The Kidnapper and His Victims
Ariel Castro, the man who kidnapped two teenage girls and one young woman and held them captive in his Cleveland house for over a decade, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 1,000 years. He was found guilty of 937 counts that included aggravated rape, assault, kidnapping, and murder.
The victims testified that they were raped and tortured on a regular basis. Victim Michelle Knight was impregnated by Castro at least five times and was forced to miscarry through starvation, while being repeatedly punched and stomped on the stomach. Another victim, Amanda Berry, gave birth to a daughter who is now 6.
How Common Is Sexual Violence Like Castro’s?
Often when we see high-profile cases like these on TV, we unknowingly create distance between their situation and ours. We tell ourselves that such things rarely happen in real life.
While it is true that we seldom hear about cases as horrific as this one, the fact is that sexual violence is an all-too-common problem in everyday life. According to studies, an estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually assaulted, and every two minutes someone in the United States is a new victim.
Victims’ profiles are wide and varied. Sexual assault happens without regard to age, race, religion, nationality, sexual preference, education, class, occupation, ability, or disability. It is a frequent enough phenomenon that it is described as a “common experience” for women, men, and children. The odds are very high that either you or someone in your life has been affected by sexual assault.
How Sexual Violence Devastates Lives
Its commonality, however, never makes sexual assault a “normal” experience. Sexual assault negatively affects every aspect of life—e.g., self-image, relationships, emotions, beliefs, etc.—long after the event has passed. This is why victims are far more likely than others to struggle with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and thoughts of suicide.
The devastation sexual assault can leave in its wake is of a magnitude that can only be met by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel declares that sexual assault does not have to have the last word on victims’ lives. It is not beyond the scope of healing and hope. It is not ignored by God or minimized by the Bible: God is active in bringing redemption, renewal, and re-creation. God imparts grace and peace.
How To Make A Difference
As Christians, we are called to stand up for the powerless and abused and address the effects of sexual assault with the biblical message of grace and redemption. The epidemic of sexual assault and sex trafficking in our society ought to be a priority for churches, and every church leader needs to be equipped to address this evil with their congregation.
Here are some resources to help you effectively lead your church through the reality of sexual violence:
- Resources for Sexual Assault Awareness Month
- Are you prepared to minister to victims of sexual assault?
- Advice for pastors in caring for victims of sexual assault
- Sexual assault content on JustinHolcomb.com
- Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault, by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb
- Sexual Abuse: Beauty for Ashes, by Bob Kellemen
- Counseling Survivors of Sexual Abuse, by Diane Langberg