Are the Duggars Guilty of Child Abuse?

Are the Duggars Guilty of Child Abuse?

The Duggar family is growing. And I’m not happy about it, because I’m afraid it’s yet another child being exposed to the abusive world of Bill Gothard’s cult.

The Duggars recently announced that they are expecting their 20th child sometime next year, and the Internet has exploded with articles and posts. Either people denounced how irresponsible Michelle Duggar was for having a 20th child after a high risk pregnancy and Josie’s extreme prematurity, or people defended the Duggars’ right to choose, just as many people purposefully choose to limit the amount of kids they have.

While I wouldn’t have twenty kids, I have no real issue with people making use of their abundant fertility so long as they can feed, shelter, clothe, educate, raise, and love their children properly. There are few people in the world who can care for 20 kids.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are not among them.

I have serious misgivings and trepidation for all of their children, including preemie Josie and #20. The Duggars are part of the Quiverfull movement, and are part of the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), which for all accounts and purposes is a religious cult, headed up by Bill Gothard and based in Oak Brook, IL. I fear for the kids because of that, and because the Duggars endorse the Pearls’ To Train Up A Child book.

Yes. That book. The one that’s been in the news lately, because, you know, some children have died because so-called parents followed the principles in it. Principles that include hitting kids with a plumbing line in order to make them obey. Oh, if you want to read it (and you have a strong stomach) the whole text is here:

The endorsement of the Pearls is scary enough on its own. Who endorses someone who advocates hitting children with a plastic plumbing line in order to get them to obey? In that way, the Duggar family is advocating child abuse. They have been abusive themselves.

Before they were on TLC, Michelle Duggar was part of an online group, where she advocated using rulers for blanket training. Someone on the FreeJinger forums spoke of her experience.

Years ago, must have been 8 or so, I belonged to a forum called CMOMB (Christian Moms Of Many Blessings). This was before the TLC show, but Michelle was already a well known figure amongst the QFers. She came and did a guest chat and one of the things she talked about was blanket training. She used flexible rulers and talked about luring the baby off of the blanket and then swatting them with the ruler when they took the bait . The purpose was so that mom could visit with friends, have a phone conversation or go visiting and baby would stay put and quiet . After that chat flexible rulers were the thing, but at that time they weren’t at every office supply and warehouse store, so there were lots of posts like “I found them at XYZ for $1.25, how many do you want me to pick up?!” When the TLC specials started airing and the interest in just how exactly they blanket trained babies was heating up I went to try to find a copy of the chat. I found it, but everything about spanking/hitting kids was deleted, as was any reference to Michelle in the flexible ruler threads. They circled the wagons around Michelle pretty fast.

You know what? Babies do not have the reasoning abilities yet to even remotely understand the purpose of blanket training. They only stay on the blanket because of these mothers, including Michelle Duggar, are “training” them by using the aversion response to their own advantage. In other words, the babies don’t move off of the blanket because they’re scared to. And who hits babies with rulers for child training? I mean, come ON.

Numerous studies on corporal punishment of children show negative effects, which is heightened when they are very young.

It is unclear whether Michelle Duggar currently practice blanket training by hitting babies with rulers. Maybe they’ve reformed their ways. Or maybe they do it when the TLC cameras aren’t around. Remember, TLC isn’t around all the time, and that the shows we see on TV are very heavily edited.

I’ve also heard the argument that the “Duggars can’t be guilty of child abuse look at how happy, well adjusted, sweet, and outgoing they seem to be!” Also, “The parents do so much good in the community, they can’t be abusers!” Or, “They’re so Godly, they can’t be abusive!”

Uh…seriously? For one thing, if the Duggars really do follow what the Pearls teach, you have to whip a child until they smile. Seriously. Abuse them because they have no reason to be sad, because, according to that mindset, they need to get over their “selfishness.”

Also, plenty of “godly” or “good” people are abusive. Michael and Debi Pearl. Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno. FLDS. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Priests. Pastors. Teachers. Neighbors. Parents. Not every creeper or abusive SOB sport a big jacket that says “CHILD ABUSER” on the back, or drive plain white vans, or walk around with their dick hanging out. Plenty of people “devoutly” believe in God, and twist the Bible’s words into unintelligible prooftexting just to justify their actions. Like hitting kids with plumbing lines or starving them. Or through more subtle means, like psychological, verbal, and spiritual abuse.

