Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of the hit TLC reality show "19 Kids and Counting," said they felt like failures after hearing that when their oldest son, Josh, was a teenager, he was involved in inappropriate conduct with several underage girls, including more than one of his younger sisters.
In a sit-down interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly that aired at 6 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday, the Duggar parents publicly addressed the allegations for the first time since reports surfaced two weeks ago.
Two of the Arkansas couple's daughters -- Jessa Seewald and Jill Dillard, who are now in their 20s -- briefly appeared in the show's final minutes. "We're victims," one said tearfully.
It was unclear exactly what she was discussing, however. Michelle Duggar had told Kelly that because of the current media frenzy, the people Josh touched have been "victimized more" these last few weeks than they were 12 years ago.
A fuller interview with Seewald and Dillard is scheduled to air Friday night.
Last month, the day allegations surfaced, Josh Duggar, 27, resigned his post as executive director of FRC Action, the lobbying arm of conservative Christian group Family Research Council. He then issued an apology on his family's Facebook page. "Twelve years ago, as a young teenager I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret," it began.
In the interview that aired Wednesday, Jim Bob Duggar said Josh came to him at age 14 and said he had "improperly touched some of our daughters" while they were sleeping.
“Safeguards” were put in place, but then Josh started to touch the girls in a different room, he said. Sometimes the girls were awake, he said.
"This was not rape or anything like that," Jim Bob Duggar said. "There were a couple of instances where he touched them under their clothes, but it was like a few seconds. And then he came to us and was crying and told us what happened."
He said that after Josh's third such confession, the couple decided they could not handle the situation on their own. When Josh was 15, they said, they sent him to a "training center" in Little Rock run by a man who mentored young men who had made "unwise choices."
Michelle Duggar focused on her son's behavior and intent, saying her daughters "weren't even aware ... they didn't probably even understand that it was improper touch."
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, it is not safe to assume that young age protects children or even infants from traumas such as abuse.
“Young children are affected by traumatic events, even though they may not understand what happened,” the organization, which is funded by federal agencies, says on its website.
Kelly asked the Duggar parents whether they were a worried their son would be labeled a pedophile.
Jim Bob Duggar responded that he believes that label would be incorrect: He does not view his son as a pedophile because Josh was not an adult when the incidents happened.
“He was a child preying on a child,” Jim Bob Duggar said.
Believing that their son should confess to a police officer, his parents took him to Arkansas State Police headquarters, and Josh “shared everything” with an officer, who in turn gave the boy a stern talk, the couple said.
Kelly said that officer has since been convicted of child pornography charges and is incarcerated.
“We had no idea” that the officer was involved in anything wrong, Jim Bob Duggar replied.
“All of our children received professional counseling” after the confession, “including Josh, who paid for his own counseling himself,” Michelle Duggar told Kelly.
Jim Bob Duggar said that after counseling, his son was "a changed person." He said the family trusted Josh but retained some safeguards, including rules against people being alone together and prohibiting their daughters from sitting in boys’ laps.
By the time the family agreed to be the center of a reality show, “we had nothing to hide,” he said. “We had taken care of that [touching problem] years before.”
Last month, the scandal surrounding the family ignited social media, where many expressed anger and disappointment using the hashtags #CancelTheDuggars, #DitchTheDuggars and #BoycottTLC.
Streaming giant Hulu severed ties last week with "19 Kids and Counting." Companies and brands including Walgreens, Payless Shoe Source, Choice Hotels, Pure Leaf Iced Tea and General Mills have said they plan to remove their ads from the show.
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