The Duggar family has been reeling from a media firestorm over Josh Duggar's reported sexual abuse of children, including several of his sisters, as a teenage boy (more here). Public outrage mounted after details emerged of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar's poor response to the abuse and their misguided attempts at damage control.
The Learning Channel (TLC) pulled the Duggar's reality show, 19 Kids and Counting, off the air in May shortly after the scandal broke. Now, TLC has officially canceled the show after a 10-season run, according to Talking Points Memo. Christian Today reports that fans have launched a petition to reinstate the show.
The Duggar family responded to the cancellation in a July 16th statement at their website, in which they insist that the family "overcame" the "terrible situation" of Josh's abuse.
"With God’s grace and help Josh, our daughters and our entire family overcame a terrible situation, found healing and a way forward. We are so pleased with the wonderful adults they have all become.Once again, the Duggar's message seems to be "oh, it's in the past, everybody's moving forward". Given how Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar failed to grasp the gravity of the abuse, and given how their Quiverfull subculture silences and denigrates females, I highly doubt that Josh's female victims "found healing and a way forward".
It is our prayer that the painful situation our family went through many years ago can point people toward faith in God and help others who also have lived through similar dark situations to find help, hope and healing, as well."
I admit, I feel schadenfreude over the Duggar gravy train coming to a screeching halt. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar promote a Quiverfull subculture that does a grave disservice to women and children. To boot, Michelle actively fought against equal rights for LGBTQ people through a transphobic robocall campaign. Finally, Jim Bob and Michelle failed to grasp the gravity of Josh's abusive behavior, failing to protect their daughters or get their son professional help after his abuse came to light. For so many reasons, I'm disgusted by the couple's choices, and I'm pleased that they're finally facing consequences for their actions.
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TLC will be exploring the issue of child abuse after the 19 Kids and Counting fiasco. In an online statement, TLC observed that "the recent attention around the Duggars has sparked a critical and important conversation about child protection." As part of this public conversation, TLC is collaborating with two victims rights organizations -- the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) and Darkness to Light -- to create a child sexual abuse awareness campaign. In a baffling move, TLC and its partners are working with the Duggar family to create a documentary on childhood abuse, which is expected to air later this summer.
My feelings about TLC's decisions are mixed. First, why did TLC wait this long to cancel 19 Kids and Counting? In my opinion, TLC should have canceled the show once it became clear that Jim Bob and Michelle completely mishandled the sexual abuse revelations in their household. Was TLC hoping that the scandal would blow over, allowing them to continue reaping profit off the show? When did they finally realize that the Duggars were a liability, and that the scandal was dragging the network's reputation through the mud? While I'm relieved that 19 Kids and Counting is off the air, I think TLC should have taken action sooner.
Second, while I applaud TLC's collaboration with RAINN and Darkness to Light, I question their decision to include the Duggars in an upcoming documentary about child abuse. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar responded to their son's abusive behavior in all the wrong ways, making them the poster children for what parents of sexually abusive youth should not do. I hope that the documentary does not feature Jim Bob or Michelle or hold up their actions as an example of what parents should do.
When Josh Duggar's sisters/victims appear in the documentary, will they feel free to speak their minds, or will they feel pressured by their subculture to defend their brother and downplay the abuse? If the latter, I worry what message this will send to other sexual abuse victims. As Elizabeth Esther argues at Time, Jill and Jessa Duggar cannot offer victims a useful model for recovery because they are still being victimized by their fundamentalist subculture. The world of Quiverfull Christianity, purity culture, and Bill Gothard in which the sisters are immersed gives males power over females, silences women and children, and promotes toxic ideas about sexuality. In short, it does not provide abuse victims with tools for healing, and may even exacerbate abuse. The documentary must stress that sexual abuse is a serious matter, victims are not obligated to forgive their perpetrators, and no one should sweep abuse under the rug.
The content of TLC's child abuse documentary remains to be seen. However, I hope their collaborators can help them create a documentary that condemns abuse and champions victims. That would be a welcome act of contrition from the network.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Think Progress: TLC Waited Two Months After Josh Duggar’s Sexual Abuse Came To Light To Cancel ‘19 Kids’
The Daily Beast: The Duggars' Road to Ruin
USA Today: Timeline of Duggar Sex Abuse Scandal