Speaking from experience, families can easily put on a good face to the public while hiding the abuse that happens behind closed doors. Even my relatives who stayed with us from time to time didn’t know of the psychological and verbal abuse that went on at home, because we were so good at hiding it. Some friends did remark that my dad seemed really odd, and thought that something more was going on, but only a few. Until I started speaking up about it. So many people didn’t want to believe it, that my dad, well known in my hometown’s homeschooling community, did not want to believe it.

The whole blanket training thing and the fact that they’ve endorsed the Pearls makes me fear for their current 19 kids, let alone baby #20.

Don’t forget Bill Gothard. He’s the one who started ATI and IBLP, the asshole over in Oak Brook running a religious cult through the guise of Biblical-based character training and in the name of God. It’s not just a “more conservative theology,” but rather a way to subjugate women and abuse children.

Before I delve into why I think Gothard runs a cultic organization, it’s useful to understand what makes an organization a cult.

  1. The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
  2. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
  3. Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
  4. The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
  5. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
  6. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
  7. The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
  8. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group.
  9. The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
  10. Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
  11. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
  12. The group is preoccupied with making money.
  13. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
  14. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
  15. The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

Yes. It’s a cult.

If you happened to click on any or all of the links above–you can see why I was angry and scared for the kids. Not because of Michelle Duggar’s incredible fertility, but because the kids are growing up in a fearful environment fraught with spiritual abuse and physical abuse, all done in the name of God.

May God have mercy on the children and help them to realize the danger they’re in, and may they escape with as little lasting trauma as possible.


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    I have to say I share your concerns. I am concerned also that the older Duggar children will not be allowed to move away from home, live on their own, attend college, have a career. As Michelle has had more and more children the older girls have had to take over the parenting. I don't think this is fair to the Duggar daughters. Their whole philosophy, as well as other families following Gothard, seems to be based in fear of anything outside their immediate circle of family. This is not healthy.

  • That is my concern as well--it seems as if Jim Bob and Michelle want the older girls especially to stay at home and mother their younger "buddies" as long as possible. It's one thing to have the older kids help out and watch the little ones, but it's another to delegate all or most tasks of parenting to them. It almost reminds me of the sister-wives concept in FLDS culture.

    On the other hand, I fear for the Duggar daughters whenever they get married, because of what Gothard teaches about what a marriage should be. It just creates an uneven and unhealthy relationship, reading some of his marriage "advice" on his websites.

  • You might want to link to this:

    It is a cached copy of the to full version of Train Up a Child, link. Since the site has since been changed.

    I understand that the blog owner is not wanting to share it anymore, however, since it is begin cited here clearly in a negative light, and purpose of taking down is to protect children and not ideology or child abusers, there should be no problem, and zero confusion as to weather it is begin advocated for. So, I refer you to the above link so that the reference material is still available for your post.

  • In reply to DayWalker:

    Thank you so much for pointing out the broken link, and for finding a new one for me! I will update it right now. (Sorry I didn't get to this last night...was up late working on a final project!)

  • In reply to Holly:

    Holly - I have just found my way here - and used the above link from DayWalker - but it only seems to give ?half the book. One can read down to the bit about "The Oldest Sister" and it stops there. Do you know if either I am just not seeing a link to the next 'page' - or do you have a link to the whole book online ??

    Thank you for your article .... the Pearls leave me cold. Cold with anger that they can be allowed to publish such a cruel and unbiblical book and pass it off as 'God's word' !!! Hopefully one day their books and works will be seen for what they are. Evil.

  • In reply to Holly:

    Holly ! I went off and 'fiddled' with that site on the link above - and just moved the little arrow over at the top right .. date I think .... and it all appeared !! So ... Thank you anyway !!!

  • In reply to TealRose:

    I'm so glad you were able to figure it out--and I'm glad it's still available online in full because I refuse to borrow or buy the book. What they advise is just sick.

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    The beliefs shared by this cult are dangerous not just for the kids but for our civilization as a whole. We must tell NBC to stop parading and promoting this family's show and irrational behavior. They did it in 2007, 2011 and in 2012, a few days ago, again. They present them as if they were an American national treasure, when in fact they are a menace to the well-being of the entire world. The truth about the Duggars is something as sinister as religious irrational goes. As reporters and also as women both Ann Curry and Susannah Guthrie of NBC should have done their home work before putting these people on. Please read this. It is additional information to your well researched blog.

  • In reply to Paul Grant:

    Paul, thank you for reading and sharing your link. I agree, it's not a good thing to promote the family's irrational behavior. It's so unhealthy to show them as a "good" family without doing the research.

    Again, thank you for sharing your link!

