Warning: This post contains mentions of sexual abuse, child abuse, child sexual abuse materials, and other sensitive topics.
This week, Amazon Prime released Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, a four-part docuseries chronicling the various scandals of the Duggars, the focus of the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting.
19 Kids followed the day-to-day lives of Christian fundamentalists Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 children. In 2015, the show came to an end after it was revealed that the oldest Duggar child, Josh, sexually abused several young girls — including some of his sisters — when he was 15 years old. He was never charged. Josh was recently sentenced to 12.5 years in prison for downloading hundreds of images depicting child sexual abuse.
The new documentary reveals more details of the family's life and their involvement in the Bill Gothard-run ministry, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). Various ex-members of IBLP are also interviewed, alleging horrific stories of abuse directly from or caused by the ministry. Jill Dillard, the fourth oldest Duggar child, was the only one of the kids to participate in the documentary.
Here are 21 of the most shocking things detailed in the series:
1. Growing up, Josh belonged to a boy's club named "BOYCOT," which stood for Boys' Christian Outreach Team. Jill Duggar reveals that Josh and his friends created the club after a neighborhood convenience store started selling things they didn't agree with. Jill says, "I think they started selling...either alcohol or pornography or something like that. And they were like, 'We're gonna boycott them.'"
2. Discovery, which owns TLC, helped pay for the 7,000-square-foot house that the family built. Jim Holt, a former close friend of Jim Bob, says that since "Jim Bob needed help getting his house done...the show made arrangements to finish [it], which was 200, or several hundred thousand dollars to get it finished."
3. When Jim and his wife Bobye found out about Josh's abuse in 2003, Josh, who was 15 at the time, was dating the Holts' daughter Kaeleigh. When Jim learned that the abuse had been happening since Josh was 12, he asked Jim Bob and Michelle when they were planning on telling them about it. According to Jim, Michelle responded, "We weren't gonna have them tell you guys at all. We were gonna have Josh confess to Kaeleigh once they were married."
Jim claims he asked them, "Are you basically saying you were kind of using my daughter as, like, a carrot to get [Josh] to behave the right way?" Jim Bob answered with, "Well, yeah, kind of."
4. Jim Bob asked Jim, who was adamant that Josh confess to molesting underage girls, to go with him and Josh to the state trooper's office. After Josh admitted what he had done, Jim alleges that the state trooper said, "I'm gonna let you go this time, but if you do it again, I'm really gonna come down hard on you." Jim claims it wasn't until later that he found out that the state trooper was Jim Bob's friend.
5. Bill Gothard, the founder of IBLP (the ministry that the Duggars are involved in), focused on authority and obedience in his teachings. He would hold seminars and teach about "umbrellas of protection," warning that "if we get out from under that umbrella, we expose ourself to the realm and the power of Satan's control."
Basically, children were to obey their parents, wives were to obey their husbands, and husbands were to obey God.
6. A huge part of IBLP was ATI, or Advance Training Institute, a curriculum designed specifically for parents to homeschool their children. The program consisted of 3,000 pages of what was referred to as "wisdom booklets," all based on the Sermon on the Mount.
7. Several voices in the documentary allege that the booklets were often very misogynistic. Chad Harris, an ex-IBLT member, says that one of his friends was never taught "math outside of fractions because her dad said, 'Well, you use fractions in baking, and that's good enough.'"
8. In one exercise from a booklet, children were shown pictures of women in various outfits and instructed to circle any "eye traps," basically anything that would tempt a man, like an exposed shoulder or leg. Brooke Arnold, another ex-member, says of the assignment, "Instead of learning math, you're learning slut-shaming."
9. Amy King, the Duggars' cousin, alleges that the Duggars had "a huge bonfire where they burned everything Disney and...literally everything that was 'worldly.'"
10. In fact, according to the documentary, there were specific rules about all sorts of pop culture-related things. For example, according to Heather Heath, an ex-IBLP member, some kids couldn't watch Winnie the Pooh because Eeyore "glorified depression." Others couldn't have Barbies because they were seen as "harlots."
When it came to TV, Chad says that it wasn't exactly allowed. "You really weren't supposed to watch TV in the IBLP, and we certainly didn't most of the time."
11. According to Brooke, Bill Gothard was also vehemently against Cabbage Patch Kids and says he "taught that Xavier Roberts, the creator of Cabbage Patch dolls, was a warlock."
12. According to those in the documentary, Michael Pearl and his wife Debi's book To Train Up a Child was used as teaching material for the ministry. Michael Pearl, a fundamentalist preacher, has said that "the rules, the principles, [and the] techniques for training an animal and a human are the same." According to the documentary, he taught to punish children by spanking and hitting them with rods and similar objects.
