In the second installment of a highly anticipated/dreaded interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly on Friday night, sisters Jill Dillard and Jessa Seewald (née Duggar) followed their parents' example from the previous night's sitdown, and minimized the repeated sexual abuse perpetrated by their older brother, Josh Duggar.
"We were like, 'Oh, my goodness, most of the stuff out there is lies,'" Dillard told Kelly. "It's not true, so we wanted to come out and set the record straight."
Josh Duggar, who molested five underage girls, four of them his own sisters and one of them no older than 5, was defended by Seewald as "a young boy in puberty who was a little too curious about girls." His actions were, as Seewald repeated numerous times, "stupid mistakes." The sisters echoed their parents' minimization of the crimes committed against them as "mild, inappropriate touching" of victims who were "mostly" asleep.
"It was like, OK, if you catch the girl sleeping, a quick feel or whatever," said Seewald. "It was very subtle."
Then it came time to blame the "real" abuser. When the sisters were asked what crossed their minds upon learning that In Touch Weekly had unearthed the details of their brother's crimes, they lashed out at the magazine and its parent company. Dillard declared the tabloids reporting the story are "used to exploiting women," while Seewald labeled Bauer Media Group, the magazine's owner, "a major porn provider." (A 2013 investigation by the Wrap found that the German media giant was linked to "at least nine German porn websites," including Nazi-themed sites.)
The sisters, visibly upset, declared the widespread dissemination of their brother's police record to be a form of re-victimization. "I could not believe what was going on," Dillard said, breaking down in tears. "I said, 'What right do you have to do this?' We're victims. They can't do this to us."
The Duggar sisters have been re-victimized — by their parents and brother. Although they were quick to defend their parents' actions in the wake of their brother's abuse, (locks were put on their bedroom doors and games like "hide and seek" were forbidden), the spotlight is the result of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's decision to put the family on a weekly reality television program. Had their parents fully understood that fame might come at the expense of their daughters' anonymity, the trauma upon the Duggar sisters might have remained private.
The abuse took place years before the first season of 17 Kids & Counting (now 19 Kids & Counting) aired. Can parents who invited cameras into their home 24 hours a day truly be surprised their son's criminal history was revealed? The parents took that chance when they put their family on television; public knowledge of their son's actions was a ticking time bomb. Josh Duggar's victims had their agency taken away by his assault — and their privacy taken away by their parents' quest for notoriety.
It's telling that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's first response to the controversy was to default to the same fame-seeking behavior that led to their family's crisis. Once again, the Duggar children were paraded in front of a camera crew as paragons of wholesomeness. Once again, those children parroted the problematic talking points about sex, sin and temptation their parents have inculcated them with since infancy. Once again, they hid the darkness of the Quiverfull movement behind a squeaky-clean veneer.
The ethics of In Touch Weekly using a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the juvenile criminal records of a public figure are more than a little murky, particularly when the victims of the crimes in question were juveniles as well. But the true culprit of the trauma inflicted on Dillard, Seewald and the rest of the Duggar sisters isn't In Touch Weekly or cable news or the tabloid media — it's Josh Duggar and Jim Bob Duggar and Michelle Duggar.
Josh Duggar's repeated sexual assault of members of his family does not indicate the actions of "a young boy in puberty who was a little too curious about girls." It indicates the actions of a potential sexual predator who should have received help from mental health professionals. Instead, he was sent to work for a friend's construction company for the summer. Refusing to send a 14-year-old with a history of serial sexual abuse to a licensed counseling professional is more than just irresponsible parenting — it's borderline child abuse.
At every turn, the Duggar parents seem to have done the opposite of what they should. From indoctrinating their 19 kids with archaic values about sex to failing to get appropriate treatment for their son and his victims to putting their family on display as national symbols of Christian purity, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have let their children down.
The tabloid media may smell blood, but it's from wounds inflicted by the Duggar parents themselves.