NEW YORK (AP) — Two of reality TV’s Duggar sisters who were fondled by their older brother when they were kids say they weren’t even aware it had happened until he confessed and their parents told them about it.
Jill and Jessa Duggar, part of the Arkansas family featured in TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” were among four sisters Josh Duggar touched inappropriately a dozen years ago, when he was a teenager. They talked about it with Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly in an interview that aired Friday.
Jessa Duggar said her brother was “a young boy in puberty” who was “a little too curious about girls.”
After the fondling, the sisters said, their parents restricted the children from playing games like hide and seek and placed locks on bedrooms where the girls and boys slept separately. Jill Duggar said she was 12 when the abuse occurred, and Jessa Duggar said she was 9 or 10. Both women are now married.
Jessa Duggar said that she wanted to defend her brother against people who call him a child molester, pedophile or rapist. She said people can get angry at her for saying this is overboard, “but I can say this because I was one of the victims.”
“He made some bad choices,” she said. “But really the extent of it was mild, inappropriate touching, on fully clothed victims, most of it while girls were sleeping.”
The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify victims of sexual mistreatment and didn’t in this instance until the Duggar sisters came forward. Josh Duggar apologized for unspecified actions on a Facebook post but has not otherwise spoken publicly about fondling his younger sisters.
The Duggars’ parents, in an interview with Kelly that aired on Wednesday, acknowledged that Josh Duggar had admitted fondling a baby sitter along with the four Duggar sisters. The parents said they took him for counseling. Police investigated the abuse three or four years later after being tipped by someone who knew the family, but no charges were filed.
The fondling became public over the past few weeks through news reports about the police records, which have since been destroyed.
TLC has taken reruns of “19 Kids and Counting” off the air and said it has made no decision about the future of the show. Hulu also has removed the show from its offerings.
The sisters said it was their choice to speak about the abuse when it made headlines across the country.
“Nobody asked us to do this,” Jill Duggar said. “Jessa and I were talking and were like, ‘Oh, my goodness, most of the stuff out there is lies.’ It’s not the truth. And for the truth’s sake, we wanted to come out and set the record straight.”
Jill Duggar said her brother asked them to forgive him after they found out about the fondling.
“We had to make that choice that I think everyone has to make,” she said. “My dad explained to us. He said, ‘You know, there’s a difference between forgiveness and trust. That’s not the same thing.’ You know, you forgive someone and then you have boundaries. Forgiveness with boundaries. And so trust comes later. You know, Josh destroyed that trust at the beginning. And so he had to rebuild that.”
The sisters praised their parents for how they handled the abuse case. Jill Duggar was moved to tears while discussing how it became public over the past few weeks.
“I see it as a revictimization but a thousand times worse,” she said.
The fondling of underage siblings made the Duggars vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy because of their promotion of conservative Christian family values. Their mother, Michelle Duggar, recorded a robocall in opposition to a Fayetteville proposal to ban discrimination, raising the idea of transsexuals using bathrooms for women and girls. Josh Duggar, until his recent resignation, worked as a lobbyist for the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group.
Jill Duggar said they’re not a perfect family.
“We are just a family,” she said.
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