The XX Factor

Five Women Sue Duggar-Connected Ministry for Sex Abuse Cover-Up

Josh Duggar
Josh Duggar and his wife, Anna, on their wedding day on  17 Kids and Counting.

Courtesy of IMDB

The facility that “treated” Josh Duggar after he confessed to molesting several underage girls is facing serious legal trouble. Five women are suing the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a radical Illinois-based Christian ministry that espouses a stringent patriarchal worldview, for permitting the systemic sexual abuse and harassment of its members.

The negligence suit comes more than a year after fundamentalist leader Bill Gothard resigned from his position as head of the organization after more than 30 women alleged that he harassed or molested them, some when they were minors. Rock stars among the Christian home schooling and Quiverfull set, Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles have counseled sex-abuse survivors to ask themselves if God “let it happen” because they were dressed immodestly or hanging out with “evil friends.” A dedicated website now exists to support survivors of his alleged sex crimes.

In their lawsuit, the five plaintiffs claim that the Institute in Basic Life Principles acted with willful and wanton disregard for their well-being and conspired to cover up the allegations of abuse. According to the Washington Post, the suit also alleges that the organization is trying to liquidate its real estate holdings, which are valued at nearly $80 million, and move its home base to Texas, whose courts appear to be friendlier to sex-abuse defendants than Illinois’. Among other acts of negligence, the plaintiffs maintain that the ministry failed to report claims of sex abuse, harassment, and inappropriate touching; actively concealed these claims from law enforcement; failed to properly train or supervise employees in responding to allegations of abuse; and conducting a bogus internal investigation of the abuse, for appearances only.

That investigation, which was bankrolled by the board of the institute last year, was led by David Gibbs Jr., a Christian fundamentalist attorney with deep ties to the institute. One of the most satisfying elements of this new lawsuit is that Gibbs Jr.’s son, David Gibbs III, is representing the plaintiffs.

Gibbs III has openly criticized his father’s work. A statement provided to the Spiritual Sounding Board blog blamed Gibbs Jr. for obscuring the moral failings of church leaders “Embarrassingly to David, his father has stood with many child abusers in the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) world over the years rather than publicly renouncing their sin,” the statement read. “David’s father is of that old-school philosophy that tends to cover-up and hide as opposed to being transparent, open, and honest.” Gibbs III is no progressive or feminist—he’s the president of the National Center for Life and Liberty, a “nonprofit legal ministry” that defends “Bible-based values.” But he’s been a staunch enemy of religious hypocrites who’ve used their power to exploit the obedience they’ve demanded from employees and followers. Gibbs III previously represented Lourdes Torres-Manteufel in her abuse suit against Doug Phillips, the former leader of the fundamentalist Vision Forum.

In the past, the Duggar family has been a vocal advocate for both the Vision Forum and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, where Michelle and Jim Bob sent Josh to seek counseling after his abuse confession. The family has quieted its support for the ministries as abuse allegations have piled up against them. But Josh Duggar is still the perfect case study for how these ultrafundamentalist organizations, which preach that a woman must submit to the desires of men (her father, her husband, her church leader) at all stages of her life, create a patriarchal, victim-blaming culture. Sending a teenage child molester to the Institute in Basic Life Principles, an organization that lets sexual abuse fester in its highest levels of leadership, should constitute a form of abuse all its own.