Bill Gothard has come out in defense of Josh Duggar.
‘This is really quite different to what you think. It has been overblown, it is not like he is a sexual predator, he was a teenage boy.
‘What he did, touching over the clothing, is not nearly what you think it is. It was wrong, but unfortunately there’s a lot of this going on in many families today.’
So does everyone remember when Gothard resigned from leadership of IBLP eighteen months ago after dozens of women accused him of sexually harassing and sexually molesting them as teens? Yes, I remember that too.
But before we get into that, let’s compare Gothard’s statements about Josh Duggar’s crime with those made by Josh’s father.
Gothard: “What he did, touching over the clothing, is not nearly what you think it is.”
Jim Bob: “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.”
Gothard: “It was wrong, but unfortunately there’s a lot of this going on in many families today.”
Jim Bob: “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.”
Josh touched his younger sisters’ breasts and genitals while they slept, repeatedly over the course of the year, but both Gothard and Josh’s father insist that this wasn’t really that bad because it was over their clothing (most of the time). This makes me even more skeptical of IBLP’s ability to appropriately deal with interfamily sexual abuse (remember that Josh received “treatment” at one of Gothard’s training centers).
Indeed, given how common both of them are saying this is, I’m becoming increasingly worried about kids in ATI families. Over on Slate, Brooke Arnold writes this of growing up in an Gothardite church, explaining that she knew multiple friends who “were being molested by their older brothers or fathers” but had no way to get help given their highly insular upbringing.
With this introduction, let’s turn to Gothard’s own sexual crimes. Gothard really is the very last person who should be speaking to this issue, given his past. What makes his statements even more outrageous is that most of Gothard’s touching also occurred over girls’ clothing—and those who have stepped forward to tell their stories speak of developing depression, crippling eating disorders, and severe anxiety as a result of Gothard’s actions toward them. Let’s start by looking at some of their stories.
* * * * *
Grace was eighteen, and also working for Gothard:
We would meet after dinner in his office around 7 or 8 p.m. That’s when he started really touching me. I am curvy, and he loved my breasts. He gave me cash and told me to buy bras that pushed me up more; he wanted me to always wear them when I was around him. He never wanted me to show him, though. He just liked to touch over the clothing. He would drive me home so I wouldn’t walk alone to my house in the dark. He would hold my hand and rub my leg and tell me not to tell anyone about what we did in his car.
. . .
I went home at the end of October for a week, and Bill called and talked to me daily. I told my mom about what was happening, and she told me I was lying. Bill arranged my flight back to O’Hare so we could ride back to Headquarters in the car together. That’s when he first put his hand between my legs and felt me all the way up.
After meetings on Sunday nights, Bill began asking me to come to his office alone and talk with him while sitting next to him on his couch. Sometimes his assistant would be in the room, but often not. I remember jerking back when I felt his foot touch mine. I dismissed it again as an accident. But it kept happening. It happened more and more often. At lunch, in his office, riding in his van, sitting on his couch — his feet sought out mine whenever I was near him. When we sat on the couch in his office, he would sit very close to me and put his hand on my knee. During church he would lay his head on my shoulder and fall asleep. I would change positions, but so would he. He continued touching my feet but sometimes my leg as well. Sitting next to him was disconcerting as he wanted to sit very close. I began to feel more and more uncomfortable.
However, late one night in my house, I finally told my parents on the phone that Bill Gothard made me feel uncomfortable with all the attention he showed me. I didn’t mention all the physical touching.
It was while we were on a plane during a 1992 New Zealand/Australia IBLP trip that everything came to a deafening crescendo. The way that I felt on that plane made me realize for the first time, in bright lights, that something was not right. And the moment Bill reached down, grabbed my ankle, and began to move his hand up my leg, something snapped inside of me. It was from there on out that I began to feel my heart cower away from him, and the process of separating myself emotionally began.
* * * * *
Now let’s look at Gothard’s admission of wrongdoing upon his resignation:
My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong. They demonstrated a double-standard and violated a trust. Because of the claims about me I do want to state that I have never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent.
Note that Gothard admits that he touched girls inappropriately, but maintains that he didn’t kiss them and he never touched them “with sexual intent.” This is remarkably similar to Josh Duggar’s father’s insistence that “this was not rape or anything like that” and his mother’s insistence that he was “just curious about girls.” In both cases they think that because there was no kissing or penetration involved, and if the motivation was (allegedly) other than sexual, what they did wasn’t that bad.
I suppose it’s not surprising that Gothard is defending Josh, given that his own actions were so similar. In arguing that Josh touching his younger sisters’ breasts and genitals isn’t so bad because it was over their clothing, he defends his own actions by proxy.