This evening I listened to Megyn Kelly’s interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. I’ve written a number of posts about the Duggar situation over the past two weeks, including What You Need to Know about the Josh Duggar Police Report, What Did Josh’s Counseling Look Like?, and Why Josh Duggar’s “Teenage Mistakes” Matter. As longtime critic of the Duggars and as someone who had a similar upbringing, and this entire situation has weighed heavily on me. Today Jim Bob and Michelle spoke publicly about the situation. I want to touch on some of the highlights.
While I have so far tried to respect the privacy of Josh’s victims, Jim Bob and Michelle stated publicly in their interview today that four of Josh’s victims were his younger sisters. In light of this admission, I no longer be using rhetoric like “five girls in two families” to conceal the fact that four of his five victims were his sisters.
I would be remiss if I did not begin by noting that Jim Bob and Michelle described Josh’s sexual molestation of young girls as “inappropriate touching” throughout their interview and reminded viewers over and over and over again that Josh came to them—in tears—and confessed what he had done. [A less-redacted police report confirms that it was Josh, not the girls, who went to Jim Bob and Michelle about his actions.] If I were to sum up the interview in one word, that word would be minimize.
On that note, I am going to quote from the interview, offer some response, and then draw out some overall themes. I will not be covering the entire interview (such as the section on how this is actually all about Christian persecution). Instead, I want to focus on four things: the minimizing of what happened, the denying of responsibility, the obfuscation regarding who counseled Josh, and treating of Josh’s crimes as a sexual sin rather than a psychological issue in need of professional treatment.
Let’s start with this:
“He said he was just curious about girls.”
Josh’s victims were prepubescent (see this picture of the Duggar children from 2002). Jim Bob and Michelle should have been able to recognize, immediately, that this was more than just being “curious about girls,” but there is no indication that they even questioned his assertion. Look, most teenage boys are “curious about girls,” but most teenage boys would be appalled at the idea of sexually touching their prepubescent kid sisters. This is not “just curious about girls” behavior.
“They [the girls] didn’t even know he had done it.”
“None of them were aware of Josh’s wrongdoings.”
“The girls, we talked to them, and they didn’t know anything had happened.”
So, I’m wondering. The date rape drug. No biggie, right? Because if the victim doesn’t know what’s happening, what’s the big deal? Obviously this suggestion is abhorrent, but that is essentially what Jim Bob and Michelle are doing here. It’s a way of minimizing what Josh did. It’s a way of arguing that he didn’t actually do any harm even though he was in fact sexually molesting prepubescent girls.
“As we’ve talked to other parents and different ones since then, a lot of families have said that they’ve had similar things happen in their families.”
More minimizing. Who responds to revelations of sibling-on-sibling sexual abuse among their children with “this happens in lots of families”? While it’s true that child sexual abuse is frighteningly common, Jim Bob and Michelle’s pointing this out in the context of this interview reads as yet one more attempt to minimize what happened.
“Even though this was a very bad situation, as we’ve talked to other families who have had, you know, other things happen, a lot of their stories were even worse.”
So, you know. Look over there, worse things happened over there!
“There were a couple more times that he came and told us.”
Again with the focus on Josh’s confessions. Did they consider that perhaps Josh’s confessions were a cry for help? He was failing to stop himself from molesting his little sisters, and he knew it. He must have wanted to stop or he wouldn’t have kept going to his parents about it. And yet, Jim Bob and Michelle let him stay in the situation for a full year before taking any real steps to get him help (and even then, the steps they took did not involve professional counseling or treatment).
“This was not rape or anything like that.”
I mean it wasn’t that bad. Not really. Do you see what I mean about the minimizing?!
This was like touching somebody over their clothes, there were a couple instances where he touched them under their clothes, but it was like a few seconds, and then he came to us and was crying and told us what happened.
Enough with the minimizing already! If Jim Bob and Michelle were this quick to minimize Josh’s crimes at the time, it’s no wonder they didn’t seep professional treatment for him!
“As parents, you’re not mandatory reporters. The law allows for parents to do what they think is best for their child.”
Ahem. Allow me to quote InTouch:
“[T]he Washington County Sheriff’s document makes it clear that despite Josh’s chilling confessions the Duggars waited at least 16 months before contacting authorities about the molestations, even though the behavior was continuing and growing worse. During that period they did not get professional counseling for Josh or his victims. Legal experts tell In Touch that Jim Bob and Michelle could have faced six years in prison for their inaction, if the statute of limitations had not expired.”
Now allow me to quote from the Arkansas Code:
5-27-221. Permitting abuse of a minor.
(a) A person commits the offense of permitting abuse of a minor if, being a parent, guardian, or person legally charged with the care or custody of a minor, he or she recklessly fails to take action to prevent the abuse of a minor.
(b) It is a defense to a prosecution for the offense of permitting abuse of a minor if the parent, guardian, or person legally charged with the care or custody of the minor takes immediate steps to end the abuse of the minor, including prompt notification of a medical or law enforcement authority, upon first knowing or having good reason to know that abuse has occurred.
So no, that’s wrong. Parents who do not report sexual abuse to the authorities can be charged with a crime and sentenced to jail time.
“They didn’t really understand, though, what happened.”
“They weren’t even aware.”
“They probably didn’t even understand it was improper touch.”
