The Religiosity of Silence by John Erickson

John Erickson, sports, coming out.In 2013, I wrote an article about the then latest reality TV scandal featuring A&E’s Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and his rampant foot-in-mouth disease that caused him to express, in the pages of GQ, his true distaste for the LGBT community and specifically for the sexual proclivities of gay men.

Now, two years later in another reality TV show, TLC’s ’19 Kids and Counting’, it isn’t star Josh Duggar’s anti-LGBT statements getting him into trouble but rather his sexual assault and molestation of 5 girls, including two of his sisters. However, while the Internet explodes with attacks against Josh Duggar and his Quiverfull background, it is vital to remember that the silence that he and his family inflicted upon his victims since 2006 has not only been ongoing since then but is also being reemphasized today with each keystroke focusing on the assailant rather than the victims.

Starting in the 1980s, “Quiverfull,” the religious tradition that the Duggar family adhere to, spread through various evangelical circles with principles that focus arou1432305381_josh-duggar-speaking-467nd biblical literalism such as traditional gender roles, an emphasis on family values, and a scorn and fear of the secular (read: modern) world. Furthermore, while having lots of kids in the Quiverfull religion isn’t just about building up one’s quiver but rather reemphasizing the way in which the world should be run, with women as subservient child producers who are taught to be silent no matter the hardships they face. Josh Duggar and the rest of his Quiverfull family exist in and perpetuate a culture of silence that emphasizes a man’s struggle while demeaning a woman’s pain as being a result of her having a sinful heart. It should be no shock then to find out that in a world of silence, where men rule the roost, those who are affected the most by silence find it the most difficult not only to speak out but to be heard.

While the facts surrounding the culture of silence in regard to assault and molestation are shocking, some other facts emphasize wimage0012hy the case against Josh Duggar is all too real: acquaintance perpetrators are the most common abusers, making up almost 70-90% of all perpetrators, with 89% of child sexual assault cases involving persons known to the child, 29% of child sexual abuse offenders being relatives, and 60% being acquaintances.

In a repetitive culture of abuse and silence, is it really shocking to find out that an individual who preached such hate and discontent for others also perpetuated other forms of heinous abuse?

To say that I was shocked by the revelation about Josh Duggar’s past would be a misnomer; however, to say that I don’t care would be an outright lie. I care about what happened, I care about the 5 girls he molested, and I care about what happens to them now and in the future when they are no longer silenced and are allowed to be free and feel the pain and hurt he inflicted upon them all those years ago in a new light.


We need to hear their voices, we need to hear their stories and, more importantly, we need to stop giving the headline to the name “Josh Duggar” and start giving it back to the young girls, not only these girls in Arkansas but those around the world who are forced to live their lives in silence and fear and without the hope that their assailants, regardless of whether or not they were the son to a multi-million corporate television reality cash cow or just a regular person walking down the street.

Sexual assault and violence know no gender and in the case of Josh Duggar, the main thing we need to remember that although he got caught, he probably never stopped, and even more terrifying is – who will stop him now that he is the head of his household with four young kids in his quiver?



John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. He holds a MA in Women’s Studies in Religion; an MA in Applied Women’s Studies; and a BA in Women’s Literature and Women’s Studies. He is a Permanent Contributor to the blog Feminism and Religion, a Non-Fiction Reviewer for Lambda Literary, the leader in LGBT reviews, author interviews, opinions and news since 1989 and the Co-Chair of the Queer Studies in Religion section of the American Academy of Religion’s Western Region, the only regional section of the American Academy of Religion that is dedicated to the exploration of queer studies in religion and other relevant fields in the nation and the President of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s LGBTQA+ Alumni Association. When he is not working on his dissertation, he can be found at West Hollywood City Hall where he is the Community Events Technician and works on policies and special events relating to women, gender, sexuality, and human rights issues that are sponsored or co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. He is the author of the blog From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter @JErickson85

Categories: abuse, Academics, Academy, Activism, Belief, Bible, Body, Breaking News, Contraception, Ethics, Evangelicalism, Family, Feminism, Gender, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, Grief, Healing, Hierarchy, Human Rights, Identity Construction, In the News, LGBTQ, OpEd, Patriarchy, Politics, Power relations, Rape Culture, religion, Sexual Ethics, Sexual Violence, Sexuality, Social Justice, Violence, Violence Against Women, White Privilege, Women and the Media, Women's Rights, Women's Suffering

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28 replies

  1. I disagree with the “I have a voice” banner the young girl is holding up. Rather, the banner should say: “It’s your problem not mine.”


