The Most Disturbing Thing About the Duggar Sex Abuse Scandal

22 May 2015
Rumours have been swirling for years; he always did seem a bit slimy, a bit creepy - but today it was confirmed that in 2006 Josh Duggar of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting was investigated for sexually molesting several underage girls over the period 2002-2003. It hasn't been confirmed that these girls were his sisters, but all lived in the same house as him, Josh's parents are named as the victims' parents, and one of them is said to be underage now, in 2015 - his sister, Joy, who was five years old in 2003.

I'll wait whilst the bile rising in your throat settles.

Josh's father, Jim Bob (yee haw) apparently waited over a year before taking Josh to the police; the investigating officer (who was later jailed himself for child pornography offences) gave Josh a stern talking to but took it no further, the statute of limitations expired, and that was seemingly that. The family reportedly "turned closer to God", Josh married and had several children, and, educated at home with no experience or qualifications, got a cushy job with the far right lobby group Family Research Council, where amongst other things he was paid wads of money to infer that gay people are child molesters, whilst his mother says the same of transgender people in telephone robocalls.

Waiting for the further bile to settle.

With the allegations coming to light this week, Josh has now resigned from the Council; no word yet though on whether TLC will pull the massively successful reality show. It seems inevitable, given that Honey Boo Boo was cancelled when the main adult star began dating a man who sexually abused her daughter years before - but the most passionate of the Duggar defenders won't hear of it. We all make mistakes, they say, and Josh was young. Hey, if as a 16 year old he got drunk and urinated on the high school football field, that's a youthful mistake. Repeatedly molesting his own sisters - one of whom was barely past toddlerhood - that's not a childish indiscretion. That is really fucking disturbing.

But the main reason the show should stay on the air, they say, is that the whole affair is proof of the redemptive power of God's love. His parents have forgiven him, God has forgiven him - and so have his victims, his sisters. That is what is so unsettling here - the idea that they have forgiven him. Did they ever have a choice?

That the family kept this whole thing a secret for so long whilst playing pious happy families on TV is bad enough, and the girls may well have been told to shut up and smile to keep the cameras and money rolling. But there's an even deeper reason why the Duggar girls would have been told to keep their happy faces on, and it gets to the heart of the weird, cultish pseudo-Christianity the Duggars practice. The Duggars are followers of a strain of Independent Baptism preached by figures such as Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard that makes up tonnes of their own rules you won't find anywhere in the Bible, like courtship and long perms. And one of the key tenets of their childraising philosophy is a "cheerful countenance". Children must now show their true emotions, are not allowed to be sad or frustrated or grumpy or traumatised - they must have joyful countenance and a light in their eyes; to do otherwise is showing disrespect for authority and displeasure with God. I'll quote from this excellent post, "An open letter to the Duggar defenders", which was written by someone raised in the same homeschooling, large family independent Southern Baptist culture:

The Duggar parents are following parenting gurus who teach that unhappiness or a sour disposition is disobedience. In this climate, what child would have anything but a smile? There is no other option. I also grew up on these teachings. I remember being punished for having a “bad mood.” My siblings and I looked happy, on the outside, and that outward appearance was not always wrong. But sometimes it was—sometimes it was very, very wrong, because being discontented was seen as sin, and was punished. Of course children will look happy, when that is the only option they are allowed. 

When you thrown in TV, in the case of the Duggars, that only ups the ante. While my family was not on TV, my parents were keenly aware that we were on display everywhere we went. When we went out in public, mom wiped our faces and put bows in our hair, and before we were allowed to get out of the car at our destination we were always given the standard pep talk: “Remember that you are representing Christians, and you are representing homeschoolers, and you are representing big families,” she would say. “Be on your best behavior.” You better believe the Duggar children have heard that same pep talk time and again.

The Duggar girls were forced to smile, and more than likely forced to forgive as well - they've written extensively about how no argument or disagreement is allowed between siblings in their household. And eventually acting becomes believing; the girls may well think they have forgiven Josh. But it's doubtful they ever had much choice. What does it say about your worth to a young woman if you are abused and your abuser is not punished and allowed to stay at home? If you are told to keep your mouth shut except to smile for the cameras for years on end? I just hope the network makes the statement about sex abuse the parents wouldn't, and cancel the show. And the girls sue Josh's sorry ass and buy a nice apartment in New York.


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