitors to MamasDay.org can pick out a card and write a message to a detained mother, and members of CultureStrike will deliver printed cards to detention centers nationwide.

A card from a stranger on the internet is a small gesture, but one that could have been meaningful to Monica Morales’ mother when she was detained at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center late last year. Morales told Rewire her mother, usually a fighter, was depressed and that her morale was at an all-time low. She’d been picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the border while attempting to escape her abusive ex-husband in Mexico and the gang violence that plagued her neighborhood in Chihuahua. After being deported in 2010, she was trying to reenter the United States and reunite with her family in Amarillo, Texas, but the reunion would never happen.

As an adult, Morales is somewhat able to make sense of what occurred, but she worries about what she will tell her three young children about what has happened to their family. These are hard conversations happening all over the country, as there are millions of children in the United States born into households where one or more of their parents are undocumentedand thousands of these parents are deported each year. And, advocates say, there are few, if any, programs available to help immigrant children cope with their trauma.

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“There’s Literally Nothing We Can Do”

On any given day, there are 34,000 people in immigration detention. Prior to the “border crisis” that brought thousands of Central American women to the United States seeking asylum, the Women’s Refugee Commission reported that 10 percent of those in detention were women. Since 2009, that figure has likely increased, but the exact number is unknown.

Morales’ mother was one of them.

Though they were both located in Texas at the time, Morales said getting her mom’s phone calls from Hutto was heartbreaking and that she couldn’t have felt further away or more helpless. Morales hit her breaking point when one day, her mom called sobbing, saying she and seven other women were forced to spend the day in a room covered in urine, blood, and excrement. It was shortly after that Morales’ mom decided to participate in the hunger strike Rewire reported on earlier this year.

“My mom would always tell me that dogs at the pound are treated better than they are in Hutto and other detention centers,” Morales said. “At least at the pound, they try to help the dogs and they want them to get adopted. At places like Hutto, they don’t care what happens to you, they don’t care if you’ll get killed if you get deported. If someone is sick, they don’t care. If someone is suffering, they don’t care.”

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s oldest and largest for-profit private prison corporation, runs Hutto. The company has come under fire many times for human rights violations, including at Hutto, which was once used to detain immigrant families, including children. The Obama administration removed families from the facility in 2009 after numerous allegations of human rights abuses, including, according to the Texas Observer, “accounts of children suffering psychological trauma.” In 2010, there were also multiple allegations of sexual assault at the detention center.

Morales’ mother was not aware of Hutto’s history of abuse cases, but Morales told Rewire that after the hunger strike, her mother and other women who participated believed they were being retaliated against by Hutto officers because they had brought more bad publicity to the facility. Morales’ mom was deemed by detention officers a “dangerous detainee” and had to wear a different color uniform to identify her as such, Morales said. She was also placed in solitary confinement for over a month before she was transferred to another detention facility.

Six weeks ago, Morales’ mother was deported back to Chihuahua where she must remain for 20 years, because those who have been deported once before and then attempt to reenter the United States within a period of “inadmissibility” automatically trigger a longer ban.

Advocates have told Rewire that transfers to other facilities and solitary confinement are common tactics used by both detention and ICE officers to retaliate against those who go on strike.

During the time of the hunger strike, ICE denied allegations that it was retaliating against detainees in the form of transfers and solitary confinement. A spokesperson said in a statement to Rewire that it “routinely transfers detainees to other facilities for various reasons, including bed-space availability or to provide greater access to specialized services needed by particular detainees.” The spokesperson added that Hutto “does not have solitary confinement areas.”

As Mother’s Day approaches, Morales told Rewire that her head is heavy with thoughts of her mother. The chance they will be able to see each other anytime soon is slim. If her mom attempts to reenter the United States a third time and is caught, she will be permanently barred. Morales is a DACA recipient, which means she qualified for an immigration policy put into place by President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a work permit and exemption from deportation renewable every two years (but for only as long as the DACA program is in place). It also means Morales is unable to travel outside of the United States unless there is an emergency, and for obvious reasons, those are not the conditions under which she wants to see her mother.

“We can’t see my mom for 20 years and there’s literally nothing we can do,” Morales told Rewire. “I can’t go to Mexico. The only way I can go is if something were to happen to my mom, and I pray I don’t have to go in that situation. And honestly, I would worry if the [Border Patrol] would let me return to the U.S. even though I’d have my paperwork in order. I’ve heard that happens. If you’re in my situation, everything is so risky and I can’t take those risks. I have three children. My youngest child has health issues and he needs medication. My second child suffers from tumors and he needs yearly check-ups. I can’t risk my status in the U.S. to go back.”

Like her mother, Morales is a domestic abuse survivor and she is upset by how immigration laws have impacted her family and offer little recourse to women who are attempting to escape violence. If nothing else, she said, this anger has moved her to be more politically active. Not only has she started a campaign to get Hutto shut down, but she is doing interviews and other activities to shine a light on how the U.S. immigration system further traumatizes survivors of domestic violence, the mental health issues that arise when being forced to navigate such a “horrible” system, and the family separation that has become a natural byproduct of it all.