  2. Thanks John for sharing this story and the vital message you make clear – well said…… what a day to read this. I am running a program called “Silence had a Voice” – for survivors of incest and rape…. a slow journey in a community that has no services and raising awareness and gathering people to support survivors the topic of secrets and the enforced silencing on victims is pernicious and this was talked about today – Silence over and above the traumatic abuse ;- the silence that is inflicted onto the survivor by the abusers and then often their own families and the community too ….. the shame and guilt is multiplied …….. 30,40 years later many live with the fear and shame of the violence crime/abuse and hold the silence too. .. they are still in trauma .It is way to much to bear…. it’s totally unacceptable.

    The banner -” I have a voice” – yes I have found my voice ….. and yes it is vital to remember the victims and their on going abuse by silencing and those and other children in total harms way ….


    • I fear that the banner “I have a voice” may never be able to be held up by his victims because their voices are continually repressed. It is in the silence after where the pain not only continues to exist but also multiply.


  3. “Silence has a Voice” is what I meant to type – Thanks – this blog helped to make clear my work and my day .


  4. Why is a smart man like you even watching reality TV? Those programs aren’t realistic. Surely you have better things to do in your life! Write more of your excellent blogs on real topics!


    • HI Barbara,

      I’m confused–is the:

      -abuse and assault of 5 girls by a family member, one victim was four at the time, not worth discussing?
      – the assault–that was facilitated by a religious cult that harms thousands of children and women around the world, not worth discussing?
      -Is the cover up of this abuse by a parents/police/judge not worth discussing?
      -The head of this cult–who abuse upwards of 60 (he is in jail for life), not worth discussing?
      -Is the fact that TLC (the network that carried the show) knew about the abuse and did nothing out of fear of losing revenue, not worth discussing?
      -Is the fact that the christian community around the US rallied around the molester and his family for the last two weeks (FAR is INCREDIBLY late in reporting on this and its ramifications for women in Quiverful communities and evangelical USA) not worth discussing?
      -is the similarities between this and the abuse of children in the Roman Catholic Church not worth discussing?
      – is the fact that the Duggers have incredible political power and have been able to push legislation against LGBTQ people in their state and the capitol (by fear mongering against molestation actually), not worth discussing?
      -Is the fact that presidential candidates came out and defended Josh Duggar and downplayed what sexual abuse and incest is, not worth discussing?

      I could not shake my head harder if I tried. Tell me a more real topic that what is above. Seriously? TELL ME.


    • Barbara –

      For the record, I don’t watch “19 Kids and Counting.” Mostly, I pass by it while I am browsing TV shows on a flight. However, I know about the Duggars because of the hate that they spew in regards to both LGBTQ and women’s issues. (See Marci’s links below).

      This is a real topic and post that needs our attention here on FAR. Quite frankly, the fact that its taken us WELL over a week to talk about this issue is disturbing.

      I could say the same thing for every “goddess” post I see on this blog and argue that in today’s world, where rape, incest, violence, and inequality run rampant, why are we ONLY talking about historical matriarchal societies or images of a goddess that seem to be more theologically bent than actually practically applicable or discussion worthy to what scholars in both feminism, religion, or women and gender studies are having to deal with today, but I don’t.

      This is one of the “better things to do with my life” because when we stop writing and talking about these issues we’ll have either 1.) won the battles against the rampant and senseless violence against women and girls or 2.) truly lost, because we, or no one else, are writing about issues that are more vastly consumed by culture and society today than any other because they are not deemed “worthy.”

      I do consider this an excellent blog post and in the future I hope you’ll keep more of an open mind and be respectful to those of us who focus on different topics that you may not deem “worthy” or “bloggable.”


      • It is an excellent blog post, John. And for those of us who are less internet-oriented and less media-oriented in general, it gave us info with a perspective we embrace. Thanks.


