Why Dan Savage’s Call to Redefine “Duggar” Will Only Further Hurt Josh Duggar’s Victims

Dan Savage. CC image courtesy of Flickr, soundfromwayout.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

The Duggar family tragedy has received widespread media attention over the last couple weeks. At least five young girls were allegedly molested by Josh Duggar, the oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. The family waited several years to report the crimes. When they finally did so, they only told a police officer who was a family friend, who himself was later convicted of child pornography.

The tragedy has prompted claims of hypocrisy due to the fact that both Michelle and her son have repeatedly decried LGBT* people as potential child molesters when in fact her son — held up by the Religious Right as a paragon defender of traditional family values — was an actual molester, according to a recently revealed police report. Even more ironic is that Jim Bob Duggar, during his 2002 campaign for U.S. Senate, called for executing sex offenders during the exact same time period in which Josh allegedly was committing sex crimes against fellow children.

The plight of the five young girls has provoked a vast array of responses, with conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Matt Walsh jumping on soap boxes to defend Josh and liberals like Mike Luckovich gleefully asking the Internet to redefine “Duggar” in a way that invokes sexual abuse. In the midst of all these reactions, sex columnist Dan Savage offered a moment of sanity and compassion on NBC’s All In With Chris Hayes. On the show, Savage gave the sober reminder that, “We have to remember as we talk about this that five little girls — at least five little girls — were abused and molested and there’s nothing here to take delight in or celebrate.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Dan Savage on this point. Because not only am I a survivor of child sexual abuse, I am also a homeschool alumnus who was homeschooled in a Christian environment my entire life, much like the five young girls and their attacker. I also am the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and education about child abuse, mental illness, and other issues within Christian homeschooling. My work has led me to connect with hundreds of homeschool children and graduates around the United States who have experienced abuse within homeschooling, much like Josh’s victims. And our collective pain is not funny nor should it be reduced to punch lines by the media. I appreciate that Savage realizes the seriousness of the situation.

This is why I was surprised today to see Savage has now joined in the call to redefine “Duggar.” Savage previously experienced great success with redefining “Santorum” to cleverly punch up at Rick Santorum’s anti-LGBT stances, a moment in Internet history that I found humorous.

However, Santorum never faced charges of abusing other people in his family who share his last name. But Josh Duggar does.

I do not want to further violate Josh’s victims’ privacy (In Touch did a good enough job with that). So suffice it to say that several of Josh’s victims also share the name “Duggar.” Which means that these efforts to brand Josh with his crimes will also brand all of his victims with a permanent reminder of the horrendous pain inflicted upon them.

For homeschool alumni like myself, the Duggar tragedy is a watershed moment for us. We have fought for several years now to bring attention to the abuses and problems within religious homeschooling. While we have had some minor successes, it has taken the sex crimes of a television star to thoroughly break down the walls and shine a light upon the rotten nature of these high-control, Christian educational subcultures. For some of us, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. For others, it’s bittersweet that it took this — five young girls being molested — for the U.S. at large to finally care about our and our younger peers’ plights.

The very least that the media can do — and the very least that celebrities like Dan Savage should do — is handle these stories (our stories) with compassion and sensitivity towards survivors and victims. Please don’t make our pain into punch lines and please don’t start campaigns to permanently brand fellow survivors with memories of their attackers. Put your energy instead into further helping us expose what’s going on behind the doors of many Christian homeschooling families.

Help us bring to light the fact that just because a homeschooling family is on TV, all smiles and politeness, doesn’t mean that family is safe.


  • Santorum may not have abused anybody who shared his name unlike Josh Duggar, but Savage’s crass and homophobic (yes, homophobic) “re-definition” of the name certainly has harmed and continues to harm the people including Santorum’s children (who didn’t ask their father to be who and how he is) and also the several dozen other people in America who bear it. The idea of playing nasty games with other people’s identities in this manner is abusive, full stop.

    In the case of the Duggar girls — who almost all commentators, including Jim Bob and Michelle, seem to leave out of the discussion, it’s compounding abuse with abuse. It’s truly inexcusable – and in the case of Dan Savage it’s also entirely predictable. He’s shown a long history of disregarding the possibility of harm that his words bring to anyone who isn’t a cisgender, white, normative bodied, gay male who isn’t a survivor of sexual violence.

