Millions of people had become obsessed with the Duggar family from Arkansas, after they were featured in a Discovery Health Channel special up to TLC’s “Counting On” reality television series. The logistics of raising a huge family, which had grown to 19 kids, and their strong conservative values and rigid adherence to their faith as Independent Fundamentalist Baptists piqued the interest of the viewers. However, fame turned to notoriety following reports that Josh Duggar, the eldest of the brood, molested five girls, four of whom were his younger sisters, by fondling them when he was a teenager.
- 1 Why the Duggars chose to have a big family
- 2 Growing up in the Duggar home
- 3 How the Duggar family became reality TV stars
- 4 “Counting On” TV series franchise
- 5 Josh Duggar’s child molestation and pornography controversies
Why the Duggars chose to have a big family
Jim Bob Duggar and Michelle Ruark were married in a simple ceremony on 21 July 1984. The couple originally planned on having two or three children, so after Josh was born on 3 March 1988, she went back to taking birth control pills. However, she still conceived, only to miscarry after two months apparently because of the contraceptives. They were heartbroken, so they turned to reading the Scriptures as they grieved for their unborn child. As they read that ‘children are a blessing and a gift from God’ (Psalm 127:1–5), they prayed for forgiveness, and then gave God control over how many children they would have. They were blessed – if that’s the right word – with 19 kids, the youngest born in 2009.
Growing up in the Duggar home
Josh was a baby when Jim Bob and Michelle first heard about the benefits of homeschooling; his parents saw this as an opportunity to train the children in the manner that God commanded. Having many kids, it would be impossible for the parents to personally attend to the needs of each child, so the couple established a buddy system, in which an older child would be partnered with a younger sibling or two, to assist in their personal hygiene, studies, and other tasks – there was a master list of each child’s responsibilities to monitor their progress. They followed a schedule, so there would be order in the house. Their time with their father was usually at nine in the evening, as they read and discussed Bible passages for an hour. After that, it was bedtime.
How the Duggar family became reality TV stars
The Duggar patriarch served two terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives for Washington County’s District 9, from 1999 to 2003. Instead of seeking re-election in 2002, he ran for the US Senate, and as the couple along with 14 children was walking toward the polling place, it was captured on camera. Their photo appeared in the New York Times the following day, which led to a feature article in “The Parents” magazine. Soon, Figure 8 Films’ Bill Hayes contacted them about the possibility of doing a documentary for the Discovery Health Channel.
Jim Bob might have lost the election, but he found a bigger platform to share their faith with the public when his family was featured in the 2004 TV special, “14 Children and Pregnant.” By this time, they had outgrown their three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, so were in the process of building a 7,000-square foot house. The show gave an insight into how a large family such as theirs made things work, from grocery shopping to doing chores at home, as well as the education aspect. It became the network’s highest-rated TV show, so two years later, a series of specials aired, such as “Raising 16 Children”, and “16 Children and Moving In.”
“Counting On” TV series franchise
The cable network TLC, launched the reality TV series “17 Kids and Counting,” followed by “18 Kids and Counting”, and then “19 Kids and Counting.” It ran for 10 seasons from 2008 to 2015, with each episode of the final season being viewed by an audience of more than two million – it was canceled following the scandal involving Josh Duggar.
However, people had not seen the last of the Duggars, as the three-part special, “Jill & Jessa: Counting On,” premiered on 13 December 2015. It was focused on the lives of the two girls as they started their own families, and it continued for a full season in the following year, with the rest of the older children joining them. As they reached new milestones as grown-ups, the title of the series changed to simply “Counting On”, and eventually ran for 11 seasons, with the last episode aired in 2020; it was canceled in the wake of Josh’s arrest.
Josh Duggar’s child molestation and pornography controversies
The Duggars became one of reality TV’s most popular families, but unbeknown to the viewing public, Josh Duggar had a dark past that the family had kept hidden for years. In May 2015, “InTouch Weekly” published an article that detailed a police report on a child molestation case against Josh.
