Why were evangelical reality star and conservative political activist Josh Duggar’s parents Jim Bob and Michelle so slow to act on the revelation that their eldest son had molested his younger sisters—and, ultimately, so lenient? Documents about sexual abuse from the cult-like homeschooling program the family follows—which focus on public image and lay heavy blame on the victims of assault—may help answer the question.
You see, the Duggars aren’t just “Quiverfull” breeders and Bible adherents—they’re also adherents of the Advanced Training Institute, a Bible-based homeschooling program run by alleged cult figurehead Bill Gothard. Months before the family had to deal with the revelation of Josh Duggar’s past sexual abuses, they were coping with sexual abuse allegations against Gothard.
Gothard last year denied accusations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted 34(!) women, claiming “I have never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent.” He was 79 years old at the time.
Although Gothard was forced to resign as the head of the Advanced Training Institute due to the accusations, the Duggars apparently still follow the organization’s teaching plans, which include lessons on how to deal with sexual abuse in the home.
These lessons were creepy when Recovering Grace (a site run by former followers of Gothard’s “cult”) and the Jezebel-reader community site Powder Room published them in January, but they’re even more disturbing now, in light of Josh Duggar’s admission this week that he abused his younger sisters as a teen.
Especially this one: “Lessons From Moral Failures in a Family,” which describes a hypothetical scenario in which parents discover that “an older brother was guilty of sexually abusing younger ones in his family.” When the older brother had “repented,” he’s asked a series of questions—including “What teaching could have been given to each child [emphasis ours] to resist evil?” and “What factors in the home contributed to immodesty and temptation?”
“The damage to the younger children, the ridicule to the cause of Christ, the shame of detailed publicity, and the scars to the life and reputation of the boy were indescribably painful to the family and their friends,” it continues, before the boy describes where he went wrong and what lessons he learned.
(It’s worth pointing out that the scenario isn’t based on Josh Duggar, whose abuse reportedly occurred in 2002. “Lessons from Moral Failures” was published in the ‘90s.)
The lessons are frighteningly light on personal responsibility, and heavy on blame for the victim—condemning younger sisters for dressing “immodestly,” and parents for exposing the boy to temptation by having him change his sisters’ diapers. The document also blames porn, advising families to “pray for protection from pornography.”
Recovering Grace notes that “of the four listed consequences of sexual abuse, three concentrate on damage to public image.”
According to Recovering Grace, ATI’s Counseling Seminar curriculum also includes a handout on “Counseling Sexual Abuse,” which examines the many ways that a victim could have brought abuse on him or herself by “defrauding” God: Did you dress immodestly? Were you, perhaps, associating with “evil” friends? You should consider whether you’re guilty and apologize to God.
Only then does it move on to what to do “if” the abused was miraculously “not at fault.” That advice basically consists of saying “It could be worse. At least I’ve still got my Spirit. And if I have to choose, I’d rather have that than not be sexually abused!”
There is no mention of the idea that no one should have to choose.
It’s not certain that the Duggars came across either of these specific documents during their decades of ATI-approved homeschooling, but their association with Gothard’s institute is well-documented. Jim Bob Duggar and Bill Gothard have been photographed together, and Jim Bob and Michelle are listed as speakers at last month’s ATI Family Conference in Big Sandy, Texas.
At last year’s conference, one of the speakers was Jinger Duggar, one of Josh Duggar’s younger sisters.