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    In reply to Holly:

    The Duggars are total freaks. The proof is in the pudding- if it acts like a cult, it's a cult. With cults come ideals which are often brought in from outside sources- such as the implementing of this book. While I certainly do NOT agree with the principles of "To Train Up a Child," it's ultimatly the ideals of the cult that make these teaching acceptable to use. It's rather tragic. I think the Duggar's children are wonderful people- I hope they will all find their own voice in life and do what makes them happy- not what their parent's want them to do.

  • Holly, while I don't agree with a lot of the Duggar's beliefs, I have met them, and the kids themselves were great. Very friendly, well-adjusted, and enthusiastic! I will not have nearly as many children and if I have them at all I will not raise them the same way, but I don't believe that the kids are in danger or are being damaged because of the way that they are being raised. I'm not a fan of the Pearl's either, but I do know, (as a daughter of people who are fans) that the Pearl's themselves do not advocate the methods that led to the deaths of children. Saying that advocating spanking is condoning beating is an intense overreaction. They never intended someone to be beaten with a plumbing line. Reasonable people could never have expected someone to take that meaning from their book.

  • In reply to DIMU:

    DIMU, I've heard otherwise from other people who have met the Duggar kids. As for the Pearls, they gave specific recommendations as to what objects can be used as whipping tools, including a tree branch. He also speaks highly of plumbing lines.

    Spanking, especially if it involves another object, is inherently physically abusive to children, and especially to children under the age of 5.

    I'd argue that reasonable people would never use Pearl's advice.

  • In reply to Holly:

    [Comment redacted because this author is spamming]

  • In reply to LC1Love:

    Dear Lorielle, Copying and pasting the same responses to every commenter on here is not sharing your thoughts, but is spamming. If you think many of our disagreements with the Duggars has to do with a difference of beliefs, then I highly recommend that you read "I Fired God" by Jocelyn Zichterman and "Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment." Then you might understand where we're coming from.

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    If you ever wish to become a true journalist, I suggest that you do fact checking before blatantly slandering people. I also have met the Duggars and their children, and many other families that share the same belief system. They are truly wonderful, loving, normal, well adjusted people. I also have read the Pearl's book, and while I don't agree with their training, it isn't as absurd as you have made it out to be. And maybe a long time ago the Duggars used a model of the Pearl's training, but they don't use spanking/hitting as punishment now. Please do your research before you start throwing misleading accusations around about truly wonderful people.

  • Mark (or Kristin?),
    I find it incredibly shocking and scary that you don't think the Pearl's book isn't as "absurd" as I think it is. In fact, the fact you call it absurd is in itself revealing. I think it's more than just "absurd," I think it's downright dangerous and evil.

    Accordingly, this casts doubts on your perceptions of the Duggars. It's interesting that you thought they were so nice and well-adjusted, because many other people say they've met the Duggars and say that they're rude (Michelle and Josh in particular) and some of the girls, while they are perfectly obedient, look tired and brainwashed.
    Therein lies our differences in perception.

  • In reply to Holly:

    Holly, I have to agree with DIMU and MarkKristin and LogicAndReason. It seems you are speculating a great deal about how the Duggars actually parent their children. You have implied that you have never met them nor do you have current facts concerning what Michelle has actually said about how she trains her children to be still. You only have someone else (not even yourself) discussing about a forum that Michelle may or may not have even participated in.

    I, too, was a victim of abuse as a child. It's people like you who speculate and accuse people of abuse that keep children who are actually abused out of the spotlight.

  • In reply to EmJ22287:

    discussing a forum***

  • I am appalled with the way Holly just brushes anyone’s criticism of her article off. Statements like “she has heard otherwise” and making broad statement that she cannot back up with evidence are the dangers of internet “bloggers”.

    Who really has the closed mind, Holly? Who really is a danger to her kids? I question you motives behind such an article. You are being neither helpful nor informative. You are really just misleading your readers.

    Holly maybe you are a cult? See how such blatant statements are rude and not helpful. Yes, I think I will start a blog about how Holly is a cult and anyone who follows her is also in a cult. I will give you 10 points that are not even factual and point to links one could easily search on Google. Everything knows what is on the internet must be true, right? If you criticize me I will just brush it off as if you are an idiot.

    Why don't you do something about real child abuse instead of just trying to convince people you are a good person.

  • In reply to LogicAndReason:

    I suspect that you are not ruled by logic and reason, S. Womack. And I'm not surprised, to tell you the truth. It's hard to even consider the possibility that someone you believe to be wholesome is actually problematic.

