His supporters are acting as if the sexual abuse of young girls is a youthful indiscretion. It's not.
This week, reports surfaced that Josh Duggar, star of the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting and eldest son of the evangelistic Duggar family, sexually abused at least five girls when he was 15 years old. InTouch Weekly first reported the allegations by publishing a graphic and disturbing police report, which documented that Josh touched the genitals of young girls, in some cases as they slept.
"Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret," Duggar said in a statement to People. He continued:
I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.
Josh's parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, released their own statement, describing the abuse as "bad mistakes" that Josh made as a "young teenager."
The repeated sexual abuse of children is not a "mistake." A mistake is when the barista at Starbucks gives you the wrong amount of change for your latte. Abusing young girls in their sleep is a choice and a crime.
In a post on Facebook, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee echoed the teenage mistake narrative, saying that he and his wife, Janet, still "support" the Duggar family. "Josh's actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, 'inexcusable,' but that doesn't mean 'unforgivable.'... Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things."
Since their show premiered seven years ago, the Duggars have been propped up as the model for evangelical Christian "family values." Their persistent anti-LGBTQ rhetoric made them a darling of the religious right and a photo op for many high-profile Republican politicians, including Jeb Bush and Governors Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal. Until yesterday when he resigned, Josh headed up the conservative lobbying organization the Family Research Council, where he regularly bashed gays and lesbians looking to adopt children. Just last year, in opposition to a new law that would protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination, Michelle Duggar robo-called Arkansas voters to warn them that trans people are dangerous child predators. Oh, the irony.
It's hard to imagine that, if the Duggars weren't held up as such pillars of righteousness, anyone would be rushing to defend Josh. Nobody supported Mama June, the matriarch of another TLC hit reality show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, when her show was canceled, for example. (Not that support was deserved in that case either — she was reportedly dating Mark McDaniel, the registered sex offender who was convicted of molesting her daughter Anna.) Just because the Duggars are a family that prays for God's forgiveness, doesn't mean their prayers are a sufficient and serious enough response to the criminal sexual abuse of children. In fact, as the daughter of two pastors, I am disgusted that prayer might be trotted out as some kind of protective shield from public and moral accountability.
By framing Josh's actions as youthful indiscretion that can be prayed away, the Duggar family and its supporters have tried to minimize the seriousness of what happened. But sexual abuse isn't an everyday display of bad judgment, like cutting class. It's a crime. And there are victims on the other side of it — victims who the Duggar parents and their supporters are grossly disregarding.