FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (CN) – Four Duggar sisters from the canceled reality show “19 Kids and Counting” claim In Touch Weekly exploited them by publishing investigative reports detailing the 2006 child molestation case against their brother that police in Arkansas promised would be kept confidential.
The former reality show stars – Jill Dillard, Jessa Seewald, Jinger Vuolo and Joy Duggar – sued the city of Springdale, Ark., its former police chief Kathy O’Kelley, and three other city officials Thursday in Fayetteville federal court. Washington County, Bauer Media Group and its subsidiaries are also named as defendants in the invasion of privacy lawsuit.
According to the 39-page complaint, the Duggar sisters were all under the age of 16 when Springdale police began investigating allegations that they had been sexually assaulted by their brother, Josh Duggar.
They say police investigators promised them that their statements would remain confidential and not be disclosed to the public.
No charges were filed against Josh, who became a household name by virtue of being the first of the “19 Kids and Counting” celebrated on the TLC reality show of the same name.
His Baptist parents in Arkansas, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, famously do not believe in birth control, and all of their 19 children have names that begin with the letter J.
But the sisters say in their May 18 lawsuit that O’Kelley and Springdale City Attorney Ernest Cate responded to In Touch Weekly’s May 2015 Freedom of Information Act request by “hastily and improperly” determining that the offense report should be released to the public.
They claim the report was under-redacted and contained identifying information including their parents’ names, the family’s address, and the age of at least one of the girls in clear violation of Arkansas and federal law.
“Defendants’ disclosures of the highly personal details of plaintiffs’ molestation as well as the In Touch defendants’ posting of those details on the In Touch Weekly website, constitute a clear and unwarranted invasion of Plaintiffs’ right of privacy and other rights,” the lawsuit states.
The Duggar sisters say the gossip magazine continued to post copies of the offense report and articles “containing lurid details about the sexual molestations” even after Arkansas Judge Stacey Zimmerman ruled that they were confidential and not subject to FOIA disclosure.
In a statement, the Duggar sisters said they filed their lawsuit to protect all children who are victims of abuse. Their lawsuit says they suffered extreme emotional distress and unwanted public scrutiny as a result of the revelations, and were forced to relieve painful memories and experiences.
“Plaintiffs were also subject to the humiliation and extreme mental anguish of being publicly identified nation and world-wide as being victims of sexual abuse as minors and having the details of the most private and painful aspects of their lives released and published to friends, associates, and tens of millions of people throughout the United States and world,” the lawsuit states.
TLC canceled “19 Kids and Counting” in July 2015, two months after the magazine began publishing its stories.
Days after the show’s cancellation, a hack of the cheating website Ashley Madison revealed that Josh Duggar had been maintaining a membership since 2013.
The four sisters seek compensatory and punitive damages for invasion of privacy, outrageous conduct and due process violations.
They are represented by Shawn Daniels of the Fayetteville law firm Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP.
Bauer Publishing Group publicist Lindsay Fariello did not immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment Friday morning. A Springdale public information officer also did return a request for comment.