In the week since its debut, the Amazon Prime docu-series Shiny Happy People has become both a surprise hit and a topic of heated debate.
The film centers around the bizarre beliefs of Jim Bob Duggar and other members of the cult-like Institute in Basic Life Principles.
Jim Bob has harshly criticized Shiny Happy People and its creators, accusing them of lying and creating a false narrative in order to drum up controversy.
Of course, the Duggar patriarch’s argument was light on specifics, and the many victims who appeared on camera to speak out against the abuses of the IBLP were well-armed with facts and firsthand accounts of real-life horrors.
One of the people who spoke out in the film was Eve Ettinger, an advocate for children who have been victimized by cults.
Eve courageously shared her story in Shiny Happy People, and now, she’s following up with a call to action for those who were horrified by what they learned from the documentary.
In a new essay for Salon, Ettinger offers specifics about the ways in which predators like Jim Bob take advantage of the laxity in US homeschooling laws.
“Looking at the story of the Duggar family and the way that Josh Duggar was buffered from consequences for his crimes against his siblings, it’s easy to blame the church,” Ettinger writes.
“To blame his family’s faith. Or the culture of spanking that breaks the will of children early on, grooming children who can be assaulted without lashing back, who believe that such violence is for their own good,” she continues.
“But those things are only part of the whole. A significant element at play here is easily overlooked, and that is the systemic deregulation of homeschooling over the last 30 years.”
Ettinger goes on to detail the ways in which deregulated homeschool environments leave children at greater risk for both physical and emotional abuse.
“Children in homeschooling environments are uniquely vulnerable to isolation, abuse and humiliation at the hands of their caregivers,” she writes.
“Children deserve to be able to access a robust education that prepares them for an open future, and have a right to receive that education in a safe, supportive and developmentally appropriate social setting.”
Ettinger notes that the situation is particularly dire in the Duggars’ homestate of Arkansas.
“In Arkansas, none of these things appear to be a priority,” she writes.
“The only other requirement regarding homeschooling currently on the books in Arkansas is one that forbids home education if a registered sexual offender lives in the home.”
So even after Josh Duggar’s imprisonment on child pornography charges, his family has been allowed to continue homeschooling his seven kids, as Josh no longer lives with them.
Ettinger goes on to note that homeschooled children are less likely to encounter mandated reporters such as teachers and school administrators, and are thus more likely to suffer abuse.
“It’s not enough for a state to say, ‘Sure, sexual offenders should not be able to homeschool; – which, by the way, only two states have this requirement – because many of these sorts of predators are not going to be caught if their children are not interacting with school teachers or caregivers who are mandated reporters,” she writes.
“Josh and Anna Duggar chose to homeschool their children long before he was arrested in 2021 for possession of child pornography, and he wasn’t registered as a sexual offender at the time,” Eve continues.
“Though a lawsuit his sisters filed in 2017, about someone leaking the molestation allegations to the press, suggests that they believed he was on this list, there’s no record of it.:
Ettinger notes that despite Josh’s many crimes “there was nothing in place to protect the next generation: Josh’s own children. He could homeschool and isolate them from mandated reporters, no questions asked.”
Throughout her essay, Eve makes it clear that abuses in homeschool situations are rampant, especially in cases where the parents are protected by organizations like the IBLP.
But rather than give up hope, and she’s offering actionable solutions.
“We believe that multiple interactions with mandated reporters per year is essential for ensuring that predators like Josh don’t get let off the hook, and that parents like Jim Bob and Michelle should not be able to educationally neglect their children via gender-based prejudice toward their daughters.”
Unfortunately, in Arkansas and across the US, the current trend is to allow less regulation in matters such as homeschooling.
But with any luck, projects like Shiny Happy People and activists like Eve will soon change that.