Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of the hit TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting, said they felt like failures after hearing that when their oldest son, Josh, was a teenager, he was involved in inappropriate conduct with several underage girls, including more than one of his younger sisters.
In a sit-down interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly that aired at 6 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday, the Duggar parents publicly addressed the allegations for the first time since reports surfaced two weeks ago.
Two of the Duggars’ daughters — Jessa Seewald and Jill Dillard, who are now in their 20s — briefly appeared in the show’s final minutes. “We’re victims,” one said tearfully.
It was unclear exactly what she was discussing, however. Michelle Duggar had told Kelly that because of the current media frenzy, the people Josh touched have been “more victimized these last few weeks more than they were 12 years ago.”
A fuller interview with Seewald and Dillard is to air Friday night.
In the interview that aired Wednesday, Jim Bob Duggar said his son Josh, who is now 27, came to him at age 14 and said he had “improperly touched some of our daughters” under their clothes while they were sleeping.
“The girls didn’t know,” their father said.
“Safeguards” were put in place, but then Josh started to touch the girls in the living room, he said. On two occasions, the girls were awake, Michelle Duggar said.
“He was still a kid,” Jim Bob Duggar said of his son. “This was not rape or anything like that.”
The last incidence of touching was with a sister younger than 10, the father said. “At that point,” he said, “we pulled him out the house and said, ‘You can’t be here.'”
Kelly asked the couple whether they were a worried their son would be labeled a pedophile.
They responded that the label would be incorrect: Josh was not a pedophile because he was not an adult when the incidents happened, they said.
“He’s a child preying on a child,” Jim Bob Duggar said.
Believing that their son should confess to a police officer, his parents took him to Arkansas State Police headquarters, and Josh “shared everything” with an officer, who in turn gave the boy a stern talk, the couple said.
Kelly said that officer has since been convicted of child pornography charges and is incarcerated.
“We had no idea” that the officer was involved in anything wrong, Jim Bob Duggar replied.
“There was so much grief in our hearts. I think as parents we felt we’re failures, you know?” Michelle Duggar told Kelly. “Here we tried to raise our kids to — to do what’s right and know what’s right. And yet, one of our children made really bad choices and I think as a parent we were just — we were devastated.”
The day allegations surfaced, Josh Duggar resigned his post as executive director of FRC Action, the lobbying arm of conservative Christian group Family Research Council. He then issued an apology on his family’s Facebook page. “Twelve years ago, as a young teenager I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret,” it began.
The scandal ignited on social media, where many expressed anger and disappointment toward the Arkansas family using the hashtags #CancelTheDuggars, #DitchTheDuggars and #BoycottTLC.
Streaming giant Hulu severed ties last week with 19 Kids and Counting. Companies and brands including Walgreens, Payless Shoe Source, Choice Hotels, Pure Leaf Iced Tea, and General Mills have said they plan to remove their ads from the show.
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