If you’re American and haven’t been hiding under a rock, by now you know about the scandal involving the Duggar family of 19 Kids & Counting fame. For those who don’t know, 19 Kids and Counting is an American reality show about a family with, you guessed it, 19 kids. And yes, they are part of the Quiverfull movement, a fundamentalist Christianity that eschews all forms of birth control, including the pill, condoms, IUDs, injections, pulling out (hey, it’s extremely unreliable anyway!) and even the rhythm method. There are a lot of jokes about the Duggar family that have circulated the Internet over the years, many which you have probably seen, such as this demotivational poster:
Other variations of this are “It’s not a conveyer belt”, “It’s not a vending machine”, and from Bill Maher, “It’s not a water slide.”
The latest news as that the oldest Duggar son, Josh, who was the executive director of the anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council, was involved in a sex scandal. After the details emerged, 19 Kids & Counting was cancelled.
When the news first broke that Josh had done “something inappropriate” with a girl when he was a teenager, I stopped myself from caving in to my first impulse, which was to say, “Someone on the far right gets caught in a sex scandal. What else is new?” The details had not been released and I wanted to be as impartial as I would want the right to be when someone in the atheist community gets in trouble for something. I entertained the notion that Josh might have simply been caught consensually fooling around with someone, say, two years younger than him and below the age of consent, which may or may not take into account the age difference between the two parties. Then the news came to light that Josh had molested a younger girl.
I am a little hesitant on judging an adult based on something stupid he did as a teenager. Let’s face it: teenagers are stupid, and I was no exception. Should I be held accountable now for stupid things I did in my teens? But then more information surfaced, revealing that this was not an isolated incident. Josh had molested not one girl once, but several girls, including his own sisters (one of which was 5 at the time) over the course of a year. Part of me still wants to give him the benefit of the doubt (as disgusting as I find that entire family’s beliefs and their reality show) and say, “He could have just been young and stupid.” But doing so would have been burying my head in the sand and ignoring several fundamental points.
First, I am sorry to say that I am not surprised that something like this happened. If a boy is growing up in a family that is cut off from the real world, taught that sex before marriage is evil, and that even certain thoughts are “dirty” and “wrong”, and that as a man you get to have dominion over women, it shouldn’t be surprising if that boy releases his emerging sexuality in a destructive way when sexuality isn’t even allowed to be acknowledged. Hell, look at all the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church. I’m not excusing or apologizing for Josh’s actions. Quite the contrary. I think Josh Duggar is disgusting, and his abuse of his sisters is just the beginning.
It’s the aftermath that disgusts me the most. Josh Duggar’s father, Jim Bob, found out about Josh molesting his sisters and sent him to live with a family friend for a few months and do manual labor. Jim Bob made a state trooper (who was later arrested for child porn) give Josh a talking-to. Jim Bob only reported Josh’s actions long after the statute of limitations had expired and so Josh couldn’t get arrested. And then of course there was all that crap about asking God for forgiveness and then “changing his life.” When the story eventually hit the airwaves, Josh expressed regret about his past actions. He made a passing reference to having hurt his family, but he made more references to sin, God having changed his life, and God having forgiven him.
I have to wonder– when Josh talked about having hurt his family, did he realize the psychological damage he may have caused his sisters? Did he ever say to himself, “Wow, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them, knowing that I could come into their room in the middle of the night and touch their genitals and breasts”? Did he ever say to himself, “My poor sisters must have been so terrified”? Did he ever say to himself, “I was so stupid when I was that age and I don’t know how I was so blind that I didn’t see what I was doing to these girls”? Maybe, but I doubt it. Based on the statements made by Josh and his family, it is very clear that Josh’s regret is based on the nebulous concept of sin– in this case, that God doesn’t like it when people touch someone’s genitals outside of marriage, regardless of context– and not based on the real-world, human consequences of breaking familial trust and abusing his sisters. If Josh really has stopped touching people inappropriately, then great. But I suspect he has stopped for the wrong reasons. Besides, who’s to say he won’t do something like this again, since he can ask Jesus for forgiveness?
Another part of the Duggar family that disgusts me is their vehement dislike of LGBTQ people. Love the sinner, hate the sin? Whatever. Michelle Duggar, the mother, knowing full well what her son had done, campaigned against an ordinance in Arkansas that would allow transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. Why? Because she claimed to be afraid that transwomen (or as Michelle put it, men pretending to be women) could go into the bathrooms and sexually assault little girls. Statistically, transpeople are more likely to be be harassed and assaulted in bathrooms than to harass and assault someone themselves. Josh Duggar, meanwhile, went on to become executive director of the Family Research Council (he has since resigned in light of the scandal), a group that lobbies against same-sex marriage and other rights for the LGBTQ community. If Michelle Duggar’s campaigning is any indication, they’re not afraid of children being molested. They just don’t like LGBTQ people and they want a scapegoat for certain horrific acts, someone who isn’t one of them. Someone from the outgroup. An other. Or maybe they just feel worse if children are molested by evil LGBTQ people rather than “good”, heterosexual Christians like Josh Duggar who can pray to their invisible sky daddy and be forgiven.
It’s an inconvenient truth that children are more likely to be molested by someone they know then by a stranger. It’s an inconvenient truth, too, for the Duggars, that in attempting to protect their children from the “sinful” secular world, they failed to protect them from abhorrent behavior perpetrated in their own house.