‘Counting On’: The Duggars Inspired an Episode of ‘Law & Order: SVU’

2015 was the year everything changed for the Duggar family. That was when the world learned Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s oldest son Josh Duggar had molested five underage girls more than a decade earlier, when he was a teenager. Four of the victims were his sisters. A few months later, the Ashley Madison hack revealed that Josh — who was married with young children — had an account on the cheating website. 

In the wake of the scandal, Josh resigned at his job at the conservative Family Research Council. And TLC canceled his family’s reality show, 19 Kids and Counting. The story was widely covered in the media, and it even inspired an episode of Law & Order: SVU

‘Law & Order: SVU’ had an episode with a family like the Duggars 

scene from Law & order svu
Law & Order: SVU “Patrimonial Burden” | Michael Parmelee/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

In November 2015, Law & Order: SVU aired a “ripped-from-the-headlines” episode clearly inspired by the Duggar family. 

The season 17 episode “Patrimonial Burden” focuses on a large, religious family called the Bakers. Not only do the Bakers look and dress a lot the Duggars, they also have a reality show called Bakers Dozen.

At a “virtue ball” in New York City, 13-year-old daughter Lane Baker passes out, and doctors discover she’s pregnant. The family quickly closes ranks and says they’ll handle the issue themselves. Eventually, Lane says a cameraman on the family’s show assaulted her. But the SVU team continues to investigate, and they begin to suspect that someone else actually raped Lane.    

There are a number of parallels to the Josh Duggar scandal

The SVU episode begins with a disclaimer reminding viewers “this story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.” But there are a number of parallels to the Duggar family’s situation. One character even directly compares the Baker family to the 19 Kids and Counting clan.  

“Look at what happened to the Duggars,” Detective Rollins (Kelli Giddish) says early in the episode. “Word gets out that one of those virgin Baker daughters is knocked up, there goes the TV show, the book deal, the multi-million dollar chastity empire.”

After ruling out the cameraman as a suspect, the cops zero in on Lane’s older brother, Graham. He has a sealed juvenile record indicating that he touched his sisters inappropriately and was sent to a religious reform camp — similar to what happened with Josh Duggar. (Duggar, however, was not accused of raping his sisters.)

But there are some important difference in the story 

Josh Duggar
Josh Duggar | Kris Connor/Getty Images

After suggesting the brother is responsible, the episode then takes a turn. The family and the police learn that it was actually their pastor who raped Lane. Not only that, but he also raped another one of the daughters, who became pregnant and had a child. The pastor convinced the parents that their son was the baby’s father. They agreed to cover up the pregnancy and pass off the baby as Mrs. Baker’s. 

When Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and the rest of the team confront the pastor — just as he is about to marry Lane — he says the family won’t testify because they don’t want to jeopardize their reality show. But they defiantly disagree, announcing that protecting their children is more important than their fame. 

The SVU episode ends with the Baker parents speaking out publicly against their pastor and declaring that they’re going to focus on helping their daughters heal. That’s a bit different than how the Duggars handled the situation with Josh. At the time, he Duggars criticized Josh’s actions, and he was noticeably absent from their new show, Counting On. But now, some think the family is trying to repair their eldest child’s reputation. He’s popped up on the family’s social media accounts and there are theories that he will soon appear on Counting On.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. 

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