On the Duggars' Fox News Interview

[Content Note: Sexual assault; rape apologia; misogyny; Christian Supremacy.]

Last night, Fox News aired Megyn Kelly's one-hour interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar about their son's sexual assault of four of their daughters and a babysitter. I am not linking to any video; it's easy enough to find if you are so inclined.

The interview was exactly as horrendous as you'd imagine, its entire purpose to minimize Josh's crimes, to defend Jim Bob's and Michelle's reprehensible shielding of Josh as parenting choices made in deference to god, and to try to redirect the conversation by suggesting the records were improperly released (which is manifestly false).

Two of their daughters, Jessa and Jill, also appeared, identifying themselves as two of the girls Josh assaulted.
Kelly asked Jessa and Jill whether they consider themselves victims, and Jessa said that what her brother did was "very wrong," but said she wanted to speak up in his defense against people who are calling him a child molester, pedophile, or rapist. "I'm like, 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."
Survivors absolutely must have control of their own narratives, and many survivors of childhood incest have extremely complicated feelings about the abuse. It's not just within families like the Duggars that one might hear similar defenses of predatory siblings. But there are real questions in this case about how much agency Jessa and Jill actually have, given their religious beliefs about female deference and submission, and how much they even understand what actually happened or how "normal" it was.

During the interview, their father insisted, for example, that Josh is not a pedophile:
Jim Bob Duggar: I think you actually said pedophile, and a pedophile is an adult that preys on children. Josh was actually 14 and just turned 15 when he did what he did, and I think the legal definition was 16 and up for being an adult preying on a child. So he was a child preying on a child.

Megyn Kelly: You do not view Josh as a pedophile?

Jim Bob Duggar: No.
So the male head of the family says that his son is not a pedophile, and the female members of the family, who are taught it is sinful to disagree with the male head of the family, parrot the exact same line.

Additionally, Jim Bob Duggar made reference to discussing other cases of sexual abuse in other families:
Megyn Kelly: I'm asking you more as the father of your girls than as the father of Josh. You know, it must have been very hard to look at your little one and know the behavior had been ongoing, as difficult as your position was.

Jim Bob Duggar: Right. I was so thankful, though, that Josh came and told us. And our girls, even though this was a very bad situation, as we've talked to other families who have had, you know, other things happen, a lot of their stories were even worse.
A minimization buried within an admission that sexual abuse has been a conversation topic with our families in their community, which may have normalized abuse for the victims within his own family, especially within a framework of "abuse in other families is even worse."

Further, Jim Bob Duggar repeatedly insisted that Josh's victims didn't even know what was happening to them:
Megyn Kelly: Did he explain why? I mean, was that a question that you asked?

Jim Bob Duggar: He said he was just curious about girls, and he had gone in and just basically touched them over their clothes while they were sleeping. They didn't even know he had done it.

...Megyn Kelly: And just to clarify, it was four daughters and there was a babysitter outside the family.

Jim Bob Duggar: Yes.

Megyn Kelly: Okay. And you notified her about the incident.

Jim Bob Duggar: Yes. He called her up and asked her forgiveness, and she didn't know that he had done anything, either. So, it was more just like a—

Megyn Kelly: A fondling.

J. B. DUGGAR: —a touch while they were asleep for most of them. Then there was two other incidents that when they were awake, and it was just a bad thing. It was something we would like to forget.

...Megyn Kelly: The subsequent incident after the first one involved daughters who were awake, at least a couple of them?

Jim Bob Duggar: There was a couple, yes. And they didn't really understand, though, what happened.

Megyn Kelly: Yes. What—

Michelle Duggar: It was more his heart, his intent. He knew that it was wrong. But they weren't even aware. They were like, you know, it wasn't—to them they didn't probably even understand that it was an improper touch.
Over and over—the girls weren't aware of what was happening. (So they claim.) And the girls "didn't probably even understand that it was an improper touch." First of all, if children five and older don't know that having their genitals fondled is "an improper touch," that is a significant parenting failure.

Secondly, pretending to be asleep/unaware is a very common survival strategy for victims of sexual abuse who feel unable to stop it. I have zero faith that the Duggars made any meaningful attempt to assess whether Josh's victims who asserted to be unaware of what happened were genuinely unaware of it or simply saying that as a coping mechanism and/or to avoid the shame associated with being assaulted. Especially because their ability to claim their son's victims weren't even aware of it is a convenient way of minimizing the gravity and impact of his crimes.

Which is the entire raison d'ĂȘtre for this interview.

There was a lot of Jesus talk, and gross euphemistic language like "improper touching" and "bad choices," and a lot of emphasis on how Josh confessed which proves that "his heart was still soft," and defending their decisions not to report Josh's crimes to the police: "You know, what? As parents you're not mandatory reporters. The law allows for parents to do what they think is best for their child."

It always came back to what was best for Josh.

Kelly even gave the Duggars a chance to contradict the widespread impression among people with a functional sense of decency that they protected their son at the expense of their daughters. And even the most obvious softball opportunity for them to at least pretend like that wasn't the case was ignored:
Megyn Kelly: Did it feel at all like a "Sophie's Choice," you know, I have to protect my daughters at the expense of my son or vice versa?

Jim Bob Duggar: You know, I think it was a situation where we felt like our son's heart had gone astray. I think Jesus shared a story about he had a hundred sheep and one went astray, and there he was. He took care of the 99 but he also went after the one that went astray. And so, as parents we still loved Josh and we love our other ones, but we're going to protect those that are in our hands, but also we're going to make sure Josh doesn't make any wrong choices.

They also made sure that Josh was not there to face questions about his own actions, while asking his sisters and victims to participate in his defense.

Somehow, I don't feel confident about the Duggars' capacity to make sure their son "doesn't make any wrong choices," when all of their choices are utterly contemptible.

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