And now we’re back to this again! This really is justifying everything I’ve suspected about the lack of proper sex education in the Duggar household. If the girls didn’t know that their significantly older brother putting his hands up their skirts and under their clothing was “improper touch,” they’d been given woefully little information (read: none) to protect themselves from such abuse or mistreatment.
While Josh initially molested his sisters while they slept, he eventually began molesting them while they were awake, too. Did the family value personal space so little that the girls seriously had no idea this this was inappropriate?
“We pulled him out [of the home], and he went through working with that man.”
What man, pray?
“This man really reached his heart.”
“This man” is convenient shorthand for “I don’t want to tell you who.”
He was running a little training center in Little Rock Arkansas. And under the roof of that training center, you had Little Rock police department on one side, and you had a prison ministry on the other. And he said Josh would come down there and actually do some construction work with him and he would counsel him and work with him and hopefully get him straightened out.
Did this training center have a name? Presumably it would have, but Jim Bob seems very interested in not mentioning it. Hmm. This is a good bit of information, though—the stuff about the police department, and a prison ministry. I wonder if the google might be any help . . . oh, here we go!
“Gothard’s presence here [in Little Rock] can be tracked to his friendship with former Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey, whose idea it was for Gothard to create a facility in Little Rock to promote faith-based products. . . .
. . .
“Dailey said he’d called Gothard to get an update of what was happening with the training center. The training center. . . employs seven people, director R.T. Spivey said. It serves the chaplains in the IBLP’s PAL prison program. At one time, the training center operated the “Integrity Construction Institute” for young men, but that program has moved to Alpena.
“In 2002, the Little Rock Police Department downtown patrol and special operation division moved into 12,000 square feet of renovated space on the ground floor of the old hospital. Gothard paid for its renovation and leases the space to the city for $1 a year.”
Huh. Strange coincidence. At the time Josh Duggar was sent away, Bill Gothard, founder and head of the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), operated “training center” in Little Rock. This training center ran a prison ministry, leased some of the building to the police department, and maintained something called “Integrity Construction Institute” for young men. [The center would have been run by a Gothard-appointed local director.] Why, I wonder, is Jim Bob so loathe to mention the fact that it was an ATI training center?
Oh right. It’s probably because last year Gothard was forced to step down after it came to light that he had sexually harassed and molested over thirty teenage and young women working at his facilities, and that the IBLP board had known about this and covered for him for decades. Oops. If Jim Bob isn’t willing to be forthright about the fact that Josh was counseled through a ministry run by an active sex offender, I’m really not sure why I should assume he’s being forthright in the rest of his statements.
There’s probably something else, too. If Josh was counseled through ATI as Jim Bob statements in the interview suggest, he would almost certainly have been counseled using ATI materials. You can see some of these materials here. These materials have been floating around the internet ever since the story about Josh broke, and wherever they have been read they have evoked outrage for their heavy victim blaming. This may play a role in Jim Bob’s apparent desire not to mention that the “training center” was an ATI facility.
Also, am I the only one seeing some transparently obvious child labor violations?
So let me sum this interview up.
First, Jim Bob and Michelle did everything possible to minimize their son’s crimes. They repeated, ad nauseum, that the girls had no idea anything was going on, that what Josh did was just “like touching somebody over their clothes,” that Josh was just “curious about girls,” that this happens in lots of homes, that Josh would come to them crying and confess what he’d done (so penitent! such a “tender conscience”!), and on and on. Minimize, minimize, minimize.
Second, Jim Bob and Michelle lied about their duty to report. They also allowed Josh to remain in the home with the girls for a year after his first confession, even as his crimes worsened. They said they tried their best to wash Josh to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, but given that it did happen again, many times, they clearly weren’t watching closely enough. And how could they, with thirteen children and one on the way? That they thought they could watch Josh closely enough is sheer hubris, and had the statute of limitations not run out they could be tried and sent to prison for thinking they could do so.
Third, Jim Bob and Michelle intentionally withholding the name of the ministry that counseled Josh, likely because the ministry’s leader, Bill Gothard, is now known to have sexually molested and sexually harassed at least three dozen teenage girls and young women over the course of several decades. I understand that they probably didn’t know about this at the time (although even then there were rumors), but why hide this now? Why the reluctance to mention that Josh was counseled through an ATI training center? Why not be honest, and then maintain ignorance at the time when asked about Gothard’s own sexual crimes?
Fourth, Jim Bob and Michelle treated Josh’s actions as sexual sin rather than as a crime. I was puzzling with a friend over Jim Bob and Michelle’s description of Josh’s tearful confessions, and wondering why, if Josh was really so sorry, he didn’t just stop. She pointed out that Josh’s reactions sound very similar to the emotional turmoil of teenage boys who are taught that masturbation is sinful and wrong, and alternate between masturbating and tearfully confessing and vowing not to do so again.
But while it is typical for teenage boys to feel strong hormonal urges to masturbate, it is not typical for teenage boys to feel strong hormonal urges to touch their prepubescent sisters. Josh had a problem—a problem that needed professional treatment. Jim Bob and Michelle failed to seek out any form of treatment for him for a full year, and even then, they sent him to be counseled by a man with no professional experience in any related field—a man who, it turns out, was himself sexually molesting minors. Ouch.
[Edited to reflect the fact that Gothard operated numerous training facilities at this time and likely spent most of his time at his headquarters in Chicago.]