    • It is unfortunate that Savage has chosen such a way to hurt evil people that also hurts the innocent as well. Sadly, psychopaths like the pedophile Duggar and Santorum can’t be attacked on the basis of conscience (they don’t posses one – if they did, they wouldn’t be bigot psychopaths) so the best way to attack them is to attack their person hood. As a gay man, I always rejoice in the destruction of my enemies but not when that destruction comes at the cost of the innocent. Destroy Santorum and destroy Duggar but do it without hurting the good guys.

      • I understand your assertion that Josh Duggar is a psychopath. On what grounds do you call Rick Santorum a psychopath? Is it just that he stated that being a homosexual is a sin? Because that doesn’t make him a psychopath … just a Bible believing christian just like millions of other bible believing christians. Using the word psychopath to brand someone just because you do not like their ideology severely dilutes the power of the word psychopath. True psychopathology is very rare. Perhaps we should reserve it for those who assert “As a gay man, I always rejoice in the destruction of my enemies”.

      • My enemies actively seek to harm and kill myself and my brethren whereas we only want to live our lives free of long outdated Bronze Age delusions from an immoral era of human history. Rick Santorum spread libel that homosexuals were the most dangerous thing in the country. To be fair, I could care less what his pathetic Odin-clone says about me but I do care what he as an actual human being with a following says because his words carry weight and lead to LGBT kids being thrown out by their parents or worse. He harms the innocent to further his political agenda, same as the rest of his ilk.

        What is that if not a psychopath?

    • “Savage’s crass and homophobic (yes, homophobic)”

      Huh? Savage is gay himself. And there’s nothing “homophobic” about the new meaning Santorum unless you think that the “frothy mixture” in question is integral to gay sex. Did you get this nonsense from Shakesville, by any chance?

  • I know this isn’t what your article is focusing on but I just wanted to comment on your line “I also am the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and education about child abuse, mental illness, and other issues within Christian homeschooling.” Reading that reminded me of another story I read here about a girl who talked in detail about the abuse she suffered in her home and how she somehow mustered the courage to go against her parents expectations of her courting and dated her future spouse instead. The thing is that I’ve grown up in a strict household and I’ve rebelled in a lot of ways and when there’s something else I want to stop listening to..well some of them are easier to do than others. So it drives me up the wall when people who grew up in a more liberal household say stuff like “Just don’t listen to them” or “You’re ___ years old now so tell them to stop telling you what to do”. I’m sure you understand that they can only say such things with ease (and blatant ignorance, mind you) because they didn’t have the same controls put on them growing up. That’s why when I read stories narrated by people who grew up in a liberal household, nothing resonates or encourages me. But when I read the amazing stories on this site about courage and determination and strength (like yours) where the authors are people that have actually dealt with being suffocatingly controlled, I am so inspired and actually think “maybe one day I can do all the things I’m afraid to do now, maybe one day I’ll have complete control over every part of my life”. So thank you, R.L. Stollar and everyone else at HARO. You guys are my heroes. If you have anything to add to my comment, I hope you’ll reply. 😛

  • Sharon in Vancouver BC

    What amazes me the most about this whole story is how the magazine was able to get a copy of the Police Report in the first place. Yes, they filed a Freedom of Information request to the Police Department, but as he was a minor at the time of the offences the record was SEALED (this was confirmed in the online interview). As well, the magazine would have had to have been tipped off that something was there for someone to even make the request. Only a Judge can unseal a juvenile record so whoever provided the report would have been breaking the law.

    I have to wonder who the magazine was attacking when they went public with the record: Josh, as the Executive Director of the Family Research Council; Josh, Anna and their children; or the Duggar Family as a whole.

    As employees were writing the article, creating the front page mock-up, meeting to determine when the story would break……..was anyone considering how the victims would feel once the story came out!

    • Incorrect. Jim Bob’s idiot move, to not report the offences to the police at all in an effort to keep Josh from jail and a sexual predator label, backfired spectacularly. Because Josh gave that report as an adult, and no charges were filed on him either as a juvenile or as an adult, this report becomes a public record. Their own attempt to hide their sin was the thing that got that sin shouted from the mountaintops.
      Perhaps next time, check the facts.
      PS now that we know that Josh is an adulterous freak … are you still defending him?
      Yeah … didn’t think so.

  • Indeed. Well said.

  • Pingback: Sex Abuse Victim Allegedly Filing Lawsuit Against Josh Duggar | Homeschoolers Anonymous

  • Pingback: An Open Letter to Anna Duggar | Homeschoolers Anonymous

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