Josh got away with child sexual abuse
In March 2002, Jim Bob was informed by a female minor that Josh touched her breasts and genital area on many occasions while she was asleep; Josh was 14 or 15 at that time. He admitted it to his father in July, and was disciplined at home as a result. However, it wasn’t an isolated case, as the patriarch discovered by March 2003, that his eldest molested four more underage girls while they were sleeping, and at times even when they were awake. Four of the victims were his younger sisters, and one a babysitter. Jim Bob talked to his church elders about it, and reportedly they came to a decision to send Josh to Little Rock, Arkansas to receive counseling, and do manual labor, from March to July 2003. However, Josh’s mother later admitted that her son was sent away to live with a family friend, who had a home remodeling business, and didn’t receive counseling.
Upon Josh’s return home, his father and some church elders brought him to the police to disclose what happened. However, Alaska State Trooper, Joseph Truman Hutchens, only gave him ‘a very stern talk’ about the consequences of such behavior if he didn’t stop doing it, and then sent him on his way without taking any official action. Apparently, the state trooper knew Bob personally – he was later imprisoned himself on child pornography charges.
Formal investigation of Josh’s crime
Fast forward to 2006, the family had flown to Chicago as they were invited to appear for an interview on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” but it was canceled after Oprah’s production company, Harpo Studios, received an email warning them about the child molestation allegations against the eldest son, and that his parents were covering it up. It stated, ‘They are not what they seem to be. I think you should know the truth before they make a complete fool of you and your show.’ Shortly after that, the producers faxed the letter to the Department of Human Services Hotline; it was also said that the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline received a tip on child abuse occurring in the Duggar home.
Bah ha ha, team nobody here.
Matt Walsh can be sexist at times, Josh Duggar is a pedophile but the trans rights movement is a sexist men's rights movement, too. 🤣
–#MattWalsh #JoshDuggar #TRAs #Transgenderism #Transgender https://t.co/b34FjRNOkM
— Solo (@sololoner2) August 16, 2022
There was much speculation on who sent the anonymous email, or tipped the authorities – some said that it came from their own community. It was reported that the Duggar’s friends, Jim and Bobye Holt, were aware of what happened because while Josh was courting their daughter, Kaeleigh, he came clean with his ‘transgressions.’ The relationship between the two families became strained after that.
Kaeleigh reportedly wrote about the abuse in her letter to a favorite author, but instead of sending it, she stuck it in a book and forgot about it. The book was then lent to a friend from church, and so news of what Josh had done was spread within the community. Those who knew were divided on what to do, as some believed that it should be handled by their church because ‘sexual sin is a sin of spiritual nature.’ However, there were people who were aghast at what had happened and how the perpetrator wasn’t brought to justice and continued to live in a house with underage girls. Someone did the right thing, and alerted those who could take appropriate action.
Finally, the incident was formally investigated, but no charges were filed as the three-year statute of limitations for the 2002 crime had expired by the time the Springdale Police was notified about it in 2006. Molestation rumors had spread in blog posts and fan forums in 2007, but nothing came of them. Josh went on with his life, and married Anna Keller in September 2008. Anna knew all about his ‘past teenage mistakes’ because he told her and her parents a couple of years before he asked her to be his wife. She said that he received counseling, and it changed his life, making him ‘a man who knows how to be a gentleman and treat a girl right.’
Happy New Year from the Duggars! #19Kids #HappyNewYear
The aftermath of the “InTouch” exposé
It seemed that the crime had been forgotten, and that everybody had moved on, as the family was featured in “19 Kids and Counting,” which began airing in September 2008. However, somehow, someone from “InTouch” learned of what had happened, having got hold of the police report through the Freedom of Information Act, and wrote an article about it in 2015.
Josh issued a statement on Facebook, admitting his wrongdoing, and saying that he deeply regretted his actions when he was a young teen – ‘I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life. I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life.’
When his parents were interviewed by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, they tried to downplay what happened, as they referred to the molestation as ‘improper touching’, and that what Josh did ‘was not rape or anything like that.’ What was most concerning, they said, was how the police records were released, as those involved were minors. Those records were later expunged, as ordered by Judge Stacey Zimmerman upon the request of the victims.
Jessa and Jill, who came out as two of the victims, said ‘We’ve already forgiven Josh. We’ve already moved on.’ The girls also defended their brother, and said that people calling him a child molester, rapist, or pedophile went overboard.
