Josh Duggar may have been one of 19 children, but he was his parents' number-one concern. Jim Bob Duggar, reality show star and patriarch of the famously fecund Duggar clan, has finally broken his silence on his eldest son's repeated sexual assault of his own sisters. Mostly, he wants America to know that it's really not that big of a deal.
"He was still a kid, you know, and he was still a juvenile. He wasn't an adult," Jim Bob explained during an exclusive interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. He also sought to deflect blame from himself, telling Kelly that "kids will make their own choices."
"[Josh] had gone in and just basically touched them over their clothes while they were sleeping," said Jim Bob about his son's repeated predation of his sleeping younger sisters. When pressed, Jim Bob admitted that there "were a couple incidents where he touched them under their clothes, but it was, like, a few seconds."
Jim Bob, who apparently subscribes to the five-second rule of sexual assault, was quick to point out that this under-the-clothes touching of incapacitated minors by an older brother wasn't nearly as heinous as the "tabloid media" has made it out to be:
The fact that the sisters were asleep while Josh assaulted them was, according to Jim Bob, a kind of hidden blessing. After all, "they didn't even know he had done it."
Throughout the one-hour interview, Jim Bob and his wife Michelle continually emphasized that most of Josh's assaults took place while his sisters were sleeping, or that the assaults were simply comprised of above-the-clothes touching, as if these facts mitigated Josh's actions rather than added another dimension of nonconsensual contact to them. Compare Jim Bob's statements with those of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network on a person's ability to consent while asleep: "If you were asleep or unconscious, then you didn't give consent. And if you didn't give consent, then it is rape."
When Jim Bob and Michelle weren't minimizing their daughters' abuse, they were contextualizing Josh's actions into oblivion, or lavishing him with praise for feeling bad about what he did. "We talked to other parents and different ones since then, a lot of families have said that they've had similar things happen in their families," Jim Bob said. "I think we had one ray of hope, in that Josh had a tender conscience," Michelle said.
The Duggar's statements are heinous — but not surprising. The family belongs to the Quiverfull movement, an insular religious sect that places a high premium on sexual propriety, often to the point of blaming victims for their own sexual assaults.
"This is not an uncommon occurrence in Quiverfull families," Vyckie Garrison, a former adherent to the Quiverfull movement, told Mic in a previous interview. Garrison is the founder of No Longer Quivering, a blog for women seeking relief from spiritual abuse. "The isolation, keeping children from actual education about sex, all of these things build up a culture in which it's hard to even say what's happening. There would be a lot of self-doubt, there would be a lot of self-blame and there would be a lot of victim blaming."
The Duggars are also proponents of the Advanced Training Institute, a Christian homeschooling program that has instructed parents of abuse victims to question survivors about how their own behavior might have prompted the abuse. The reasons for God letting abuse occur include "immodest dress," "indecent exposure" and "being with evil friends."
This is rape culture. Jim Bob's statements may be borne out of love for his son, but they normalize sexual violence against women and contribute to the problematic cultural trend of excusing rapists for "temporary weakness." In an age when 44% of rape victims are under 18, 68% of sexual assaults go unreported and 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, Jim Bob Duggar's minimization of his son's crimes and his daughters' victimhood protects abusers everywhere — especially in families where the limelight isn't shining quite so brightly.