13. Lara Smith, another ex-member, claims that these teachings were indeed enforced. "All children, if they were following the institute's guidelines...[were] spanked until [they] stopped crying, which could be hours."
14. When cousin Amy is asked if she ever witnessed the Duggar children getting hit with rods, she responds, "They called it encouragement."
15. According to Jill, Jim Bob and Michelle, in an effort to try to save their TLC show from being canceled, put pressure on Jill to do an interview with Megyn Kelly to talk about the abuse, something Jill says she's "not proud of." She adds, "In hindsight, I wouldn't have done the Megyn Kelly stuff. I felt like I was in a place again of bearing the burden and the weight...even though you volunteer, it's like you feel obligated to...help." Jill's husband, Derick Dillard, claims the situation was even more severe than that.
16. After 19 Kids and Counting was canceled, according to Derick, Jim Bob was "clawing to get the show back as quick as possible." But Jill says TLC wanted to only focus on the older kids who had already moved out of the house and came up with the idea for Jill and Jessa: Counting On. Jill says she didn't want to do the show but had "never said no to [her] family before," pointing to the "umbrellas of authority" as the source of her fears.
17. Jill says that in 2014, on the day before her and Derick's wedding, Jim Bob asked all the Duggar kids to sign a contract which, according to Derick, they "found out later...was a commitment of [their] life for the next five years to the show." With all the chaos of the wedding, Jill wasn't exactly sure what she was signing. She explains, "We were literally running through the kitchen, and it was like whoever you could grab on the way through, like, I didn't know what it was for."
18. Jill claims that when she asked TLC for money to pay for her medical expenses from her first child's birth, they said they gave the money to the family, which meant Jim Bob. And Jill never saw any of it. In fact, she says, "For seven and a half years of my adult life, I was never paid."
19. Sometime during the filming of Counting On, Jill and Derick refused to travel from El Salvador, where they were living at the time, to America to film something for the show. According to Jill, this was the first time she said no to her family. Afterward, Derick received threatening text messages from an anonymous sender. The texts mentioned how Derick had "mistreated" Jim Bob and how he had done him "great evil." When asked if he thought Jim Bob sent the texts, Derick says, "I don't know. I can't speculate."
20. In 2016, after countless sexual harassment claims caused Gothard to step down from IBLP, several women came forward to sue him for sexual abuse and IBLP for covering it up. But after the lawsuit was dismissed due to the statute of limitations, Gothard countersued the women for $18,000 each. Ultimately, he lost the case.
21. And finally, the influence that IBLP and Gothard's teachings have had is extensive. According to Eve Ettinger, an educator and ex-Quiverfull, the ministry's ideas were the basis for "The Joshua Generation." Alex Harris, a lawyer and former Joshua Generation leader, defines the movement as "a decades-long multi-generational plan to raise up an elite strike force of Christian homeschool graduates to infiltrate the highest levels of government." Basically, kids are being born and raised specifically for the purpose of spreading the conservative Christian message across America.
Gothard's teachings have even spread to public schools, private prisons, the military, and the police.
According to the documentary, "Bill Gothard declined to comment for this series. He has previously denied the sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations made against him."
On their website, IBLP released a statement reading, "The most recent 'documentary' about IBLP is a reflection of today’s culture. Its misleading and untruthful commentary mocks that which is good and moral in the most sensationalized way possible, both for shock value and for profit. Media story makers are anything but fair and balanced. They produce attractively packaged content to push an agenda, increase viewership, and pursue revenue. We do not want to minimize perspectives that individual people have experienced or expressed, but the creators of these types of 'documentaries' have a different agenda than perhaps even those interviewed by them. One-sided and manipulative 'journalistic' tactics offer no alternative perspectives for the viewers, and many good people are manipulated and used while others are maligned and attacked."
According to the documentary, "Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar stated, through their representative, Chad Gallagher, that they 'love each of their children tremendously and always desire each live their God-designed lives to the fullest.' They otherwise declined to comment for this series." They later released a statement on their website which, in part, reads, "The recent 'documentary' that talks about our family is sad because in it we see the media and those with ill intentions hurting people we love. Like other families, ours, too, has experienced the joys and heartbreaks of life, just in a very public format. This 'documentary' paints so much and so many in a derogatory and sensationalized way because sadly that’s the direction of entertainment these days."
Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search for your local center here.
If you are concerned that a child is experiencing or may be in danger of abuse, you can call or text the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 (4.A.CHILD); service can be provided in over 140 languages.