In May of this year, the police records on the Duggar family, stars of TLC's reality show "19 Kids & Counting" were leaked to the public. The records revealed to all that eldest son, Joshua "Josh" Duggar, had molested five young girls, four of whom were his younger sisters. When this took place back in 2002 and 2003, Josh was 14 and 15 years of age, and the sisters he committed these crimes against were as young as 5.
The Duggar family, consisting of parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar along with their 19 children, have long sparked controversy since the dawn of their reality show back in 2008. Jim Bob, Michelle, and some of the eldest children have made prejudiced remarks about religions that are different from their own, demonstrated hate against the LGBTQ community, and, in perhaps the largest scandal of theirs since the molestation charges came to light, publicly called transgender men and women pedophiles "with past child predator convictions".
Following this remark last fall, a petition circulated the internet calling for TLC to cancel the show after the family demonstrated extreme intolerance and hatred of members of the LGBTQ community. I signed this petition the moment I saw it pop up in my newsfeed, and waited anxiously to see if TLC would put aside the large income it rakes in from the show for morality and justice. To our disappointment, they did not.
When news of the past molestation broke, I hoped once again that TLC would do the right thing and cancel further filming of the show (TLC had previously canceled another show "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo" from the air following news that one of the cast members had had a history of child molestation). After two months, TLC had only pulled the episodes from the scheduled air times, but had not yet announced whether the show would be permanently canceled from the network. Many became discouraged that TLC's motives were to resume the show after enough time had passed for the public to move on from the scandal. However, this past Thursday, TLC at last released a statement that there would not be any further taping of the show and "19 Kids & Counting" would be removed from airing.
Throughout the course of Josh's past sexual abuse charges, the family sparked more controversy by adding insult to injury. Fox News Anchor Megyn Kelly conducted an interview with the family shortly after the news broke. During the interview, the Duggar parents minimized the depth of their son's actions against his sisters, excusing him for these actions and claiming he had "changed," and attempting to paint the "real crime" here as the illegal release of the juvenile records. Yes, the files should never have been released to protect the privacy of the victims, but those files would not have existed in the first place if these crimes had never been committed.
I could write a novel on the hypocrisy and horror of how the family handled these events back in 2002, how they shamefully brought forth some of the victims to publicly state they had forgiven him, and how they continued to allow their daughters' abuser to live under the same roof even as the molestation continued. However, another large concern that needs addressing are the remarks the family made in their interview and the downplaying of their son's heinous actions. Below are some of the many concerning statements that aired in the Fox News interview and personal statements.
"This wasn't rape or anything like that."
Yes, this was "something like that". Sexual assault refers to any non-consensual, unwanted sexual touch or penetration, including Josh's fondling of the five young girls. Anything falling under the umbrella of sexual assault, including both rape and molestation, is a serious crime. An assault does not need to be full-blown sexual intercourse to be a devastating act on the victims, and is legally still considered a crime. The family's diminishing of molestation on young girls because it was not penetrative sex is a very concerning misconception that unfortunately many people believe. Any form of sexual assault can devastate a victim and change their life forever, and as if they do not have enough emotional pain on their plates, disregards their violation as something that should not be taken seriously. All victims can feel pain, all abusers are at fault, and all forms of sexual assault are as legitimate and real as the trauma left in the victim in the aftermath.
"This was like touching over the clothes. There were a couple instances where he touched someone under the clothes, but for like a few seconds."
Once again, minimizing his actions is absolutely horrific, and is a major problem we all see in our society's rape culture. An assault needn't be skin-to-skin contact for it to be just as serious. If a man wears a condom when he rapes a woman, and therefore there is little to no direct contact of his skin to her vagina, is this a less serious offense than a rapist who does not wear a condom? Absolutely not. Also, no matter the duration of the act- whether it be seconds, minutes, hours; whether it was one time, two times, a hundred times- it is still a major violation, and ranking a shorter act as less serious is just plain wrong and crushing of any trauma the victim suffers.
"To them, they probably didn't even understand it was improper touch."
"They were asleep, so they didn't even know it had happened."
These two quotes fell under the same category. When are we going to recognize that an assault in which the victim does not remember or recall is still an assault? If a person is assaulted after being slipped a drug to knock them unconscious for the act, the act still occurred. A victim who was asleep was not able to consent, and any sexual act following this had to be non consensual. An assault does not come to existence with the memory of the victim; it comes to existence when the abuser commits it. A child too young to understand what "improper touch" is, is too young to determine what they can or cannot consent to and are therefore too young to consent to anything. They were assaulted. And once again, the minimizing of his actions because "they didn't even know it had happened" absolutely disgusts me.
He and other offenders are "kids who do stupid things."
He did not steal from a local convenience store. He did not cheat on a test. He did not break into his parent's liquor cabinet and drink the findings with friends. He molested five girls. Sexual assault is not a "stupid thing," it is a crime with very serious consequences and very devastating effects on victims, not comparable to petty theft or a little white lie.
"A lot of other families said they had similar things happen in their family."
This was one of the more alarming statements they made. Who the hell are these other families that also have child molesters living in their homes, and why are there so many of them?! Given the family's distrust and dislike of outsiders of their religion, it is safe to assume these other families with offenders are also members of the same faith. Assault being common does not make it less serious; it makes it worse. Why is something this serious happening so often? What can we do to make the rates of sexual assault zero? Why aren't we trying to lessen the number of these cases? And what environment are these families all creating that is producing astonishingly high rates of assault on their women?
Josh's statement: "I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining your life."
Yes, but more importantly, you would have ruined the lives of all five of your innocent victims. What about them? Why would you prioritize yourself, the abuser, above those you violated? I would also like to note that in the family's statements released following the scandal, the victims' well being and recovery were not mentioned once. each statement though, addressed Josh and their desire for him to change his life.
"I think you actually said pedophile in that, and actually a pedophile is an adult that preys on children. Joshua was actually 14 and just turned 15 when he did what he did. And I think that the legal definition [of an adult] is 16 and up for being an adult preying on a child. So he was a child preying on a child."
Pedophile actually refers to anyone sexually attracted to children, and acts on these feelings. Josh fits the bill. Even if the legal definition states otherwise, 14 and 15 years of age is old enough to take responsibility for your actions. In Josh's home state of Arkansas, a teen can receive their driving learner's permit at the age of 14. The minimum age in AR needed to work is 14. The state says Josh was mature enough to drive a car and hold a job; this does not classify him as a "child". We need to keep in mind too that this is not two kindergarteners "playing doctor". The age of 14 and 15 is old enough to know that fondling young girls is wrong and criminal. He committed a serious crime.
"We want to be an advocate for protecting juvenile records."
Great. But first, you should be advocates for the victims of the real crime here: sexual assault. The Duggars, however, should no longer be considered advocate worthy for anything though.
At the very least, I am satisfied that TLC rightfully pulled the show from further airing. But the family's twisted remarks on sexual assault, and the ongoing support many are still giving them is concerning. We have far to go if we want to create a safer environment for everyone, one free of assault and full of support for those who have already suffered from it. The issues discussed here are just a few of the many thoughts that need to be changed. Stop the excuses, stop the victim blaming, and stop categorizing sexual assault as anything less than serious.
If you or someone you know has been assaulted in any way, any number of times, any duration, you deserve the resources you need to recover. If you need a place to start, visit rainn.org, or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673. The pain you experience is legitimate and powerful; so should be the support and help you receive to heal.