Last week it was revealed that Josh Duggar sexually assaulted five girls in two families, some as young as five, when he was a teenager. This took place over the course of a year. Josh’s father, Jim Bob, did not report the incidents to law enforcement until 16 months after the initial incident, and even then only did so to a family friend who then failed to file a report. The incidents came to the attention of the authorities in 2006, but by then the statute of limitations had passed. Any counseling Josh and his victims received appears to have been in house—Josh himself was simply sent away for four months to help a family friend do some remodeling work.
I’ve seen a lot of people say that everyone made “teenage mistakes,” that Josh’s apology and his victims’ ability to forgive is a model we should strive for, that these things were “dealt with” twelve years ago, and that what happened then is not relevant today. This is balderdash. I will explain why these talking points are poppycock and why what Josh did needs be front and center in our understanding of the Duggar family and the model of Christian parenting and home life they promote.
1) Josh molested prepubescent children numerous times over the course of at least a year. To call this a “teenage mistake” puts it on par with skipping class or stealing a pack of gum. It is not normal for a teenager to sexually assault prepubescent children. Calling it a “teenage mistake” minimizes what happened. Furthermore, “teenage mistakes” are things we generally put squarely in the past, but because of the chance of recidivism associated with acts of child molestation, what Josh did at fourteen is something we should still be concerned about.
2) Those who praise Josh’s apology and his victims’ ability to forgive do not understand the culture the family is part of. This has been my main beef with fans of the Duggar show for years now. The Duggars aren’t just an oversized family, they’re part of a very specific religious culture. Within this culture, the girls had no choice but to “forgive” Josh, and once a sin has been “forgiven” it is seen as irrelevant and something that should not be mentioned again. Within this culture, forgiveness serves to paper over abuse, box in victims, and put others at risk. (Read more here.)
3) The situation was not “dealt with” twelve years ago. Jim Bob should have reported what happened to the proper authorities immediately. I’ve seen many many many people, from bloggers to homeschool leaders to commenters on the internet, say that if they found out their fourteen-year-old son was sexually molesting girls they wouldn’t turn him in either, because then he would be put on the sex offender registry, and so forth. As the mother of a six-year-old daughter, this is shocking to me. If my teenage son showed himself a danger to either my daughters or other little girls, I would act to protect them, not to shield my son. Further, it appears that Josh never had professional counseling. This means what happened was not dealt with.
4) For over a decade now, the Duggars have publicly presented their beliefs and way of life as the best way to raise children in a protected and safe environment, and as a model for other families to follow. Bloggers like myself have been pointing to problems with the Duggars’ beliefs and way of life for years now. We have been told, many times over, that we are wrong, because the Duggars look happy and thus clearly their lifestyle and worldview works. We’ve been told that the family is wholesome, the kids are more moral and better prepared for the world than other children, etc. Josh’s crime and his parents’ response matters because it puts a lie to the Duggars’ claim that their beliefs and way of life make children safer and more protected.There is an entire blogging network of young adults like myself who grew up in families like the Duggars. Like Josh, I am the oldest in an extremely large very Christian always homeschooling family. Our parents share similar beliefs and have followed the same religious leaders and child training “experts.” As children, we ran in similar circles. We even have mutual friends. As a young adult I left this religious subculture, and have spent the last four years blogging about and deconstructing it. For years we bloggers have been largely ignored. Please listen to us now.
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