Four Duggar sisters sued government officials and a magazine May 18 for releasing documents detailing alleged molestation by their brother Josh.
The Duggar sisters who filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit in Arkansas federal district court are members of the Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar family that gained celebrity status as stars of the former TLC reality show, “19 Kids and Counting.”
The federal lawsuit accuses InTouch Weekly magazine and Springdale and Washington County, Ark., of harming and humiliating the sisters in 2015 by releasing documents of confidential interviews of the molestations first reported to police in 2005.
The sisters, Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Joy Duggar, who currently live in Washington County, and Jinger Vuolo of Laredo, Texas, are members of the Duggar family that gained notoriety during the nine-season run of the former reality television show, “19 Kids and Counting.” The series showcasing the daily lives of the Christian family was cancelled weeks after InTouch Weekly first published the documents gained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Defendants’ actions forced Plaintiffs to relive painful memories and experiences that occurred almost ten years prior, resulting in Plaintiffs suffering severe mental anguish and distress,” reads the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville. “Plaintiffs were also subject to the humiliation and extreme mental anguish of being publicly identified nation and world-wide as being victims of sexual abuse as minors and having the details of the most private and painful aspects of their lives released and published to friends, associates, and tens of millions of people throughout the United States and world.”
Two of the sisters, Dillard and Seewald, are now featured in the reality television show, “Jill & Jessa: Counting On,” that debuted in March, 2016 on TLC.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Arkansas Constitution, the Arkansas Child Mistreatment Act and the Arkansas Juvenile Code by disclosing information the sisters and others had been explicitly assured would remain confidential.
“In December 2006, the Police Department instituted an investigation … into allegations that Plaintiffs, who were under the age of sixteen at the time, and one other female had been sexually assaulted on several occasions by Plaintiffs’ brother, Josh Duggar,” according to the lawsuit. “As part of the Investigation, police investigators interviewed Plaintiffs. The investigators promised Plaintiffs that their statements would remain confidential and not be disclosed to the public. Plaintiffs’ parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, and their siblings also provided interviews under the promise of confidentiality.”
The Duggars’ attorneys, Sarah Coppola Jewell and Shawn B. Daniels of the law firm Hare, Wynn, Newell, Newton LLP, have requested a jury trial and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. A fifth molestation victim referenced in the documents is not included in the lawsuit.
Government officials redacted information from the offense report and incident report before releasing the documents, attorneys said, but left ample information available to identify the victims, the sisters’ attorneys said.
Various government officials in office in May of 2015 when the documents were released are named individually in the lawsuit, including the Springdale, Ark., police chief and city attorney, a Washington County sheriff’s major, and the attorney for Washington County. InTouch owners and publishers are also named.
Josh Duggar was never charged for the alleged molestations, but sought treatment in 2015 for an admitted pornography addiction and marital infidelity as a customer of the Ashley Madison adultery service.
Dillard and Seewald identified themselves publicly as two of their brother’s victims in a June 2015 FOX News interview, telling their version of the incidents in question. The sisters said they had forgiven their brother and accused the news media of having harmed them more than their brother.
“Most of the stuff out there is lies, it’s not true,” said Dillard, who at that time attended the Pinnacle Hills, Ark., campus of Cross Church, the pastorate of former of Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd. “For truth’s sake, we want to come out and set the record straight.”
The sisters said distorted public revelations of the improper touching hurt more than the touching itself, which years before had been told to family, friends, law enforcement officials and professional counselors.
“I see it as a victimization that’s even a thousand times worse, because this was something that was already dealt with. We’ve already forgiven Josh. We’ve already moved on,” Dillard said in 2015, crying. “It’s not the truth first of all, everything was distorted. We feel like our story was not being told. And we feel like it shouldn’t have been told. The victims are the only ones who can speak for themselves.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)