      • John, I could say (like Flip Wison) that the devil made me do it. Actually, I wrote it on purpose. I was being a provocateur. Excuse me, provocateuse. I respect your work and enjoy your blogs. But I’ve noticed that some recent blogs have had fewer comments than usual, so I just wanted to stir the pot.

        I really do think so-called reality TV is stupid, but of course you made a valid point about the values those two shows promote. Good for you!


    • Ouch, Barbara. Perhaps having reality TV as the backdrop of the post overshadowed for you the significance and importance of the topic and content itself? John’s concern is clearly the serious harm and violence befalling women and girls in this situation (and beyond) and the need to hear their stories and raise their voices.


  5. One gets to the point where it is not a case of staying silenced, which it once was but the very hard work it has been to break out of that silence sometimes can be so exhausting that one falls silent, not because of can’t, not because of won’t, because, the voice has gone too hoarse to utter another syllable. To the previous commentor, Barbara, don’t you think John Erickson did write about something real? Stupefying, mindboggling, outrageously, Real?


    • Thank you for your reblog!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was molested by the man next door when I was 6 so this whole thing hits close to home. I know how those girls feel when no one cares about you just the man who did it. My mom’s comment was “You aren’t going to make trouble for him, are you?


      • I am so sorry for what happened to you elfkat. There is bravery in just speaking up and making it known that this happens SO. OFTEN. I know the feeling so well. I was told to work on not only forgiveness of the man who assaulted me–but to also think of how hard it all was for him (so this entire thing has been such a trigger for me–and reiterated that women’s bodies mean nothing in the face of men’s reputations and the Church’s image).

        Sending you solidarity from here.


    • elfkat – thank you for sharing your story with me. We need to end this silence and this justification that by not being silent we are causing more harm to the men who inflicted the violence. If the focus continues to be on the “man’s pain,” how are the women/girls/boys/men who are victimized by individuals like Josh Duggar ever supposed to get justice?


      • John, I’m so glad you clarified here that the focus you talked about in your post is a focus on the “man’s pain.” I was confused, because until this clarification, I was thinking that it was extremely important to focus on the man as PERPETRATOR. So often in police records, newspaper articles, in culture at large, people talk about a woman “being raped” or a girl “being molested,” as if it just happens, not mentioning the fact that a man raped that woman or a man molested that girl.


    • Marci – I’m continually amazed by your courage. Thank you too for sharing YOUR story.


  6. Well said, John. Silencing women’s voices is rule number one in control of women’s lives. Getting women to silence themselves is number two. What did that horrible counselling hand-out say? What victims should think about if they were not at fault. (what?!) And know that suffering makes you “mighty in spirit,” so if you had to choose between being mighty in spirit and being abused what would you choose?”


  7. John– Thank you for this post. As a survivor I know only too well the silence and the shame and the closing in of one’s life until it is strangling…it was only by being around folks who would listen to the screams that I was able to begin to talk.


  8. John, thank you for this powerful post, and thanks also to all who commented on it. This is exactly the sort of thing we should be addressing at FAR, since the Duggars and others are using their religious beliefs to cover up and condone child molestation and the oppression and silencing of girls and women.This gets at the root of the evil that is done to women and girls and boys.


  9. Thank you for writing this. And thank you agirlwithameme for all the links you submitted. This is a very real, tragic, infuriating issue, and the spin in the media is sickening. I saw a story on Yahoo entitled “How the Parents Forgave.” Um, what? Who the eff cares how they forgave? Why not talk about the victims, how they were forced to say they forgave under threat of eternal damnation and being ostracized?

    I am a survivor of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence, and I can attest that finding my voice has been the hardest thing about the whole ugly experience. My heart goes out to those whom men assaulted and raped when they were just children. Hugs to you all if you want them.


    • Thank you Rebekah for sharing your story! The parents play a central role here and I fear that Josh too was most likely a victim of molestation by someone inside his family or potentially that he was connected to in their faith based circle. Due to the culture of silence that they then put out there, not talking about it and what they teach about sex and purity, I can not only see how he did this to his sisters and others but also how it has most likely been a part of his past as well. Very sad indeed and these victims are being glossed over for the sake of the “family” now.


  10. I too wondered who molested Josh. Kids don’t just “come up” with the idea of serially molesting other kids.
    Was it his father or grandfather? His minister? A church leader? Will the silence be broken?


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