“19 Kids and Counting” was one of the most-watched reality television series on TLC, as the Duggar family captured the interest of the American audience from when it began airing in 2008. As devout Baptists who espoused modesty, purity, and faith in God, it came as a shock when allegations of child molestation against Josh Duggar, the eldest of 19 children, were made public in 2015, and which eventually led to a child pornography conviction in late 2021.
- 1 Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar – The Parents
- 2 “19 Kids and Counting”
- 3 Meet Josh and his wife, Anna
- 4 What happened to Josh Duggar?
- 4.1 No official police report was filed against Josh in 2003
- 4.2 The police launched an investigation in 2006 but Josh wasn’t charged
- 4.3 Josh confirmed the allegations against him
- 4.4 A judge ordered the investigation record on Josh to be destroyed
- 4.5 Admitted to cheating on his wife
- 4.6 Moving on from the scandal
- 4.7 Arrest and conviction in 2021
- 4.8 Josh sentenced to prison over child pornography
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar – The Parents
James Robert Duggar, fondly called Jim Bob, was 17 when he met Michelle Annette Ruark during a house-to-house visit for their church, regarding her recent conversion to their faith. As he left her house, he prayed, ‘Lord, I would love to be her spiritual leader. Can she be mine?’ He later claimed that it was love at first sight for him, but she had no recollection of that day. She only remembered meeting him when she applied at a yogurt shop where his mother was a manager, and was hired at his insistence. They hit it off, and by the end of their first date, Michelle had prayed, ‘Father, I can’t imagine anyone better than this that you have planned for me. He’s such a godly man.’
They tied the knot in 1984 after she matriculated from high school and Jim Bob turned 19, and they ultimately had 10 boys and nine girls, with Josh the eldest. Michelle suffered a miscarriage in 1989, as she was taking birth control pills when she became pregnant. Devastated, they turned to the Bible and read that ‘children are a blessing and a gift from God.’ They then prayed that they be given as many children as God intended for them to have. To provide for their family, both worked in real estate, and invested in commercial properties.
Jim Bob and Michelle raised their children as independent Baptists, and as such, they were Baptists by principle but their church wasn’t affiliated with any denomination. Access to the internet was filtered, and TV was restricted to what they considered to be wholesome. The women kept their hair long, while the men were clean-shaven. They wore modest clothing, as exposing skin was believed to be shameful. Courtship was centered on family, with ‘older, godly mentors’ to guide a potential couple. Getting to know one another required having a chaperone, with ‘phone calls limited, and text messages monitored. In short, they lived their lives in accordance with their religious beliefs.
As the couple has stayed together for nearly four decades, Michelle revealed the secret to their lasting relationship, ‘I really know that our relationship with God and our close walk with Christ is what holds our marriage together.
“19 Kids and Counting”
How did it come about?
Jim Bob and Michelle along with their 14 children were captured on camera as they walked to the polling place for the US Senate 2002 election, and their family photo appeared in “The New York Times” the following day. “The Parents” magazine printed a feature article about them, and their story caught the attention of Discovery Health Channel executives. Bill Hayes from Figure 8 Films approached them about filming a documentary, and the family agreed as they saw this as an opportunity to share their beliefs. ‘Our desire in opening our home to the world has been to make Christ known and to share Bible principles that are the answers for life’s problems!’
“14 Children and Pregnant Again” aired in 2004, and as it became one of the network’s highest-rated shows at that time, a series of specials followed, including “Raising 16 Children” and “16 Children and Moving In.” The viewing public clamored for more, and TLC’s “17 Kids and Counting” premiered in 2008. As the family grew, the name of the show changed to “18 Kids and Counting”, and then “19 Kids and Counting.” The series ran for 10 seasons with the last episode aired on 19 May 2015. Despite its success, with every episode averaging 2.5 million viewers, it was canceled when child molestation allegations against Josh came to light, which prompted their advertisers to pull their ads from the show.
Meet Josh and his wife, Anna
Joshua James Duggar was born on 3 March 1988, in Tontitown, a city in northern Washington County, Arkansas. He was homeschooled growing up, took his GED at 16, but never went to college.
