How the Duggar family's over-the-top beliefs created an environment that fostered child sex abuse

The problem is not just individuals' willful ignorance -- it's a culture that blames victims and protects rapists

Published May 26, 2015 3:42PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Brian Frank)
(Reuters/Brian Frank)

Several outlets have noted in the past week that the Duggar family has been outspoken in its support of Bill Gothard's home-schooling program, which includes lessons on sexual assault that blame and shame victims for their "immodesty" and for contributing to their own abuse. (Gothard happens to be no stranger to problematic sexual behaviors; he was accused of sexually harassing his female employees last year.)

Mother Jones posted a sample of the sorts of lessons the Duggar family advocates, originally cited by blogger Samantha Field, and the takeaways for children are horrifying:


These lessons do not just teach girls and women to blame themselves. They teach boys and men to blame them as well. They reinforce the notion that men should be allowed to act violently with impunity. They erase the detriment of sexual violence and portray it as something else entirely -- an accident, not a crime.

But there's so much else going on here; the homeschooling lessons reveal only a small segment of an even more intricate, scarier belief system. The Quiverfull movement -- to which the Duggars not only subscribe, but also support mightily on their now-shelved reality TV series -- promotes exactly the sort of retrograde, misogynist ideas that allow sexual violence to flourish. Gawker has a handy guide to some of the movement's basic principles, which taken together create a perfect storm for rape and sexual assault to occur, and then for the burden to fall squarely on female victims' (modestly covered) shoulders. Via Gawker:

On the surface, Quiverfull follows your typical radical evangelical principles—every word of the Bible is taken literally, traditional gender roles and “family values” are emphasized, and the secular world is alternately scorned and feared. But followers of Quiverfull take one key tenet and let it shape the rest of their beliefs: Birth control is evil. They want to have as many children as possible, in order to build a pint-sized fundamentalist Christian army. [...]

From the moment a Duggar in possession of a vagina is born or married into the family, she falls under the control of Christian Patriarchy. The wife is forever under the authority of her husband, and a daughter is completely subservient to her father until the day he finds a suitable husband to take up the role. The women of Quiverfull are never supposed to disobey their male authority figure, ever, even if it’s something they find immoral.

Women aren’t supposed to work outside the home, and if the father can’t find anyone for his daughter to court and marry, they have to live at home to take care of the other children. (Sorry, Jana Duggar.) College? What’s that? There’s no room for individuality for men or women when you’re immediately dictated into a role based on the kind of genitals you have.

And, as the guide notes, the belief in women's complete subservience, along with the community's promotion of isolation from the secular world, can make it extraordinarily difficult to address sexual assault. In addition to the likelihood that followers, especially women, are unable to report sexual violence, there's almost an equally high chance that they're bereft of the language for describing it.

And so Josh Duggar, his wife and his parents have portrayed allegations of sexual assault within their own family as "mistakes." He has "taken responsibility" for having "acted inexcusably" without taking the blame. What the response reveals isn't necessarily individuals' willful ignorance, though that is certainly part of the problem. Beyond that, though, there is the entire culture undergirding rape culture and victim-blaming, and the outcome is shaping up exactly as one would expect.

By Jenny Kutner

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