Ten women who formerly belonged to the Institute of Basic Life Principles, a fundamentalist organization with well-documented ties to the Duggar family, have filed a lawsuit against the group’s founder and former president, Bill Gothard, charging both “him and leaders in his ministry with sexual abuse, harassment and cover-up,” according to The Washington Post.
This comes after five of the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against IBLP and its board this past October, but later voluntarily agreed to file an “amended complaint” after the board argued that the women failed to cite specifics—something which certainly can’t be said of this latest filing. From The Post, which received a copy of the lawsuit from the plaintiffs’ lawyers:
One of the Jane Doe plaintiffs in the lawsuit alleges that she was raped by her father and other relatives and says she was sold by her father through human trafficking when she was a minor. She said she reported the abuse and trafficking to IBLP staff, which failed to report to authorities.
.... When the Jane Doe plaintiff was at a ministry’s training center, she and Gothard both called her father and Gothard asked him if abuse allegations were true, the lawsuit states. After her father denied the allegations, she said Gothard threatened her. Gothard taught that children were to obey their parents even if they were being sexually abused, the lawsuit states.
The Jane Doe then alleges that Gothard had sexual intercourse with her without her consent, saying she notified IBLP of the rape through an email in 2013. She alleges that an IBLP-employed counselor also raped her in his office at an IBLP training center in Indianapolis. David Gibbs III, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said she is not sure how old she was at the time of the alleged rapes, but was likely around 17 or 18 years old. Another woman in the lawsuit, Ruth Copley Burger, who was the adopted daughter of the counselor in question, alleges that her father sexually molested her.
Gothard, who plaintiff Gretchen Wilkinson describes as being portrayed to his followers as a God-like figure, was forced to step down from his role as president in March of 2014 after 34 women came forward with claims of sexual harassment on the website Recovering Grace, which began publishing former members’ accounts of the alleged systematic sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Gothard. But this marks the first time anyone has pressed formal charges against the 80-year-old, life-long bachelor.
The Washington Post was able to reach Gothard by phone on Wednesday, at which point he apparently denied the allegations saying, “Oh no. Never never. Oh! That’s horrible. Never in my life have I touched a girl sexually. I’m shocked to even hear that... That really is not true.”
In the past, while Gothard has acknowledged that his behavior with some “select” young women may have gone too far, he also maintains that he has not been engaged in any sexual contact with another woman whatsoever. As he said in a statement several months after distancing himself from IBLP:
My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong. They demonstrated a double-standard and violated a trust. Because of the claims about me I do want to state that I have never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent.
While IBLP did conduct its own internal investigation after Gothard was forced to step down, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, David Gibbs, previously explained to The Post that the supposed investigation was essentially a sham:
[The] plaintiffs say the internal investigation amounted to sweeping a pattern of abuse and possible criminal activity under the rug. The victims, said the younger Gibbs, were as young as 13 or 14 years old, and often had been subjected at home to physical, sexual and other abuse or neglect. The “pattern” common among the plaintiffs, he said, was that the girl would “act out” as a result of the abuse at home; her parents would then send her to IBLP for counseling.
Each of the ten plaintiffs is seeking at least $50,000 in damages, with the first hearing on the updated lawsuit to be held on January 13. We have reached out to both IBLP and Bill Gothard for comment and will update if and when we hear back.
Meanwhile, the latest special involving the Duggars, who have been major proponents of Gothard’s specially designed homeschool curriculum, was a TLC ratings bonanza.
Update 12:18 a.m.:
You can read the 114-page lawsuit in its entirety below.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.