Stories about reality TV star Josh Duggar and the revelations that he molested several minors while he himself was a teenager have saturated the news over the past week.
The details of the allegations are bizarre, involving an alleged cover-up by Duggar’s parents and church, a disturbing police report, and a very badly timed marathon of the reality series Duggar stars in on a network that has experienced more than one reality show scandal in recent years. There’s also an element of religious hypocrisy and a muted attempt to turn this into another front in the culture wars.
For people who don’t watch lots of reality TV — to say nothing of those who don’t watch lots of TLC reality, which is almost a genre unto itself, focused on families from outside the American mainstream — the whole thing can sound like a particularly strange satire of how far the television industry will go to garner big ratings.
But it’s not.
Who are the Duggars?
The Duggars are an Arkansas family and stars of the TLC reality series 19 Kids and Counting. The show, TLC’s most popular, regularly scored in the Nielsen cable top 25 before it was pulled from the air.
The show began on September 29, 2008, as 17 Kids and Counting, and starred Jim Bob Duggar, a former Arkansas state representative turned real estate agent; his wife, Michelle Duggar; and their 17 biological children. Since that time, Jim Bob and Michelle have had two more children.
The names of all 19 children are:
- Joshua James
- Jana Marie
- Jill Michelle
- Jessa Lauren
- Jinger Nicole
- Joseph Garrett
- Josiah Matthew
- Jedediah Robert
- Jeremiah Robert
- Jason Michael
- James Andrew
- Justin Samuel
- Jackson Levi
- Johannah Faith
- Jennifer Danielle
- Josie Brooklyn
Over the course of the show’s 10 seasons, three of Jim Bob and Michelle’s children — Josh, Jill, and Jessa — have gotten married and have had or are expecting children of their own.
The Duggars are strict Baptists. They adhere to many of the principles of the “Christian patriarchy” movement, though they claim not to be members themselves in their second book, A Love That Multiplies. Christian patriarchy, also often known as the “quiverfull” movement, is a strain of fundamentalist Christianity that, as the Daily Beast puts it, emphasizes “a combination of beliefs that run counter to mainstream America: absolute female submission, a ban on dating, homeschooling, a rejection of higher education for women, and shunning of contraception in favor of trying to have as many children as humanly possible.”
The Duggar parents raise their children by many of these tenets: they advocate for not using birth control — Jim Bob has stated he believes his wife’s brief time on birth control caused her to miscarry — have decided to homeschool all their children, prohibit dating (and kissing and unchaperoned interactions with romantic prospects) before marriage, and require extreme modesty in dress at all times.
Why are the Duggars in the news?
On May 19, 2015, InTouch Weekly magazine reported that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s oldest son, Josh, now 27, had been named in a prior sexual assault probe involving a minor. On May 21, InTouch revealed that Josh had been investigated for molesting at least five underage girls beginning in 2002, when he was around 14.
InTouch obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request a sealed 2006 police report that detailed the accusations against Josh Duggar. Here are a few key points:
- In March 2002, Jim Bob Duggar was told by a minor that Josh had been fondling her while she was sleeping. The report says 14-year-old Josh admitted to this in July 2002.
- In March 2003 Josh was again accused of fondling “several” minors, “often when they slept, but at times when they were awake,” according to InTouch.
- Jim Bob informed the elders of his church, who decided Josh would be sent to a program that “consisted of hard physical work and counseling.” But Michelle Duggar later told police the program “was not really a training center” and instead was “a guy they know in Little Rock that is remodeling a building.”
- After Josh returned home, Jim Bob and several church elders took him to meet with an Arkansas state trooper named Jim Hutchens, who gave him a “very stern talk” but did not pursue any official course of action. (Hutchens is currently serving a 56-year prison sentence on child pornography charges.) The Duggars also spoke about the incidents with a family friend, who then wrote down details in a letter and put it in a book, which was then lent to another member of the Duggars’ church. That letter is thought to be how people outside the Duggars’ congregation learned of the sexual abuse charges.
- In 2006, before a planned appearance by the Duggar family on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the studio received an email from an unnamed source explaining the accusations against Josh and saying the parents had been “hiding this secret for a long time.” (It’s unconfirmed whether this source was the one who found the letter.) The studio sent the letter to the Department of Human Services, and a police investigation was launched. When police asked Jim Bob to bring in Josh for an interview, he refused and attempted to hire a lawyer.
- On May 21, the same day InTouch publishes the police report, Josh Duggar appears to confirm the incidents of molestation in a statement on Facebook, saying both he and “those affected by [his] actions” had received counseling.
How did the Duggar family respond?
In a statement on the Duggar family’s official Facebook page, Josh Duggar apologized for his actions. “Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends,” he wrote.
Josh’s parents also published a statement, as did his wife, Anna. Anna’s statement says Josh told her about his “past teenage mistakes,” as she phrases it, two years before they got engaged. She continues, “[W]hen Josh asked me to marry him… I was able to say, ‘Yes’ knowing who Josh really is — someone who had gone down a wrong path and had humbled himself before God and those whom he had offended.”
Josh has also resigned from his position as the executive director of the nonprofit lobbying arm of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group based in Washington, DC, that is known for lobbying against LBGT rights, abortion rights, divorce, and stem-cell research, among other causes. Josh and Anna’s official website has also been taken down.
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