Following their parents’ controversial interview on The Kelly File on Wednesday, 19 Kids and Counting‘s Jill Dillard and Jessa Seewald also sat down with Megyn Kelly to share their side of the story and how they forgave older brother Josh Duggar.
“This wouldn’t have been our first choice, but now that this story’s been brought about, we really feel like, as we’ve been seeing these headlines… We feel like, as the victims, we have to come out and speak,” Jill, now 24, said. “For truth’s sake, we want to come out and set the record straight.”
At the time of the incidents, Jill was 12 and Jessa said she was 9 or 10. Neither could remember what actually happened because they were asleep at the time. (In the police reports in question, Josh admitted to his parents that he snuck into the girls’ room and touched them on four or five occasions.)
“I think in the case of what Josh did, it was very wrong,” Jessa, now 22, said:
Josh was a boy, a young boy in puberty and a little too curious about girls and that got him into some trouble. And he made some bad choices, but, really, the extent of it was mild – inappropriate touching on fully clothed victims, most of it while girls were sleeping.
“We didn’t even know about it until he went and confessed it to my parents and they shared it with us,” Jill said. “It wasn’t like we were keeping a secret and afraid. It was, we didn’t know until Josh explained it to our parents what his thought process was, what everything was.”
Jessa added Josh was “sly” about much of it:
He’s very subtle anyway. Like, he knew in his mind, ‘My actions are wrong and I have bad intentions.’ But he was very sly, like, ‘The girls didn’t catch on.’ Like, you catch the girls sleeping, a quick feel or whatever… Or like, in the situations that happened where the girls were awake, they weren’t aware of what was happening. It was very subtle… It wasn’t a horror story.
Although Josh told Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar about touching Jill and Jessa in March 2002, the parents didn’t explain it to their daughters until a year later, just before Josh was sent away for a Christian treatment program. In their interview, Jim Bob and Michelle said they didn’t immediately go to their daughters because they hoped to spare them unnecessary pain.
“Our parents took us aside individually and were like, ‘Here’s what happened,'” Jessa said. “I didn’t know. I didn’t understand, ‘Ok, this is what happened,’ until my parents told me.”
While Josh was gone for the three months, Jill and Jessa said they felt conflicted because they loved him as a big brother, but Jill said it was “burned in our memory that Josh made some very bad decisions.”
“I was angry at first. I was like, ‘How could this happen?'” Jill explained, adding she had the chance to come to terms with it all while he was gone. Even though they were upset, both girls laughed when asked if it ever led to fights with Josh.
When Josh returned home, both girls said they felt safe because of the protective measures their parents put in place — such as telling the girls to keep their bedroom door locked at night — and said they believed Josh truly changed. Still, it took longer for them to fully regain trust in him.
“I had to make that choice to forgive him. It wasn’t something that someone forced… You have to make that decision for yourself,” Jill said, explaining they also got professional counseling. “My dad explained to us, he said, ‘You know there’s a difference between forgiveness and trust….You forgive someone and then you have boundaries.'”
Jill and Jessa said they never thought of themselves as victims because they weren’t aware of what happened at the time. Because of that, and with their parents’ support, Jill and Jessa said they felt comfortable being totally open with investigators in 2006 — especially because they were reassured the information would never be public. Even when their reality show began in 2008, Jill and Jessa echoed their parents by saying they weren’t fearful the details would get drug up and definitely didn’t feel a need to bring it up on their own.
“People expecting to know every detail of our lives when this happened long ago….We’re not going to say, ‘Hi, nice to meet you. Here’s everything that’s gone on,'” Jill said.
It wasn’t until the police report was released last month that Jill and Jessa really felt victimized.
“Whatever things they might say, legally we can do this or we can do that….It’s obviously not, they’ve not protecting us here,” Jill said. “Maybe there’s an agenda. I know that the tabloids that released it….they’re used to exploiting women.”
Jill and Jessa both said they had moved on and forgiven Josh, so it seemed even worse when everything was brought up again publicly. They also wanted to speak out to let people know they’ve all forgiven Josh — and “all” includes their two other sisters and the babysitter. They also believe Josh has proven he is a changed person and “hasn’t gone down that road again.”
“I can say that what was done was very wrong. The terrible thing about being a victim is that you’re helpless in the moment over the actions of others… And I feel like, in this situation, we’re again helpless,” Jessa said. “But I’d definitely say that these past two weeks have been 1000 times worse for us.”
Both Jill and Jessa said that regardless of what happens with their TLC show, they are happy because there are no conflicts within their family.
“It’s bringing our family even closer together,” Jill said. “We’ll make it through this, too.”
Jessa added, “We were all sitting around when all this came out and I was like, ‘Guys, the people out there that might be stirring things up, but hey, at least none of us are feuding. At least we’re all in harmony as a family. At least we all love each other like crazy.'”