“I don’t think Americans know what this does to our families or our communities,” Morales said. “I wonder a lot that if people knew what happened to our families, if they would even care. Moms [are] in detention for years just for trying to give their kids a better life. Parents [are] being deported and killed and their children have to be raised by other people. Do people even care?”

The Morales Family

Morales and her sister are working together to pay for bi-weekly psychiatrist sessions in Mexico for their mom, who is struggling with being separated from her only support system and who Morales strongly believes was severely traumatized by her experiences at Hutto.

“She can’t work; she can’t reintegrate herself into society. She can’t leave the house by herself; she can’t be in the house by herself. After being detained, my mom was treated so bad that that I think she started to believe she deserved it. My grandma says my mom can’t sleep at night, she paces. My grandpa asks her what’s wrong and she just says she feels like she’s suffocating. She can’t calm down. She has a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression. She’s different than she used to be,” Morales said.

The Impact of Immigration Policies on Families

Wendy Cervantes is vice president of immigration and child rights at First Focus, one of the few children’s advocacy organizations in the country to focus on immigrant families. Cervantes told Rewire that if adults, much like Morales’ mom, struggle mightily with family separation and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from trauma experienced in their countries of origin and exacerbated by navigating the U.S. immigration system, what must it be like for children?

While it’s certainly true that all immigrant families fear family separation, the challenges faced by mixed-status families like Morales’ are unique. “Mixed status” is in reference to a family comprised of people with different citizenship statuses. A parent, for example, may be undocumented, but their children are American citizens or are “DACA-mented.”

A report from Human Impact Partners, Family Unity, Family Health, found that “nationwide, an estimated 4.5 million children who are U.S. citizens by birth live in families where one or more of their parents are undocumented.” And when deportations occur on the scale that they have under the Obama administration, not only do they separate families, but they have overwhelming an effect on the health and well-being of children. Besides being more apt to suffer poverty, diminished access to food and health care, and limited educational opportunities, children suffer from fear and anxiety about the possible detainment or deportation of their family members. This leads to poor health, behavioral, and educational outcomes, and sometimes results in shorter lifespans, according to Family Unity, Family Health.

In 2012, Colorlines reported that about 90,000 undocumented parents of American citizen children were deported each year. The number has declined since then. In 2013, government data showed it was 72,410, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) only documents the number of parents with children who are citizens, not cases in which parents with undocumented children are deported.

“If a kid has to go back to a violent country they’ve never been with their deported parent or if they have to stay behind without a parent or go into the child welfare system, none of it is ideal,” Cervantes told Rewire. “The constant fear your parent will be detained or deported has very large consequences on children, who are showing signs of PTSD at younger and younger ages. The immigration system can really take a kid’s childhood away from them.”

Who Will Address Their Trauma?

The American citizen or DACA-mented children of undocumented parents suffer from things like anxiety and depression because of fears their parents will be detained or deported, Cervantes told Rewire. Furthermore, there are well over one million undocumented children in the United States and to her knowledge, there are no services provided for these children to cope with their trauma.

According to the American Psychological Association, “research indicates that unaccompanied refugee minors experience greater risk of mental illness than general populations.” Based on work she’s done with unaccompanied minors from Central America, Cervantes said the levels of PTSD in these children is “on another level,” which is part of the reason why she said she’s so appalled by the administration’s aggressive approach to the Central American asylum-seeking population, which she said is greatly lacking in empathy.

“I’ve met unaccompanied kids who have told me horrendous stories. They witness horrible things on their journey here, but they were also escaping horrible things in their country of origin. An 8-year-old witnessing a girl he knew from his neighborhood getting gang-raped as part of a gang initiation and seeing his best friend getting beheaded by a gang on his way to school,” Cervantes told Rewire. “How many years of serious counseling and professional help would it take for an adult to be OK after seeing such violence? Now consider we’re talking about a child. It’s so disturbing, and then these same kids get placed in facilities that are like jails. How are they expected to function?”

While counseling is offered in detention, those services have been highly criticized by pediatricians, therapists, and advocates as inadequate at best, especially considering that the counselors in the facilities often only speak English. It’s also important to note, Cervantes said, that these services are only offered while the child or parent is detained. Once they’re released, there isn’t a clear federal program that offer assistance to directly address their trauma.

Rather than sitting around and hoping a program will eventually be created, advocates are currently working on gathering a team of psychiatrists to visit detention centers and assess the mental health services offered. Next week, First Focus will also be launching a TV and radio campaign about family separation spanning eight states, using donated airtime valued at $1 million.

Over the years as she’s worked in immigration, Cervantes is routinely surprised by how little most Americans seem to know about how the immigration system actually works and the very real ways things like detainment and deportation rip families apart, traumatizing people of all ages. She told Rewire that she hopes the upcoming campaign humanizes the issue and helps people understand that family separation isn’t a rarity and that it happens in every community in every state.

“I’m actually very disturbed by so much of the immigration process, especially how we treat families who are seeking asylum and who have risked their lives. I have to believe that if Americans came to understand this, they’d be disturbed too,” Cervantes said. “I just wish I knew why we can’t be compassionate to people who really need our compassion.”

UPDATE: This piece has been updated to include new details about the First Focus program, including that the campaign will span eight states, up from three.