The Duggar Abuse Case: A Lesson for Churches
What churches can learn about the need to report abuse—and the consequences of failing to do so.
The Duggar Abuse Case: A Lesson for Churches

Josh Duggar, the son of the Duggar family who together star in TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting TV show, has confessed to sexually abusing several minor females when he was a teenager. Timothy C. Morgan’s coverage of this story in Christianity Today gives more details.

This revelation provides a real lesson for churches in how they respond to reports of sexual abuse. The head of the Duggar family, Jim Bob Duggar, went to his church elders for help and guidance but their response was overwhelmingly inadequate.

After multiple allegations against Josh over several months, Jim Bob “met with the elders of his church and told them what was going on,” says In Touch magazine, which broke the story. The church elders decided not to alert law enforcement officials. Instead, they recommended a treatment program for Josh that “consisted of hard physical work and counseling,” according to a police report.

Josh’s mother, Michelle Duggar, later admitted that the program was not a treatment center or counseling program at all. Josh’s “treatment” time consisted of Josh staying with a family friend and helping work for the friend’s home remodeling business. Michelle said the family friend was “kind of” a mentor. Josh stayed with him for three months.

Once Josh returned home, Jim Bob and some of the church elders took him to see an Arkansas state trooper that Jim Bob knew personally. The trooper reportedly gave Josh a “very stern talk” but otherwise took no official action, despite being a mandatory reporter. In an unrelated case, In Touch reports that that trooper is now serving time in prison for possession of child pornography.

Once the case was finally brought to the attention of law enforcement officials years later, police had to abandon pursuing charges because the statute of limitations for the crimes had already expired. The state trooper, the Duggars, and the church elders all failed to report the abuse.

The temptation is strong for churches to try to handle sexual abuse internally and privately. Our recent roundtable interview series with experts on preventing child sexual abuse warns against that temptation because of the legal liability it creates and its harmful effects on those involved.

Churches need to be aware of the serious nature of child sexual abuse and the steps needed and often required by law. In this case, the abuse took place in Arkansas. Because of recent legislation this year, all employees of nonprofits in Arkansas, including churches, are now mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. That trend to include clergy and church employees as mandatory reporters is echoed in states across the country.

In many cases, clergy and church employees are mandatory reporters. Know all of the reporting laws in your state by downloading our guide, 2015 Child Abuse Reporting Laws for Churches. If you need a guide for church leaders, see our Church Board Guide to a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Policy.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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