The public was outraged, and the advertisers pulled out of the reality TV series, which prompted the network to terminate the program in July 2015.
Arrest and trial, receiving and possessing child pornography
On 29 April 2021, Josh was arrested by US Marshalls on child pornography charges, and was held without bond in an Arkansas jail but was later released on several conditions, which included having to stay in a residence with no minors, and that contact with his children would only be allowed in the presence of his wife.
In May 2019, the Department of Homeland Security executed a search warrant at Josh’s car dealership, and recovered his personal laptop and work desktop computer. This was in connection with their ongoing investigation of child porn files being shared online, which they traced back to Josh’s computer.
Josh went on trial beginning November 2021, and pleaded not guilty to the charges. In court, a federal agent testified that they discovered that Josh downloaded and possessed about 65 images of child porn, as well as videos that featured girls between five and 10 years old. He further stated that the files were ‘some of the worst sexual abuse child pornography that I’ve seen in over 1,000 cases.’ Reportedly, one of the videos found was that of ‘a three-month-old being sexually abused and tortured.’
The defense argued during the trial that a third party could have remotely downloaded those incriminating files onto the work computer. However, the federal prosecutors showed a detailed log of online activities, which indicated that Josh alternated between sending personal messages to downloading child porn. Computer analysts explained that his desktop computer had a partition for a Linux operating system, to evade a tracking program that would alert his wife, Anna, should he visit a porn site.
Perhaps the reason why there was an accountability software installed was that back in August 2015, it was revealed that Josh had an account with Ashley Madison, a website that helped facilitate cheating on one’s spouse; its servers were hacked, and the personal data of its users were leaked to the public. Josh issued a statement: ‘I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet,’ adding ‘this became a secret addiction, and I became unfaithful to my wife.’
The judge ruled that the evidence that Josh molested minors would be admitted. Bobye Holt, a family friend of the Duggars, testified during the pre-trial hearing that Josh told him that he molested his four sisters and a babysitter when he was a teen. The defense argued that Josh was never charged for that, and that it had no relevance to this ongoing case and could prejudice the jury.
Sentenced to 151 months in jail
On 9 December 2021, the jury found the defendant guilty of receiving and possessing child pornography. Ahead of his sentencing, Michelle Duggar wrote a letter to the judge asking for leniency, saying ‘Joshua has a tender heart and he’s compassionate toward others.’ Anna Duggar also penned a letter saying that her husband was ‘a kind, loving, supportive and caring father and husband.’ Reportedly, the parent of one of the prepubescent kids who appeared in the downloaded material had said, ‘I can find no words to express…my scorn for any attempt to minimize the responsibility by feeble claims that the crime was ‘victimless,’ and added, ‘My daughter is a real person…She is exploited anew each and every time an image of her suffering is copied, traded or sold.’
In May 2022, Arkansas judge Timothy L. Brooks handed down the sentence of 12 and a half years in federal prison to 34-year-old Josh, and ordered him to pay special assessments and fines amounting to $50,100. He began serving his sentence in June at the Federal Correctional Institute Seagoville, located on the southeastern side of Dallas, Texas. It’s a low-security federal correctional institution. that had a ‘high-end treatment program’ for sex offenders that would help them understand their past offenses, and minimize the risk of committing the same crime in the future.
There was no possibility of parole, and upon his release, he would still be under probation for 20 years. Josh wouldn’t be allowed contact with minors, including with his own children, unless supervised by those on the approved list of the US Probation Office. He couldn’t use the internet without asking permission from his probation officer. Watching porn of any kind including adult porn was also prohibited. Other rules on his probation included undergoing sex offense-specific therapy, and submitting to periodic polygraph testing to ensure his compliance with the requirements of his treatment program.
After the sentencing, some family members issued a statement regarding the matter. His 22-year-old brother Jason, said, ‘My heart is grieved over the choices my brother has made,’ and believed that the judge was fair in his ruling. His 31-year-old sister Jill, and her husband, posted on their website: ‘Until now, he has yet to be held accountable to the extent necessary to cause change in his dangerous pattern of behavior.’ They also expressed their love for Josh and his family. Josh’s parents and wife had yet to issue a statement.