Bill O'Reilly & Josh Duggar's shame is America's shame: How abusive and violent men get away with it

Celebrity and wealth help conceal abuse, but the system makes ignoring it pretty easy for everyone

Published May 22, 2015 1:34PM (EDT)

  (Frank Micelotta/invision/AP)
(Frank Micelotta/invision/AP)

Bill O’Reilly is alleged to have choked his wife and dragged her down a set of stairs. He also sexually harassed a former producer at his network and allegedly threatened retaliation when she complained. He is still a marquee name at Fox News. Josh Duggar sexually abused at least five underage girls, and his abuse was known to his family and his church. Until this week, he was the head of the political arm of the Family Research Council, cozying up with Republican presidential hopefuls.

Put aside the tabloid spin on O’Reilly’s perch at Fox or Duggar’s work to deny rights to and spread hate against LGBTQ people, and these are stories about violence against women, ignored and unpunished. There are so many stories like them.

It is true that both of these men have built their careers claiming their bigotry as morality and hatefully judging, blaming and castigating others. And because of that, there is a particular kind of stink that comes with reading about the crimes they are alleged to or have committed. But make no mistake: the silences around these cases aren’t unique. Bill O’Reilly and Josh Duggar faced zero consequences for their alleged actions and crimes because that’s how these things tend to go.

Duggar released a statement Thursday night calling his abuse “wrongdoing,” and said that he “took several steps” to address it with his parents and church so that he wouldn’t end up “ruining [his] life.” Set aside how Duggar’s statement frames the abuse in terms of how it may have affected his own life rather than the harm he did to other human beings, and the confession remains chilling. As does every detail in the police report that came out this week.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar were aware of their son’s abuse and waited to report it. Instead of going immediately to the police or entering Josh into an intervention program for juvenile sexual predators, they chose to “deal” with it themselves. The Duggar parents also lied about seeking help for their teenage son, claiming to have sent him to a kind of rehabilitation center when, in reality, they shipped him off to a friend’s to do manual labor and pray about it. When they did finally talk to the police, it was to a family friend (who was later incarcerated for child abuse) and the officer took no action except to give Josh a stern talking to.

The serial abuse Josh committed made him a danger to girls around him. And juvenile offenders need intensive counseling to address their crimes. But the Duggar family’s decision to cover for their son and chalk up the abuse to an opportunity to, in their words, “seek God like never before” is a familiar story. In fact, while the Duggars are Baptists, their non-response to the abuse mirrors how the Catholic Church chose to move abusive priests through different parishes rather than report them to the police.

And we know from the data on child sexual abuse, including abuse committed by teens, that the violence rarely gets addressed or reported. According to national data from 2000, juveniles aged 12 to 17 account for nearly 20 percent of perpetrators who abuse children. About 25 percent of juvenile offenders are related to their victims. Arrests are made around 30 percent of the time, and that is only when the abuse is reported in the first place.

Josh Duggar, a virulent anti-LGBTQ activist and friend to Mike Huckabee, is a hypocrite. He is also a man with a history (if the abuse, in fact, ended when it was “addressed” by the Duggar family) of sexual violence who never faced a single legal consequence or entered into a legitimate rehabilitation program. He is, in other words, very much the face of sexual violence in this country.

And so it goes for Bill O’Reilly. A man who has made millions of dollars pathologizing black families, calling trans children sexual predators and otherwise spewing hate is also a man who is alleged to have brutally assaulted his ex-wife. In full view of his children. He also harassed a former staffer. Through it all, he kept his job.

Why? Because O’Reilly makes bank for Fox News. And why else? Because violent men who abuse women often get away with it. One in four women will experienced "severe physical violence" at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Less than a third of victims of domestic violence report the abuse. Of those reported cases, around 50 percent will result in arrest.

Abusers get away with abuse every day. It helps to have money and celebrity, there is no questioning that. But when the system is rigged to protect violent men and punish women for coming forward, zero accountability isn’t just reserved for the rich and famous. O'Reilly and Duggar may be high-profile examples of our cultural disregard for women's safety, but they aren't all that unique.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Abuse Child Sexual Abuse Domestic Violence Rape Sexual Abuse Teen Offenders Violence Against Women