Experts Say Duggars Botched Their Handling of Molestation Incident
"Authorities should have been alerted right away," says Gail Wyatt, Ph.D. and director of the University of California, Los Angeles, Sexual Health program
The famously conservative Duggars seemed to be models of wholesome family life, but son Josh was hiding a dark past: He allegedly molested five young girls as a teen. Subscribe now for an inside look at the Duggars’ dark family secrets, only in PEOPLE.
“In a case such as Josh’s, authorities should have been alerted right away,” Gail Wyatt, Ph.D. and director of the University of California, Los Angeles, Sexual Health program, tells PEOPLE.
“The story will be submerged if the kid feels overwhelmed or blamed,” she says. “You need to get the story while it can be told.”
According to police reports authenticated by PEOPLE, Jim Bob was informed that Josh, now 27, fondled the breasts and genitalia of five underage girls, but it was only after a second incident nine months later that he arranged for the teen to go to a three-month manual labor and intensive prayer program conducted by a Christian ministry.
“The best thing to do is to tell the truth about it get help,” Wyatt says. “Teenagers who have been isolated from their peers may be more likely to act out sexually, the abuser is trying to make themselves feel better. It s about power.”
It was only after Josh returned home from his three-month program that Jim Bob reached out to a state trooper and personal friend Joseph Hutchens, who said no further action was necessary. (Hutchens was later sentenced to 56 years for possessing sexually explicit material involving a child, though he recently told In Touch Jim Bob only told him about one molestation incident.
“In most jurisdictions, police or teachers would be legally obligated to report any allegations of child abuse,” says Laura Killinger, a professor at William & Mary Law School. “If victims wanted to pursue charges, the case would be handled by a juvenile court, but it’s not uncommon for victims to refuse or decline to testify.”
An official investigation was launched in 2006 after The Oprah Winfrey Show received a tip about the incident just before the family was set to appear on segment. However, at the time a three-year statute of limitations had already passed, so it was eventually dropped.
In a joint statement Thursday, Michelle and Jim Bob stood behind their son.
“Back 12 years ago our family went through one of the most difficult times of our lives,” Jim Bob, 49, and Michelle, 48, said. “When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked. We had tried to teach him right from wrong. That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before.
“Even though we would never choose to go through something so terrible, each one of our family members drew closer to God. We pray that as people watch our lives they see that we are not a perfect family. We have challenges and struggles every day. It is one of the reasons we treasure our faith so much because God’s kindness and goodness and forgiveness are extended to us even though we are so undeserving. We hope somehow the story of our journey – the good times and the difficult times – cause you to see the kindness of God and learn that He can bring you through anything.”
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For more on the Duggars’ dark family secrets, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday