Can You Molest 5 Girls and Keep Your TV Show? What Will TLC Decide About Josh Duggar

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Attention: This is a trigger warning. If issues related to sexual assault, rape, molestation, violence and similar concepts may be a trigger, you may not want to read this article. Thank you for clicking on this website.


TLC should be under fire tonight after one of the network’s cash cows, Josh Duggar, admitted that he raped five girls when he was a teenager. News reports indicate the victims included four of his sisters and one other girl. Jim Bob Duggar, the family patriarch, failed to report the crimes for nine months while he waited to see if Josh would do it again. Once a police report was filed, the investigation was shuffled off to a law enforcement officer who was later convicted of child porn. The man is now serving a 55 year prison sentence. Josh was sent to “counseling” and “hard labor” that the Church elders deemed appropriate. Michelle later clarified that this meant he helped a friend remodel his house. Josh said he’s really glad he didn’t ruin his own life by continuing the assaults.

These are verifiable facts (you can google the police reports and the family statements to People Magazine, which I have decided not to link).

What Are We Learning from The Learning Channel?


TLC, formerly known as “the Learning Channel” (the mind reels), has previously canceled a TV show amidst allegations of child molestation. The network canceled Honey Boo Boo after Mama June Shannon started dating a man who served a prison sentence for child molestation. The network had already been heavily criticized for the way it depicted the family as backwards hick yokels, which was a gross oversimplification of that family’s life.

But in truth, TLC has long been willing to exploit the children it features on air. It made headlines with John & Kate + 8 and then wound up being investigated by the PA Department of Labor, and anyone who ever watched that show saw the destruction it wrought on those kids. It jumped into the world of child “beauty pageants” with Toddlers & Tiaras, which led them straight to Honey Boo Boo.

Then we have 19 Kids and Counting, aka the Duggar family, whose every birth, wedding and first kiss is covered by the network with the same level of fawning hysteria that teenagers give to One Direction.

The Duggars are political people in religious clothing, but TLC does its best to hide the full ramifications of their beliefs. Jim Bob’s rules for his children, particularly his daughters, are played for laughs but always with a stern warning about the rest of America’s supposed lack of moral rectitude. These rules apply even to their married children, including things like no pop music, no kissing until marriage, submission to one’s husband, “you always need to be available when he calls [for sex]” said Michelle, no romance novels, no alcohol, no dating without chaperones, no Halloween, no going to the beach, and other prohibitions that we routinely criticize when they come from Muslim countries.


Jim Bob says that being alone with men puts girls and women “in grave moral danger.” This is the same rationale that fundamentalists always use to impose draconian laws on women. It’s also completely disrespectful toward men and boys, who are not animals who are unable to restrain themselves without the stern presence of a Jim Bob Duggar.


Sex Offender Laws Apply to Everyone

Jim Bob will be your protector, unless the person you need protecting from is one of his sons. What Jim Bob and Michelle faced when they discovered that Josh had assaulted five girls undeniably awful and gut wrenching. That’s why it was essential for the authorities to step in and do their jobs, rather than ceding control to the family and their church. Do you know what happens in situations like this? Josh would have been charged with crimes. The children would have been temporarily removed from the home and evaluated. The court would need to determine whether others were also molested. And this, despite what the Duggars and their political counterparts believe, is a proper role for government.

Americans have decided, through the efforts of people like John Walsh and Marc Klass, to enact very tough sex offender laws in all 50 states. The laws dictate where you can live, whether you can be around children without supervision, whether you can have a gun, and whether you can have access to a computer, or hold certain jobs. A discussion about the nuances of these laws, and whether there should be more of them, is beyond the scope of this essay. [pullquote]
But I think people should know that because the State of Arkansas did not prosecute Josh Duggar, he was able to have unfettered access to children and has lived without registering for most of his adult life.
[/pullquote] Josh’s religion does not play a role in whether he should have been subjected to these laws. As a lawyer I get a lot of mail from prisoners, including mail from convicted sex offenders. Many have found one religion or another. But most of them, whether atheist or religious, use the same terminology that Josh Duggar did in his interview with People. They say that they made “a mistake” but quickly plead for sympathy because their lives have now been ruined. Every once and a while I receive a letter from someone who seems humbled and committed to facing the consequences of their actions – but in my experience, sex offenders are the least likely to get to this point. It is a difficult, some say intractable, pathology, and one we can’t take lightly.

So Where Does This Leave Us? The Duggars Should be Cancelled

TV shows featuring actors who have been accused or admitted to rape have been pulled off the air, even though their shows are over. UP TV was airing 7th Heaven in syndication when Stephen Collins’ admitted to sexual assault. Although UP TV CEO Charley Humbard had never had any contact with Collins, the network decided to pull the show. A few months later, the network quietly reversed course.

Netflix canceled a Bill Cosby comedy special. TV Land removed the Cosby Show from its lineup. There is a valid argument that The Cosby Show and 7th Heaven should have remained on the air. Is it fair for the other actors on those shows, who will now lose syndication royalties, to remove the shows? No, it is not fair to those actors. But the businesses making these decisions had to draw the line somewhere, and this is where they drew it.

The Duggar case is arguably easier to decide. Whereas Cosby will probably go to his grave denying the allegations without ever being prosecuted, Josh admitted his crimes. There are minor children all over the Duggars television show and TLC has a duty to stop the show now, much as it was forced to do the last two times their child exploitation shows faced the law. To do otherwise would be to accept the bullshit narrative already being promoted by the Duggars that the family is owed a medal of honor for admitting this all happened.

Someone with mainstream media access needs to ask TLC and the Duggar family if they will lobby for an end to draconian sex offender laws. Because if you can rape five girls and keep your TV show and rake in millions of dollars and not register and get unfettered access to kids, then every other child molester in prison should also be let out of prison if they promise to follow Jim Bob’s rules.

Alex is a lawyer and opinionated.


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