For anyone paying attention to the Duggar family molestation scandal—while enjoying a bit of Schadenfreude for the holier-than-thou cultish family who have been torn down by their own terrible secret—surely tonight’s Fox News interview with Jill and Jessa Duggar was enough to quell it.
For the unacquainted, last week In Touch Magazine reported that Josh Duggar, 27, the oldest child in the freakishly large family starring in TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting had molested at least five underage girls—including his own sisters, Jill and Jessa—in 2002 and 2003 when he was around 14.
We learned little about the actual abuse from Megyn Kelly’s one-hour sit-down with Jill Dillard, 24 and Jessa Seewald, 22, (née Duggar). But the heartbreaking interview, during which the oldest Duggar girls parroted their parents and defended their abuser, is a reminder—as if one was needed—that there are actual victims here.
Earlier this week, Duggar family heads Jim Bob and Michelle appeared in their own interview with Kelly and tried to defend themselves against allegations that they had covered up abuse, put maddening little weight on Josh’s “over the clothes,” “only for a few seconds,” “while the girls were asleep,” “not as if it were rape” molestation of his sisters (one of whom was just five at the time), and blamed the media who they say turned their son and Christian family into the real victims.
Jill and Jessa’s interview was eerily similar to their parents’.
First, they defended Josh, calling the multiple instance molestation “very mild,” and “a mistake.”
“[Josh] was a boy, a young boy in puberty and a little too curious about girls. And that got him into to some trouble. And he made some bad choices, but really the extent of it was mild, inappropriate touching, on fully clothed victims, most of it while girls were sleeping,” Jessa said.
It’s deeply concerning to watch a victim excuse her own abuse and even more so with the explanation that a 14-year-old boy might touch the “the breast and vaginal area” (according to the police reports) of a five-year-old child because he’s curious about girls. And yet it’s not wholly unsurprising when one considers the world in which these children are raised.
The Duggars are followers of the Quiverfull movement—a fundamentalist Protestant sect where parents eschew all forms of birth control and adhere to strict guidelines that even the religious among us would call extreme. Josh and the other children were restricted to religious homeschooling and a cover-your-eyes, keep-your-heart-pure, style of sex education where they were taught that flirting, hand-holding, even thinking about girls unless it’s with the intention to walk down the aisle and make a mega-brood of their own, were sins. And although women have little power in this setup, they are surprisingly responsible for the sins of their brothers, which is described in Christian speak as “defrauding”—stirring up male desire that can only be satisfied with more sin.
None of this was discussed on Fox News of course. Instead Jill and Jessa spent most of their energy on the media, as their parents had on Wednesday night.
They were furious about the In Touch piece. “They don’t have a right to do this. We’re victims. They can’t do this to us.” Jill cried, remembering her reaction to the initial report. “It’s a re-victimization that’s even a 1,000 times worse.”
Further, they said that the tabloid was out to exploit them because its publisher, Bauer, “is a major porn provider. … They’re just used to making objects out of women. Maybe we just didn’t seem any different,” Jessa said. (Bauer Publishing publishes over 600 magazines including In Touch, Life and Style, and Woman’s World.)
Regardless of their logic, it’s clear that both these young women are hurting and that protecting their anonymity was never the media’s priority. Though the sisters were not named before tonight, anyone with a homeschool math education could subtract the years from the In Touch report and figure out who the victims were. But even here, the girls were thinking of their brother’s right to privacy.
“The system that has (been) set up to protect kids, both those who make stupid mistakes or have problems like this in their life, and the ones that are affected by those choices, it’s greatly failed,” Jessa said.
So although publicly speaking was never their wish, they were choosing to do it now, “to set the record straight,” and to make it known that they had forgiven Josh. “And it wasn’t something that somebody forced,” Jill said.
Letting victims take control of their narrative is the least we can do now that we’ve dragged them out into the spotlight. And yet, it’s hard to ignore the other reasons Jess and Jill might be so moved to speak now.
TLC still hasn’t announced whether it plans to cancel the series yet—despite some 20 advertisers pulling their spots. And the oldest children are now stars in their own right and have made careers on the Duggar name. The oldest girls wrote a book in 2014, Growing Up Duggar, that made it to The New York Times bestseller list. And Jill and Jessa—whose weddings were both featured on the show—were reportedly in talks for a spin off of their own.
The Duggar girls were also was raised to believe that women are to be “help-meets” and to “submit” first to parents, then to brothers, and someday to a husband. What better way to offer submission and Godly forgiveness than to publicly exonerate your attacker—when even he has gone into hiding?
Whatever their motive, Jill and Jessa have now said publicly that they don’t feel Josh’s molestation was a big deal and that they have forgiven him. And the rest of us will just have to take their word at that. Victims of sexual abuse and molestation are routinely marginalized and their experiences treated with disbelief. The Duggar victims have already been exposed despite their wishes; the least we can do is believe them now.
But that doesn’t mean the rest of us should agree to take part in the charade any longer.
As a serial child molester, Josh Duggar doesn’t get to head an organization that claims to champion family values in Washington. And how can he continue to lead the hateful charge against gays and lesbians in the name of protecting children now that we know what we do?
And although Jill praised how Michelle and Jim Bob handled Josh’s abuse—“I see as a mom, I hope that I can set up the same safeguards in my family that they did”—we know how Jim Bob and Michelle reacted to abuse in their own family.
At first, they did nothing, which allowed Josh to continue to molest, and to move on to his younger sister. Then in the immediate wake of Josh’s abuse, for fame or fortune or to spread their evangelical Christian beliefs, they signed their entire growing brood up for a reality series where they played the perfect family. And in the meantime, they politically advocated against the rights of LGBT people and continue to imply even this week that people who are gay and transgender are a threat to children.
Now Jim Bob and Michelle have the audacity to claim they’re under attack because they are Christians and Josh is just a victim of a bloodthirsty media.
It would do Jim Bob and Michelle well to watch tonight’s interview with their oldest girls and remember that there are true victims in all of this.