This past Friday, Jill and Jessa repeated their parents’ minimization of their brother’s actions, complete with their insistence that Josh was “just curious about girls.” And what really hit me, hearing that, was the hypocrisy of all of this.
First, they’re treating what Josh did as something normal for boys his age when molesting prepubescent girls as a teen is not normal sexual behavior for adolescents. But more than that, this is the family that only allows “side hugs” before marriage, and yet they’re minimizing Josh’s sexual touching of his younger sisters because it was “over clothing”? Really?!
My head cannot contain these contradictions. It hurts.
First, Josh was not “just curious about girls.”
Stop It Now, an organization that works to decrease the incidence of child sexual abuse, discusses the sexual behavior of children Josh’s age as follows:
ADOLESCENCE (13 to 16)
Will need information and have questions about
• Decision making
• Social relationships and sexual customs
• Personal values and consequences of sexual behavior.
Self stimulation in private is expected to continue.
Girls will begin menstruation; boys will begin to produce sperm.
Sexual experimentation between adolescents of the same age and gender is common.
Voyeuristic behaviors are common in this age group.
First sexual intercourse will occur for approximately one third of teens.
Masturbation in a public place.
Sexual interest directed toward much younger children.
Seriously, do some googling. Everything you’ll find states it is normal for a teen to experiment sexually with his or her peers, but abnormal and a sign that something is wrong for a teen to express sexual interest in significantly younger children. And yet, the Duggars are portraying Josh’s actions as normal and just something teenage boys go through.
There’s another reason I don’t think this can accurately be portrayed as Josh being “just curious about girls.” Josh didn’t do what he did once, and then stop, his curiosity about female anatomy satisfied. No, he did it repeatedly, multiple times, over the course of a year. He did it even though he had been told in no uncertain terms to stop, and even though he was purportedly upset by his own behavior. This does not read to me as “just curious about girls.”
Even if we were to accept the Duggars’ claim that Josh was “just curious about girls,” their takeaway is still wrong. If Josh was really so kept so ignorant of human anatomy and so isolated from girls his own age that touching his younger sisters was the only way to satisfy his awakening sexual questions and interest, well, that’s a problem, and the Duggars’ solution—putting locks on the bedroom doors, disallowing boys from babysitting, and banning hide-and-seek—does nothing to address it.
There’s another issue here as well. Regardless of what drove Josh’s behavior, what he did to his victims was nonconsensual. This, too, makes Josh’s actions abnormal and a sign that something is wrong. But as I’ve written before, Christians who hold the Duggars’ worldview do little to distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual sex. This makes them less able to see lack of consent as a problem and more likely to simply see any sexual contact at all as the problem—and thus much less able to effectively distinguish between normal and abnormal teenage sexual behavior.
Can we pause for a moment and appreciate the irony of the Duggars downplaying Josh’s actions as “just curious about girls” while adhering to an organization that teaches that masturbation is a sin and an evil and a grave moral failure?
I honestly don’t understand why the Duggars are downplaying Josh’s crimes to begin with. How hard would it be for them to say “Josh sinned gravely, there is no excuse for his actions”? They could still have their whole come-to-Jesus moment about how Josh found God and God turned his life around. We see this sort of narrative all the time! Why, then, the need to downplay the gravity of what Josh did, especially given how at odds their defense is with everything they’ve ever said about teenagers and sex?
And now let’s shift gears slightly and talk about another problem.
Second, the excuse-making is highly selective.
Put simply, the Duggars are making more excuses for Josh’s sexual molestation of his younger sisters than they would for one of their children should that child have premarital sexual contact. Yes, you read that right.
I grew up in this culture. I lived it. Having premarital sexual contact was about the worst thing you could do. Can you even imagine what would have happened if Jim Bob or Michelle had caught Jill or Jessa having sex with Derrick or Ben before their weddings? The shame, the betrayal, the dishonor it would have been considered! And yet, here they are arguing that what Josh did was no big deal, really!
Imagine that your parents are going to surprise you and give you a brand-new bike for Christmas. Two weeks before Christmas, they buy your bike and hide it in the storage shed in the backyard. But then the boy next door sneaks into the shed and borrows your new bike; he stunt-rides it up and down the back alley.
On Christmas morning your parents lead you out to the shed to reveal the special gift they bought for you, and as they open the door and say, ‘Surprise!’ they’re just as surprised as you are. You’re all shocked to see that the bike looks like it’s been thrown off a cliff. The front fender is missing, and the front tire is warped so it rubs on the frame. It’s dirty, the paint is all scratched and chipped, and the seat has a big rip in it. It looks worse than something you would have bought at a garage sale.
I’m sure you would still be grateful for the bike, and you would have fun riding it, but it won’t be in the condition your parents had hoped and dreamed it would be when you received it. You would miss out on a lot of the enjoyment they meant for you to have.
In that same way, we don’t want any boy (or girl) to come and steal your purity.”
This is how the Duggars talk about purity. This. Think you that if Jessa had had sex with a boyfriend at age 15, her parents would say that she was “just curious about boys”? Um, no! Honestly, of everything that was said over the past week, this is what gets me the most. The Duggars would make no excuses should one of their children have premarital sex. And yet Josh molested his prepubescent sisters and suddenly it’s all “he was just curious about girls”—What?!
Jim Bob and Michelle did not allow Jill or Jessa to have any physical intimacy beyond side hugs with their beaus. Side hugs. If they had caught the girls beaus simply feeling them up, even over clothes, all hell would have broken loose. “I only touched her over her clothes” would not have cut it. No, Derrick or Ben would have been out on their backside in an instant.
I mentioned this to my husband earlier today and asked him what he thought would have happened if the Duggar parents had found one Jill or Jessa making out with Derrick or Ben. He laughed, a bitter sort of laugh. He remembers. He and I went through a “courtship” of our own, and he remembers visiting me in my parents’ home the summer after we began our relationship. We barely touched, so scrutinized we were by my parents. If they’d caught us feeling each other up—my god. It would have been catastrophic.
How can the Duggars condemn any physical contact beyond a side hug between an of-age dating couple, and at the same time proclaim to the world that Josh was “just curious about girls” and it was no big deal really because he only touched his victims over their clothes, except when it was under their clothes but that was only for a few seconds? Can they not see the rank hypocrisy here?
As someone who went through a controlling and manipulative courtship process and then lived in fear that my mother would find out I was having sex during my engagement, I am utterly and completely appalled at how the Duggars have approached this whole mess. Appalled.