Jill, Jessa, Jinger and Joy Dugger have filed a federal breach-of-privacy suit against In Touch and Arkansas law enforcement over police documents released to the magazine through a Freedom of Information Act request in 2015. The documents revealed Josh Duggar molested underage girls as a teenager, including some of his sisters, an issue the children’s parents knew about.
The sisters claim that when they spoke to investigators in 2006 as minors, they were assured their statements would not be made public. They say that under Arkansas law, information collected involving minors is not subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
According to the lawsuit, the four sisters are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages against the Arkansas city of Springdale, Arkansas’ Washington County, members of the Springdale Police Department and In Touch, alleging they were “revictimized” by the release of the documents that contained “cosmetic redactions” allowing them to be identified as their brother’s victims.
In its report, In Touch did not identify Josh’s victims by name. It was Jessa and Jill who identified themselves as two of Josh’s five underage victims when they participated in an interview with Megyn Kelly on “The Kelly File.” With the filing of their lawsuit, Jinger and Joy confirmed they were victims, as well. The identity of the fifth victim remains unknown.
But the sisters claim that by not redacting their parents’ names, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, In Touch clearly identified the sisters as victims. They allege that because of the magazine’s report, they have been “subjected to spiteful and harsh comments and harassment” on social media from those who have “chastised their personal decision to forgive their brother.”
They further allege that In Touch used “sensationalized headlines to lure readers into salacious stories and exploited [their] pain and suffering.” Additionally, they claim, In Touch “scandalized [their] experiences as victims of sexual abuse by their brother.”
At the time that In Touch’s report was published, the Duggar sisters were starring on “19 Kids and Counting,” which began following the family in 2008 and became TLC’s highest-rated reality show. Now between the ages of 19 and 26, the sisters also claim in the suit that they were, and continue to be, upset by allegations they were “victims of potential incest.”
Lawyers for the sisters told USA Today the case “is solely about protecting children who are victims of abuse.”
“Revealing juvenile identities under these circumstances is unacceptable, and it’s against the law. The media and custodians of public records who let these children down must be held accountable,” they told the outlet.
Is it unacceptable, though?
The Duggars’ lawsuit is one involving public figures who are famous for holding a certain set of values and supposedly living a specific lifestyle. “19 Kids and Counting” ― again, a popular show at the time ― chronicled the family of devout Baptists. At the time the molestation scandal surfaced, Josh was executive director of Tony Perkins’ conservative and anti-gay group, Family Research Council Action.
The information that Josh ― then a top exec at an ultra-conservative and anti-gay group ― had molested multiple underage girls was clearly newsworthy information. The fallout from the In Touch story resulted in Josh admitting to and apologizing for molesting underage girls when he was a teen. He subsequently resigned from his role at FRC Action, and TLC cancelled “19 Kids and Counting.” (Josh also faced another scandal involving an Ashley Madison account and claims of sex addiction later on.)
After the cancelation of their family’s reality show, the sisters were by no means banished from the network. They went on to participate in TLC’s documentary on sexual abuse, “Breaking the Silence,” and have since returned to television with their own reality show, “Jill and Jessa: Counting On.”
To recap: The Duggars are suing everyone, except their brother Josh or their parents, who never went to the police themselves and didn’t seek any help for Josh until the third time he confessed his behavior to them.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for the city of Springdale said in a statement to the media on Friday that the Duggars’ claims are “without merit and are false.”
The lawsuit details events that date back to a multi-agency investigation into allegations of molestation of the four named plaintiffs and one other person by Josh Duggar, and claims that that the release of a heavily redacted police report pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act Request was somehow unlawful. The claims and allegations in this lawsuit are without merit and are false, and we are confident that the Federal Court will take the time to carefully hear the facts and arguments in this matter. The City of Springdale was pleased to prevail in a previous legal action regarding the release of information related to this matter.
As we stated nearly two years ago, the city takes seriously its responsibilities to the public under the FOIA as well as its obligations to protect the privacy of victims. With this obligation, the city made the family aware of the Freedom of Information Act Request for the police report and kept the family regularly informed of the status of the request prior to the production of the redacted report.
It is unfortunate that now, at this late date, the Plaintiffs have chosen to file a misguided lawsuit against dedicated public servants and seeking damages from public tax dollars.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.