    That's the insidious part of child abuse--even people who appear to be upstanding citizens can be abusive to their children or family in private. Because people don't want to believe it, they tend to dismiss warning signs or even fall into ad hominem attacks against the truth-teller. That is exactly why I wrote about the Duggars--it fits into my overall mission to raise awareness about hidden forms of child abuse.

    Thank you for providing yet another real-life example of someone who wishes to gloss over the ugly truth.

  • In reply to LogicAndReason:


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    In reply to LogicAndReason:

    I was feeling the exact same way reading this. It seems as if the "author" decided to put together a bunch of "what ifs" and has a back up response for any kind of criticism. Now, if she said something about interviewing the children, her actually PERSONALLY meeting the family, anything like that, maybe just maybe I would think of this as less of a conspiracy piece. But at this point, that is just what it is. I hope she is ready to get sued for slander, because that is probably what is going to happen.

  • In reply to Nicole M:

    What if....I'm right? What considered the evidence? (Ha, see what I did there?)

    The funny thing about child abuse is that everyone doesn't want to believe that an apparently wholesome family may be abusive, so they try to excuse it away. Interviewing the children won't work until one of them decides to break away, because they have been raised in this clusterf*** of a culture that brainwashes and indoctrinates the children.

    And the thing about libel (slander is the spoken equivalent) is that it's not libel if it's true. Secondly, the way I did it, I presented the evidence, talked about the culture in which the Duggar kids are growing up, and pointed out how the culture is abusive. Even though there are no more little Duggars for Michelle to blanket-train, I am still very much concerned about the mental well-being of all of the children just because of the reasons in my post above.

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    Dont worry Holly, the above tortures anyone of dissent on the Duggars fb page, I am suprised that anyone can wipe any reference to them using a ruler off the internet, the internet is forever, keep up the good work

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    I agree with all of your sentiments and concerns here. Just want to point out that Paterno wasn't, strictly speaking, an abuser of children. At best willfully ignorant and at worse knowingly complicit in covering it up, but he did not abuse children.

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    In reply to Lauren Acquaviva:


  • In reply to Lauren Acquaviva:

    Being complicit in allowing/hiding the abuse makes him just as culpable of abuse, but I get what you're saying here.

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    I agree completely. I was born in State College, PA and was one of the first people on the steps of Old Main holding up a protest sign and calling for accountability. Culpability is bad enough. I just wouldn't put him on the same level as Sandusky.

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    They are a lovely family, I only wish I had their patience with my 2 kids!

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    I really am sick and tired of people Slandering Paterno, He is dead now you all had your fun ruining him in his last year alive. Sandusky is a PIG and should hang for his crimes, but Paterno did exaclty what he was suppose to do in his situation. Lets keep in mind he was a third party, he did not personally catch Sandusky commiting the crime. Stop blaming the wrong guy for someone elses disgusting behaviour. The school wanted Paterno OUT anyway he was way past retirment age, there had been talk for years before that. It was so convienient, and the press twist everything. I do not believe he was a bad man At ALL!

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    Oh And by the way I do not agree with the way those people punish those kids, it is disturbing.

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    I agree that abusing children is wrong and terrible. That being said, there are some very serious and completely unfounded accusations made in this post. Even the Bible has verses about physically disciplining children..does that mean that every Christian is evil? Please open your eyes and your heart, people are people, and unless you have actual proof of these awful things you really have no business casting such a terrible light on anyone.

  • In reply to Katie White:

    Hi Katie,

    The interesting thing about the Bible is that 10 people can look at the same verses and come up with 10 different interpretations, depending on the approach. And generally speaking, the consensus is that the verses about disciplining children did not involve physical discipline. The "rod and staff" are meant as guiding tools, something shepherds used to help their sheep along. That's what God does for us. He guides us. He doesn't hurt us. And that's what parents should do for their children. Guide, not hurt. The shepherd's rod was not meant as a hitting tool. Google around. I'd link to several sites I've stumbled across examining the same verses you're thinking about, but I think if you Google, you'll be able to guide your own enlightening journey to a gentle Christian motherhood.

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    Woah. I've been watching the Duggars since they first came on...and always got that weird vibe from them. Now I know why. I was raised in a Christian home and still consider myself a believer. But not to this crazy extent. I have never read anything as disturbing as that Pearl crap...and knowing the Duggars endorse that behavior sickens me. The environment I was raised in was SO not like this...and the way I am raising my own daughter is not like this either. I want her to have her own faith on God as I do, but Iwant her to CHOOSE that. Beating her brains out isn't the way to do it. This makes me I'll. But thank you for bringing it to light.

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