Duggar sisters Jill Dillard and Jessa Seewald exclusively joined Megyn Kelly tonight to defend their brother, Josh, who has admitted to molesting four sisters and a babysitter in 2002 and 2003.
Jill, 24, and Jessa, 22, told Megyn that they were among Josh’s victims, but that they didn’t even know what had happened until their parents told them. Jill said she was 12 at the time, while Jessa estimated that she was 9 or 10.
Both women said they’ve forgiven Josh for his actions, and they slammed the media for “re-victimization that’s even a thousand times worse.”
Read on for highlights and to see the full video from tonight’s “Kelly File” exclusive.
Jessa: Josh Was a 'Young Boy in Puberty & a Little Too Curious About Girls'
Jill said that she and Jessa chose to come forward with their story because of the headlines they’ve been seeing about their family, insisting that “most of the stuff out there is lies.”
“For truth’s sake, we want to come out and set the record straight,” she said.
Megyn asked the two women if they feel like victims of molestation.
While Jessa said that Josh’s actions were very wrong and “not permissible,” she said that some of the things people have said about him are “so overboard.”
“I do want to speak up in his defense against people who are calling him a child molester or a pedophile or a rapist […] I’m like, that is so overboard and a lie really,” she said.
She continued, “In Josh’s case, he 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.”
Jessa described the extent of the molestation as “mild inappropriate touching on fully clothed victims, most of it while girls were sleeping.”
The two women said that they didn’t even know what had happened until Josh confessed to their parents, who then approached each child individually and shared it with them. The two women agreed that they were “shocked” to learn of Josh’s actions, but Jill added that their experience was “very mild compared to what happens to some young women.”
Jill said she felt angry at first. But then, she said her parents explained what happened, and Josh came to each victim to ask for forgiveness.
“I had to make that choice to forgive him, you know. And it wasn’t something that somebody forced like, ‘Oh you need to do this.’ It’s like, you have to make that decision for yourself,” Jill said.
Jessa said that Josh was sent away “pretty soon” after their parents sat them down to discuss his actions. The two women said that when Josh returned, he was a different person who had made changes in his life.
Jill and Jessa agreed that their parents handled the situation very well, explaining that they put safeguards in place to keep the kids safe, like locking their bedroom doors at night and not allowing Josh to babysit the girls.
Jill said their decision to forgive their brother started the process of rebuilding their relationships with him.
“My dad explained to us, he said, ‘You know there's a difference between forgiveness and trust. That's not the same thing.’ You know, you forgive someone and then you have boundaries – forgiveness with boundaries. And so trust comes later. You know, Josh destroyed that trust at the beginning, and so he had to rebuild that,” Jill said.
Jill and Jessa said that they never had any trouble with other family members. They added that their parents sat down with all of the kids and told them to come to them if anyone ever touched them inappropriately.
Jill Slams Media for ‘a Re-Victimization That’s Even a Thousand Times Worse’
Megyn asked Jessa and Jill if there was any concern that their past might come out when the Duggars decided to start their TLC reality show.
Jessa noted that the reality show began years after the ordeal. She added that this was never a complete secret, explaining that family, close friends and officials were all aware of what had happened with Josh.
“We had dealt with it. As a family, we had moved on,” she said.
Megyn asked Jill what she would say to critics who argue that the Duggars have waived their rights to advocate strong Christian values.
“Some people, I’ve heard them say, you know, ‘You’re hypocrites.’ Well if you go back and look at everything that people have seen in our lives, in television, you know, we’ve never claimed to be a perfect family. My parents have always actually stated, you know, we are not a perfect family – we are just a family,” Jill said.
Jessa added, “With challenges and struggles just like anybody else.”
Jessa pushed back against people who have criticized Josh for his work with the Family Research Council and for being vocal about his views on homosexuality.
“It’s right to say, ‘Here’s what I believe, here’s my values,’ even if you’ve made stupid mistakes or failures. If you’ve had failures in your past, it doesn’t mean you can’t be changed,” Jessa said, noting that Josh’s actions happened 12 years ago “when he was just a child himself.”
Jill remarked that TLC’s viewers feel like they are in the Duggar home every Tuesday night and that they know the family. She said that people expect to know every detail of their lives – even things that happened long before the show debuted.
Jill became emotional when she told Megyn about finding out that this story was on the cover of In Touch Weekly.
“When I heard the police report had been released, I said, ‘What, like, how do they have a right to do this? […] We’re victims, they can’t do this to us,” she said through tears.
Jessa said that the system set up to protect kids has greatly failed them, and Jill speculated that there may be an agenda behind the report’s release.
“Maybe their mindset, they’re just used to making objects out of women, and maybe we just didn’t seem any different,” Jessa said of Bauer, the parent company of In Touch Weekly.
Jill called the tabloid stories “a re-victimization that’s even a thousand times worse."
“This was something that was already dealt with. We’ve already forgiven Josh. We’ve already moved on,” she said.
‘Life Goes On’: Jessa Talks the Uncertain Future of ’19 Kids and Counting’
Megyn asked if Jill and Jessa want to see legal action taken against the police chief who released the records on their case.
“I can say that what was done was very wrong,” Jessa said, explaining that they were helpless as victims and are now helpless again as the tabloids have taken the police report and sensationalized it for their own profit.
Jessa said that people who don’t like her family are likely the ones who are maliciously spreading this story around. She said that if people actually felt for the victims, they would have respected their wishes for the ordeal to remain private.
“Would you ever have supported a prosecution against Josh?” Megyn asked.
Jessa said that Josh became a completely changed person after the molestation and investigation.
“He had not gone down that path for years, he was humble before God, before us, before the officials that were involved,” she said.
Jill said that Josh and the victims all went through professional counseling, which the two young women agreed gave them closure.
“These past two weeks have been a thousand times worse for us,” Jessa said.
Megyn asked Jill and Jessa how they feel knowing that their TLC show could end as a result of the report’s release.
“Life goes on, really,” Jessa said. “We’re not a TV family, we’re just a family that just happened to be on TV.”
Jill noted that the Duggar family loves their TLC film crew, remarking that “they’re like family to us.”
She also said that this most recent experience has brought their family closer together.
Jessa agreed, recalling that she told her family, “Hey, look on the bright side, at least none of us are feuding. At least we’re all in harmony as a family, and we all love each other like crazy.”