By Jessica Lea -May 7, 2021
Editor’s note: This article about Josh Duggar contains disturbing reports of sexual violence.
The alleged crimes of Josh Duggar, who was just released on bail pending trial, are unspeakable. But what makes his story even more appalling, says victims advocate Rachael Denhollander, is the theology that is cushioning Duggar from the cost of those crimes.
“Everyone – EVERYONE else, from Josh’s own children, to a woman afraid to have him in the home, to his own wife, are bearing the risks and costs of his behavior,” said Rachael Denhollander in a Twitter thread. “And they are being told it is godly and right to do it.”
Denhollander is known for being the first woman to speak out publicly after filing a report against USA gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, one of the most prolific sexual abusers in history. Denhollander has shared she was groomed for Nasser’s abuse by being molested as a child in an evangelical church. She is now an attorney and advocate for abuse survivors.
“I don’t even know where to begin with what we need to learn from this situation with Josh Duggar,” said Denhollander. “If you haven’t paid attention to updates, you should, because it is a glaring example of the problems we have in our legal system, and especially in conservative culture.”
Duggar was arrested on April 29 for receiving and possessing material depicting the sexual abuse of children. He faces up to 20 years in prison for each, and has pleaded not guilty. He is currently under house arrest while awaiting his trial, set to begin July 6.
Josh Duggar Planned and Premeditated
In November 2019, Homeland Security Investigations raided Josh Duggar’s business and confiscated three password-protected devices. On those devices were dozens of images depicting nude minors and child sex abuse materials. In a hearing Wednesday, Special Agent Gerald Faulkner testified that one of those devices contained files that were among the “top five worst I’ve ever had to examine.” Faulkner has been an agent for 11 years and worked over 1,000 child exploitation cases.
“The images and videos Josh downloaded for his own sexual pleasure were of toddlers and babies being sexually assaulted,” said Denhollander. “18 months to 3 years old. He literally found sexual gratification in watching the sexual torture of babies and toddlers…The FBI agent who conducted the investigation said it was some of the worst material he’s ever gone through. Josh searched for it, and enjoyed it. Sit with that reality. Absorb what that means.”
Investigators found that Covenant Eyes, a porn accountability software, had been installed on one of the devices, but that Duggar allegedly bypassed it by partitioning his hard drive into two sections. Faulkner also testified that Duggar used a TOR browser to access the dark web anonymously.
“This wasn’t an accident,” said Denhollander. “This was planned, premeditated, and probably going on for a long time.” She believes it is highly unlikely that Josh Duggar’s wife, Anna, was unaware that he was looking at porn. “Out of every woman I’ve ever walked with whose husband had a porn problem,” said Denhollander, “it was NEVER a surprise…It’s pretty much guaranteed that somewhere along the way Anna knew Josh still had a porn addiction, but she was left to deal with it and fix it in silence and on her own, because that’s how we counsel couples in Christian circles. ‘Submission’ becomes a catch-phrase to protect.”
Denhollander sees Anna Duggar‘s silence about her husband’s sexual proclivities as symptomatic of certain evangelical teachings about the proper role of wives. Denhollander referenced several concepts promoted in some conservative circles, including the complementarian teaching that wives need to respect and submit to their husbands. Some conservative Christians emphasize the idea that “God hates divorce” so much that they encourage women to stay in abusive situations. And it is not unusual for Christian women to be taught they are responsible for men’s lust. If they are married, women are encouraged to make sure to have regular sex with their husbands so that the men will not be unfaithful.
“[Anna] certainly couldn’t tell anyone, because that would not be respectful,” said Denhollander. “That’s how we counsel wives in these marriages. But she was certainly taught to have sex more to fix it. Her own mother-in-law wrote blog articles that said as much.”
Denhollander went on to point out how Josh Duggar’s family and community, despite facing shocking and plentiful evidence that he sexually preys on children, is bending over backwards to make life easier for him.
Josh Duggar’s father, Jim Bob Duggar, called people in his church to see if any would be custodians for his son when Josh was released on bail. “[Jim Bob] found a man willing to take [Josh] in,” said Denhollander. “Except that man’s wife teaches piano lessons to children, and she was not comfortable having Josh home with her all day, because she would be alone with him while her husband was at work. That didn’t matter to the husband, however. She has to find a new place to teach all those children because her husband wants Josh to live with them.”
The couple who have agreed to take Josh Duggar in are LaCount and Maria Reber. The Rebers have two children, including a 22-year-old daughter. The family hosts piano lessons out of their home, but have agreed to move the students to another location.
Maria Reber has said that she is uncomfortable being alone with Josh Duggar and is also uncomfortable with her 22-year-old daughter being alone with him. However, at Wednesday’s hearing, Reber testified, “My husband has made the decision and I’m here to support that decision.”
“Every single family who takes piano from her, and the wife herself, has to uproot their routine, livelihood and the child’s music education, because Josh,” said Denhollander. “Everyone is expected to bear the cost, except Josh. And the wife’s own very reasonable fears about being alone all day with a man who enjoys the sexual torture of toddlers didn’t matter to the husband either. The men in the situation are the leaders making the decisions while the women are expected to ‘submit.’”
Denhollander suggested that the Christians in this situation are living out twisted teachings on manhood and womanhood. And what is even more disturbing is that these teachings are pervasive. “The cost and impact is being born by everyone but the perpetrator, and the men given free reign to be ‘leaders,’” she said. “This is abusive culture. This is toxic Christianity. This is not manhood. This is not womanhood. This is depraved. And the worst part is, I know literally hundreds of women on the receiving end of this garbage. Josh, and this situation, aren’t the anomaly. They are the norm. Because we actually don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
Women are taught as the cause and solution to men’s sexual perversions. Until our theology changes to actually reflect Scripture, we shouldn’t be surprised at any of this. It’s a story I see every single day. It’s wicked. It’s evil. And it’s long past time that we called it that – not just the abuse, but the twisted theology that fuels it.