Duggar ‘cult’ enabled sexual abuse, former members say

Last month, former “19 Kids and Counting” star Josh Duggar was arrested for allegedly possessing a trove of kid pornography.

It’s simply the latest sickening episode for the ex-TLC actuality present persona. The son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar has additionally been accused of molesting 4 of his sisters in addition to one other woman when he was a teen, dishonest on his spouse and having a porn habit. 

These allegations are surprising, particularly in gentle of the Duggar’s ultrareligious upbringing. But folks aware of the household’s explicit sect of fundamentalist Christianity, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), declare it has performed a task in enabling abuse by Duggar and others.

The conservative household is linked to IBLP, a company that produces spiritual seminars. Michelle and Jim Bob were expected to speak at an IBLP convention earlier than their son’s arrest. The many Duggar youngsters had been home-schooled utilizing a faith-based program known as Advanced Training Institute (ATI), created by IBLP founder Bill Gothard. Gothard even ran the facility that endorsed a teenage Josh when he admitted to abusing his sisters. Although Gothard stepped down from IBLP in 2014 after being accused of sexual harassment himself, he continued to work with households, together with the Duggars. Gothard has denied the sexual harassment claims in opposition to him. 

Josh Duggar, his wife Anna and their six children.
Josh Duggar, his spouse Anna and their six youngsters. Anna introduced she was pregnant with child quantity seven simply earlier than Josh’s newest arrest.

“A lot of abuse occurred,” due to the group’s teachings, Lara Smith, a former ATI member, advised The Post. “With [abusers like] Josh, the whole environment set him up for success in his disgustingness.”

Growing up outdoors of Houston, Smith’s Southern Baptist mother and father began utilizing ATI and attending IBLP seminars when she was 12. Soon, she was touring to “serve” at coaching facilities in Oklahoma, Indianapolis and Michigan. Later, when she was 17, she claims she was sexually assaulted by a staffer at one of many facilities. 

IBLP and ATI didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Joshua Duggar, after his arrest for alleged possession of child pornography.
Joshua Duggar, after his arrest for alleged
possession of kid pornography in April.

After his April arrest, Duggar pleaded not responsible to each fees. “In this country, no one can stop prosecutors from charging a crime. But when you’re accused, you can fight back in the courtroom — and that is exactly what Josh intends to do,” his attorneys, who didn’t reply to The Post’s request for remark, said in a statement on the time.

“We were taught our bodies don’t belong to us. They belong to God. And so in that realm, anything that happens, God wants it to happen,” Smith, 35, mentioned, of the teachings she realized by way of ATI and IBLP.

While Heather Heath wasn’t abused, she heard from fellow members who had been. As a teen, she traveled from Connecticut to Oklahoma after her mother and father began using ATI when she was 9, though she had all the time been home-schooled.

Both Heath and Smith think about ATI and IBLP to be a cult. ATI blends conventional college topics like math and science with Christianity, and indoctrinates college students with the basics of IBLP.

At the coaching facilities, in line with each Smith and Heath, the ladies would attend “wisdom searches,” a type of Bible examine. In addition to discussing verses and insights that they had from God, they might additionally reveal their sins, together with sexual assault. “If we had been assaulted, we had to confess what we did that brought the assault on us,” Heath mentioned.

She remembered when a fellow teen confessed throughout one in all these periods that her older brother had abused her. It was such a standard expertise, that Heath, now a medic, mentioned she was advised she “wouldn’t understand,” as a result of she didn’t have an older brother that she may “tempt.”  

Heather Heath when she was an ATI student.
Heather Heath when she was an ATI pupil.
Courtesy of Heather Heath

“She was like, ‘No good Christian man will marry me because I’m not a virgin,’ ” Heath, now 33, recalled the woman saying. “I was like, ‘No, it is not not your fault if someone else hurt you.’ And then I got locked in my room to pray about that, because I was wrong.” 

Many of IBLP’s teachings might discourage victims from reporting their abuse outdoors their household because of the group’s ideological hierarchy referred to as the “Umbrella of Protection.” God is above all else, then pastors, then fathers, then moms, then youngsters. “As long as you’re under [your] umbrella, the rain” — sin and temptation from the satan — “can’t touch you,” mentioned Heath.

The philosophy has far-reaching penalties: Disobeying your mother and father or husband or pastor can hurt you for all times. “Every decision we encounter in life was basically a heaven-or-hell decision,” mentioned Smith. 

Surprisingly, the group did have a protocol for counseling sexual abuse: a chart published in 2013 by Recovering Grace, a useful resource for ex-followers of IBLP and ATI, that the positioning claims was distributed at ATI counseling seminars for greater than a decade.

It explains how group leaders ought to assist those that have skilled sexual assault: The onus for the assault is placed on the sufferer for “defrauding” the abuser. “Immodest dress, indecent exposure, being out from protection of our parents,” are all causes that God “let it happen,” it reads.

One marriage information for girls even features a portion on what to do in case your husband “ever sexually handles your children,” writer Debi Pearl, a minister whose books had been bought by IBLP, wrote in “Created To Be His Help Meet.”

Although wives ought to testify and pray their husbands “get 20 years in prison,” they need to additionally “visit him there, be an encouragement to him… let him see the children three to four times a year.”

Lara Smith at an IBLP training center, around the age 17 or 18.
Lara Smith at an IBLP coaching middle, across the age 17 or 18.
Courtesy of Lara Smith

In ladies’ Bible examine, Smith mentioned she was advised, “You need to be very careful what you do, what you say, what you wear, how you act, because at any moment, you could trigger a boy, basically.” 

“There’s absolutely no personal responsibility for the boys,” she mentioned.

It’s due to these teachings that Smith didn’t communicate out when a workers member at an IBLP coaching middle sexually assaulted her. 

She was round 17 on the time, and a 21-year-old upkeep staffer climbed into her mattress in the course of the evening.

“I was asleep, and suddenly he’s in my bed making out with me,” she recalled. It grew to become a sample: The man would come into her room each evening, since he had a grasp key for his upkeep job.

“We didn’t have sex, but we did everything else,” mentioned Smith. “I didn’t have the capacity to say, ‘Hey, I don’t like it.’ ” 

When she returned dwelling from the middle, she and her father surprisingly acquired a name from Gothard, who’s “basically God,” mentioned Smith. She assumes her good friend had advised one of many leaders concerning the incidents.

Although she was anticipating to be reprimanded, as a substitute, “[Gothard] wanted the dirty details. He started asking the creepiest questions, he was like, ‘What time did he kiss you?’ and ‘What time did he put his hands here?’ and ‘Did he do this to you?,’ ” Smith remembered, calling it “gross.”

Gothard, now 86, didn’t reply to The Post’s requests for remark.

She and her mother and father by no means spoke concerning the assault once more, and her assailant by no means acquired any type of punishment. 

Both Smith and Heath left IBLP in early maturity. Smith’s mother and father have additionally left, as has Heath’s mom, though her father nonetheless follows the teachings. But whereas they’re not with the group, they nonetheless really feel its results on their grownup lives. 

“I dated a guy for four years because I didn’t think I was allowed to say, ‘No, I don’t want to go out with you,’ ” mentioned Heath. Now a mother of 5-year-old twins, she plans to launch a ebook this summer season about her expertise with ATI known as “Lovingly Abused,” and is searching for a writer. 

“My sense of bodily autonomy is still really messed up,” mentioned Smith. Both she and Heath have amassed robust followings on TikTookay and Instagram, the place they use their platform to attach with different IBLP survivors, and inform their tales concerning the group.

“To this day, there’s people like me who aren’t totally convinced we were abused. But we were.”

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