On Wednesday, former 19 Kids and Counting star Josh Duggar was released on bail as he awaits trial for a felony child pornography case. Duggar was arrested on April 29 and charged with "receiving and possessing material depicting the sexual abuse of children," to which he pleaded that he was not guilty. Following allegations that he accessed over 200 pornographic images of children, Duggar has also been granted "unlimited contact" with his six children. While he is allowed visitation with his children in the presence of his pregnant wife, Anna, he isn't allowed to come into contact with any other minors. Duggar faces up to 20 years in prison for each charge.
"I recommend that you govern your actions by thinking about where you might go and who you might encounter," said Judge Christy Comstock during a virtual detention hearing on Wednesday, May 5.
Duggar has been the subject of controversy since 2019. In November of that year, investigators arrived at his home "unannounced" while executing a search warrant. According to findings from Homeland Investigations Special Agent Gerald Faulkner, Duggar had child pornography footage on his computer that traced back to May 2019.
As his case has now gained national attention, many have wondered how Duggar was able to escape detection for so long. According to Faulkner, who shared his findings from Duggar's home during the hearing, the 33-year-old father was using three tools to conceal himself: a dark web network called Tor, an anonymity partition called Linux, and a software program called Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes is an accountability tool meant for individuals overcoming porn addiction; the software sends regular updates on the user's browser history to a partner (in this case, Anna). But if that person used Tor and Linux, Faulkner said, any reports from Covenant Eyes would likely be inaccurate.
Faulkner, who was worked on over 1,000 cases of child abuse and pornography, said in the hearing that he would place the images he found "in the top five of the worst of the worst that I've ever had to examine." The files allegedly depicted sexual abuse involving children as young as 18 months, and as old as twelve. Josh has six children: The youngest is 17 months, and the oldest is eleven.
Duggar is the oldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who infamously had 19 kids and a TLC show spanning seven seasons. As followers of the conservative Christian Quiverfull movement and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, the Duggars don't believe in birth control. They live an extremely devout lifestyle: For example, their children are not allowed to wear shorts, lest they arouse "desires in someone else that cannot be righteously fulfilled."
Although Duggar was only arrested last week, the allegations he faces — and his parents’ complacency — date back almost 20 years. In 2015, In Touch Weekly first published a police report that showed he had confessed to molesting minors three times before the family decided to seek help in 2003. Over a year after his first confession, Jim Bob "met with the elders of his church and told them what was going on." No one reported his crimes to authorities; he went to a "Christian program" that Michelle later admitted was just a family friend's house.
In 2006, Jim Bob took Josh to see another friend of the family: Arkansas State Trooper Jim Hutchens. Hutchens gave Josh "a very stern talk." According to In Touch, Hutchens took no action, and he's currently serving his own sentence for charges of child pornography. By the time police finally opened an investigation, the statute of limitations had passed.
After the allegations were made public, Josh released a statement. "Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends," he wrote in 2015. "I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation."
But even in 2015, Jim Bob seemed to defend Josh's actions. "He said he was just curious about girls and he had gone in and just basically touched them over their clothes while they were sleeping," he told Fox News in 2015. "They didn't even know he had done it." They also claimed that his victims, including his sisters Jessa Seewald and Jill Duggar Dillard, had forgiven him.
At the time, they put on a united front. Jessa said that his behavior was "very wrong," but she found it "so overboard and a lie, really" that people were dubbing him a pedophile or child molester. "I mean, people get mad at me for saying that, but I can say this because I was one of the victims," she said.
But now, some of his family members are starting to speak out. His sister, Jinger Vuolo, said that she was "disturbed" by the news of the charges. "We want to make it clear that we absolutely condemn any form of child abuse and fully support the authorities and judicial process in their pursuit of justice," she and her husband, Jeremy Vuolo, wrote on Instagram. Derick Dillard, who is married to Jill, also wrote on Twitter that "the public was deceived" when it came to the Duggar family, and he liked several tweets calling for the cancellation of their TLC spin-off, Counting On. One of the tweets he liked also accused Jim Bob of emotional abuse.
Speaking to Duggar, Judge Comstock said she was "greatly concerned with images and approximate ages of children in these images are very close to the ages of your children and your nephews and nieces." She added, "I keep coming back to this overriding concern that the court has about the children that you live and interact with on a daily basis and the crimes that you are charged with."
Duggar's trial will be held in July, and if convicted, he could face a total of 40 years in jail. But he isn't the only member of his community who could be a danger to his kids: There were many religious figures, parents, and authorities that failed to protect his sisters, failed to protect his wife and children from a potential predator, and failed to adequately intervene while they could.