Anna Renée Keller was born on 23 June 1988. Her mother, Suzette was a retired Christian schoolteacher in Florida. Her father, Michael was a fabricator and welder before working full-time for the Rock of Ages Prison Ministry, Inc. He would take Anna along with him when he ministered to the girls at the juvenile detention center. Her parents had strict rules in their house, and held 15-minute weekly meetings with each of their eight children. She was homeschooled until she finished high school at 16, and then earned her early child education degree through an online program from a Christian college.
In 2006, Josh met Anna at a homeschooling convention, and began courting her shortly afterwards. Physical contact or being alone together wasn’t allowed during this period, and they could only hold hands or give side hugs when they became engaged; their first kiss was reserved for their wedding. They were married on 26 September 2008 at the Buford Grove Baptist Church in the town of Hillard in Nassau County, Florida. They resided in Springdale, Arkansas with their seven children, and ran a used car dealership.
What happened to Josh Duggar?
The public was shocked when celebrity news magazine, In Touch Weekly, reported in May 2015 that based on police records, the Duggar patriarch informed the Arkansas State Police in December 2006 that his son Josh was 14 or 15 years old, he molested five underage girls – four of them were his siblings, and the other was a babysitter.
Josh Duggar Sentenced to More Than 12 Years in Federal Prison for Child Pornography Conviction https://t.co/Kx6u88nO5n
— People (@people) May 25, 2022
According to Jim Bob, in March 2002, a 14-year-old girl told him that Josh ‘touch her breasts and genitals’ on numerous occasions while she was asleep. Josh admitted it to his father in July 2002, and was ‘disciplined’ at home. In March 2003, several minors accused Josh of the same thing, which happened while they were both awake and asleep. Jim Bob claimed that he told his church elders about it, and they were supportive of his family. He said that Josh was sent to a treatment program that involved counseling and hard labor from March to July 2003, but Michelle later revealed that Josh was sent to help a family friend in Little Rock, Arkansas, to remodel a building.
No official police report was filed against Josh in 2003
When Josh returned home, Jim Bob along with church elders brought him to Arkansas State Trooper Joseph Truman Hutchens to disclose his crime. However, no official action was taken, and the state trooper only gave Josh a ‘very stern talk’ before sending him home. It turned out that Hutchens was not only a personal acquaintance of Jim Bob, but he was also guilty of a similar crime, and was later arrested and imprisoned twice for offences related to child pornography. When asked why he let Josh go after his confession, Hutchens said, ‘I thought what I did was right – obviously it wasn’t.’
Jim Bob waited for over a year before he went to the police to report his son, because they initially wanted to handle the matter themselves, as Josh admitted what he’d done, and they put safeguards in place to protect the girls. Also, after the supposed ‘treatment,’ Jim Bob said that Josh ‘asked God to forgive him…asked those that he had offended to forgive him. We felt like the last jurisdiction of who he needed to make things right with was the law.’
The police launched an investigation in 2006 but Josh wasn’t charged
The Duggars were invited to appear in “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” but it was canceled after Harpo Studios received an anonymous email on the morning of 7 December 2006, informing them that Josh molested young girls, and that his parents covered it up. The production company immediately alerted the authorities with the letter faxed to the Department of Human Services Hotline, and canceled the taping. At that time, the family was already in Chicago for the scheduled interview, and had to rush back home as Michelle received a ‘phone call that very afternoon from the Arkansas State Police, who told her that Josh was wanted for questioning. However, Jim Bob refused to bring his son for an interview with the police.
A formal investigation was launched, and the five alleged victims were interviewed. Josh wasn’t charged, as the statute of limitations had passed – child sexual abuse charges should be filed within three years of it being reported to a police officer. The statute began in July 2003 when Jim Bob reported it to state trooper Hutchens, and so ended before the 2006 investigation.
Josh confirmed the allegations against him
Following the report by In Touch, Josh posted a statement on his Facebook page on 21 May 2015: ‘Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret.’ In an interview, he said that he confessed his wrongdoing to his parents, and spoke to the authorities about them. He, along with those affected by his actions, received counseling. Josh further said, ‘I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.’
