The Many People Who Protected Josh Duggar

Illustration for article titled The Many People Who Protected Josh Duggar
Photo: Photo by Washington County Sheriff’s Office via Getty Images (Getty Images)

In April Josh Duggar, one of the former stars of TLC’s reality show 19 Kids and Counting, was arrested on charges of receiving and possessing child pornography. Prosecutors alleged that Duggar had downloaded explicit material featuring children, some younger than 12, being sexually abused, the New York Times reported. In a hearing on Wednesday, prosecutors reported that Duggar had more than 200 images of children on his computer.

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Duggar pled not guilty to the charges, which come years after he was accused of molesting four of his sisters and a babysitter when he was a teenager. For over two decades, Arkansas officials and the Duggar family have dismissed Josh’s abuse as a blip from his teenage past, choosing faith-based treatment programs over legitimate counseling and failing to fully investigate the allegations. And all the while Josh has continued to act without accountability, his crimes conveniently disregarded by forces that would rather the Duggars remain a profitable vehicle to channel Quiverfull values to the masses.

The reality of Duggar’s abuse became clear in 2015, when the tabloid In Touch Weekly reported on a 2006 police report that read that Duggar had confessed to molesting several girls when he was a teenager, beginning in 2002. In a Facebook post at the time of the report’s release, Josh Duggar wrote, “Twelve years ago, as a young teenager I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret.” Duggar, who had worked on the presidential campaigns for Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, subsequently resigned from his position at the Christian lobbying group Family Research Council. That same year, Gawker also reported that Josh Duggar was a member of Ashley Madison and had been unfaithful in his marriage, checking into a faith-based rehab facility shortly after.

TLC ultimately canceled 19 Kids and Counting, the reality show that made the Duggar family an ever-growing collective of conservatives into celebrities for both secular and religious audiences. Before the allegations broke, the Duggars were covered in tabloids like any other celebrity family, nabbing headlines with each new birth. Though the family has denied a connection to the deeply conservative Quiverfull movement, which is vehemently anti-birth control and sees children as blessings from God, the family has attracted criticism for their strong ties to the movement’s leaders, as well as a clear religious ideology that mirrors the movement’s emphasis on traditional gender roles. And yet despite the criticism, the rosy, sitcom portrayal pushed by TLC triumphed, as the Duggars became the Kardashians for conservative Christians.

When the police report broke, parents Jim Bob Duggar and Michelle Duggar said that Josh had previously confessed three times to them that he had inappropriately touched girls in their home. “It was after that third time he came to us is where we really felt like, ‘You know what? ‘We have done everything we can as parents to handle this in-house. We need to get help,’” Jim Bob said in an interview with Fox News at the time. The Duggars said they sent Josh to a Christian treatment program in 2003 where he did “manual labor and had counseling,” though the program was not under a certified counselor but a family friend. When he returned from that treatment a church elder aware of the incidents told a police official, Arkansas state trooper Joseph Truman Hutchens, who simply gave Duggar “a stern talk” and did not report the allegations to the state’s child abuse hotline, even though he was legally required to do so. If that seems shockingly lenient, consider that Hutchens is now serving a 56-year prison sentence for distributing and possessing child pornography himself.

The mistakes in handling Josh’s confession are almost too glaring. Not only was there a lack of proper, legitimate treatment for Duggar, but ill-equipped officials involved did not properly move forward with investigating the allegations. By the time Springdale Police became aware of the allegations, the statute of limitations for the abuse had passed. The 2006 police report initially reported on by In Touch Weekly had also previously been expunged due to a judge’s order. “As far as the Springdale Police Department is concerned this report doesn’t exist,” a spokesperson for the department said at the time.

But it wasn’t just the state’s failure to reckon with Duggar’s abuse, but his own family and a culture that seemed to embrace the Duggars as another zany, reality TV family. When the 2006 police report broke to the media the Duggar family, already a controversial reality TV spectacle, were defensive about the claims of pedophilia. “This was like touching somebody over their clothes,” Jim Bob said in the Fox News interview. “There were a couple instances where he touched them under their clothes.” One of the Duggar sisters who Josh had molested told reporters that claims that her brother is a child molester were “so overboard and a lie.” The Duggars also instituted a bizarre set of rules to make sure no further molestation occurred within their family, including not letting the boys of the family babysit and not allowing two kids to hide together during hide-and-seek, “safeguards” that downplayed the seriousness of the abuse. There was also some objection from the Duggar family about whether the release of the records was legal, considering Josh and the victims were minors at the time, but the release was legal under Arkansas law.

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And even though TLC wouldn’t cancel 19 Kids and Counting until 2015, rumors about Duggar’s past had circulated online in anti-Fundamentalist message boards well before the 2006 police report made its way to press. The Oprah Winfrey Show also received a tip in 2006 about the allegations before planning an interview with the TLC stars. Upon receiving the tip, Oprah’s producers pulled the plug on the interview and alerted the Springdale Police Department. TLC continued to capitalize off of the Duggar success by producing a spin-off show Counting On, which focuses on several of the older Duggar siblings, premiering the same year 19 Kids and Counting was pulled. When the show aired Jinger Duggar’s wedding in 2016, Josh was in attendance, but TLC painstakingly edited the footage to make sure he didn’t appear in any shots.

Duggar is currently out of custody and while he is not allowed to return to his home, he has been allowed “unlimited contact” with his six children if his wife Anna is present. He is also not allowed to have contact with any other minor including his siblings, Entertainment Tonight reports. Charged with one count of receiving child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography, if convicted Duggar faces up to 20 years in prison. But for two decades Josh Duggar’s abuse has been brushed under the rug by state officials well aware of his crimes, by his family members, and by the television network that made him a celebrity.

Hazel Cills is the Pop Culture Reporter at Jezebel. Her writing has been published by outlets including The Los Angeles Times, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, ELLE, and more.

DISCUSSION

babysquirrel
BabySquirrel

As parents, what you did was show your daughters that some abuse is okay and the abuser’s feelings and life journey and the harmony of the family unit are more important than you and your trauma. A little bit of abuse being okay basically preps them for a lifetime of abuse. Because it’s always going to be “a little bit,” right? An abuse incident, a makeup period, another baby, and then another abuse incident. It makes me wonder what Jim Bob has done in his life that he only sees molestation as an issue if it happens 3 times.

I talk a lot of shit about my conservative Christian upbringing but I have to give credit to my parents for making it super clear to me that absolutely no unwanted physical contact is appropriate or forgiveable, ever. That a line is crossed the very first time, and that even if I was married I could come right back home and be safe and supported if I needed to.

A little bit of a mixed message when I spent my childhood being forced to hug everyone, but I’ll take what I can get. My heart is with the Duggar girls.