A judge ordered the investigation record on Josh to be destroyed
In an interview with Fox News Channel’s “The Kelly File” host Megyn Kelly in June 2015, Josh’s parents talked about how devastated they were by what happened. Michelle said, ‘I think as parents, we felt, we’re failures. Here we’ve tried to raise our kids to do what’s right…and yet, one of our children thatmade some really bad choices.’ However, they criticized the release of the police report, saying it was illegal due to the age of the children involved, and that they were contemplating filing a lawsuit. The parents claimed that they weren’t trying to hide it, but had been protecting those who should be protected.
Rumors of the child molestation case circulated online on message boards and fan forums as far back as 2007, but it was only when In Touch obtained the police record through Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act and ran the story in 2015, that the general public was made aware of it. The police report on Josh’s case had been expunged according to the Springdale Police spokesman, upon the orders of Judge Stacey Zimmerman, and at the request of one of the alleged victims.
Women's Suffrage Centennial Anniversary"Let's reflect upon how far we've come." ~Judge Stacey A. Zimmerman#WomensVote100 #SuffrageMonth
Posted by Washington County Arkansas on Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Admitted to cheating on his wife
Josh was outed as one of the millions of people using the cheating website, Allison Madison, with the slogan, “Life is short. Have an affair.” A group that called itself “The Impact Team,” hacked and stole the site’s user data in July 2015, and threatened to release all personal information if the company wouldn’t shut down. On the 8th and 20th of August, 60 gigabytes of data were leaked to the public, and it turned out that Josh was one of those who frequented the website. He released a statement regarding the matter: ‘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,’ and added, ‘this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife.’ On 25 August 2015, Josh checked into a faith-based addiction recovery facility.
Moving on from the scandal
After “19 Kids and Counting” was canceled, the spin-off “Jill and Jessa: Counting On,” which was focused on the lives of Josh’s two sisters, aired in December 2015. The girls talked about the abuse in an interview with Megyn Kelly in June of that year. Although what Josh did was ‘very wrong,’ Jessa wanted to speak out in her brother’s defense against people calling him a pedophile, child molester, or rapist and said, ‘That is so overboard and a lie really. I mean, people get mad at me for saying that, but I can say this because I was one of the victims.’ The publicity on the case was a ‘thousand times worse’ for them than the actual sexual abuse that happened more than a decade ago; Jill called it ‘a re-victimization.’ They’d forgiven Josh and moved on.
Whether it was curiosity about how the Duggars were faring or a show of support, the three-part special attracted over two million viewers. As such, TLC ordered a full season for “Counting On”, featuring the whole family except for Josh. It premiered on 15 March 2016, and was canceled in 2021 after 11 seasons, in the wake of Josh’s arrest over a child pornography case.
Arrest and conviction in 2021
A police detective from Little Rock identified that child porn files being shared on the internet were traced back to Josh’s computer, at a used car dealership that he owned and run; the images were sexual abuse of children, including toddlers. As part of the US Department of Justice’s program to protect kids from sexual exploitation and abuse, a search warrant was served by the US Homeland Security in November 2019 and his computer was seized, and Josh was arrested by US Marshalls on 29 April 2021, charged with receiving and possessing child pornography. While the defense argued that anyone could have downloaded illicit material onto Josh’s laptop, the prosecutor countered that the activity log showed that Josh was the only one who could have done it, as he alternated between downloading child porn and sending personal messages. He also created a partition in his laptop, to use Windows for work and Linux to access the dark web. The jury found him guilty of one count each of possessing and receiving child porn.
Josh sentenced to prison over child pornography
In May 2022, Josh was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison, and fined $10,000. He is currently serving his prison term at the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, Texas. Once he gets out, he will be under probation for 20 years. He will be able to see his own children, but since some will still be minors by that time, his visits will be supervised by people on the approved list of the US Probation office – among those are his parents and his wife.
Through it all, Anna stood by him – she and Josh have been married for 13 years, and share seven children together. Many wondered how his wife could remain loyal to him, considering his crime could mean that he posed a danger to their children. Prior to their marriage, Josh shared his ‘past teenage mistakes,’ every single one of them, with her and her parents as he wanted them to know who he really was. Perhaps she had already come to terms with this, and believed in his sincerity that he was a changed man. Even if he admitted to cheating, and was convicted of child pornography, she was still committed to him. Divorce was not an option for her. She prayed, ‘I pray that…I would be an extension of God’s love to Joshua – that I would love him and forgive him, and that I would wait patiently and allow God to work in our hearts.’