Sexual Assault

Violence Against Women Is A Men’s Issue

Violence Against Women Is A Men’s Issue

Jackson Katz gave a TED talk on the issue of violence against women. Domestic violence and sexual abuse are often called “women’s issues.” But in his talk, Jackson points out that these are intrinsically men’s issues — and shows how these violent behaviors are tied to definitions of manhood. It’s a call for everybody — women and men — to call out unacceptable behavior and be leaders of change.

Jackson is one of my favorite authors and speakers. I assigned his book, Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, in a few of my courses when I taught at the University of Virginia. Students loved reading it. He also created the poster–“10 Things Men Can Do To Prevent Gender Violence“–which is also available in Spanish.


The Kidnapper and His Victims

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:


Organizations fighting sexual violence:

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ

Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well known international ministry and subsequent public statements by several evangelical leaders have angered and distressed many, both inside and outside of the Church. These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children. This is a longstanding problem in the Christian world, and we are deeply grieved by the failures of the American and global Church in responding to the issue of sexual abuse. We do not just believe we should do better; as those who claim the name of Jesus and the cause of the Gospel, we are convinced we must do better. In the hope that a time is coming when Christian leaders respond to all sexual abuse with outrage and courage, we offer this confession and declare the Good News of Jesus on behalf of the abused, ignored and forgotten.

Through the media we have been confronted with perpetual reports of grievous sexual abuse and its cover-up. Institutions ranging from the Catholic Church, various Protestant churches and missionary organizations, Penn State, Yeshiva University High School, the Boy Scouts, and all branches of our military have been rocked by allegations of abuse and of complicity in silencing the victims. And while many evangelical leaders have eagerly responded with outrage to those public scandals, we must now acknowledge long-silenced victims who are speaking out about sexual abuse in evangelical Christian institutions: schools, mission fields and churches, large and small. And we must confess we have done far too little to hear and help them.

Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Weisel, once said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim…silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy, school administrations, boards of directors, or military commanders have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the “little ones” – often children, but also others who are on the underside of power because of size, age, position or authority.

It goes without saying that sexual abuse is criminal, but within the Church we also believe that it is the work of the enemy of our souls — evil, horrific sin perpetrated in dark and hidden places, forever altering lives and destroying the faith of the abused. How could such evil be present and overlooked in the body of Christ? Surely as his followers, we would do everything in our power to expose the deeds of darkness, opening the mouths of the mute, the afflicted and the needy. The Church must never hinder those who so desperately need to run to God and his people for safety, hope and truth, while also providing them protection from the great deceiver.

But we have hindered the victims. By our silence and our efforts to protect our names and institutions and “missions,” we, the body of Christ, have often sided with an enemy whose sole purpose is and has always been to destroy the Lamb of God and his presence in this world. Our busyness and inattention have often resulted in complicity in allowing dark places that shelter abuse to fester and survive.

We must face the truths of our own teachings: To be a shepherd in the body of Christ and blind to the knowledge that your sheep are being abused by wolves in your midst is to be an inattentive shepherd. To judge merely by outward appearances is a failure of righteousness. To fail to obey the laws of the land as Scripture commands by declining to report and expose abuse is to be a disobedient shepherd. To be told that wolves are devouring our lambs and fail to protect those lambs is to be a shepherd who sides with the wolves who hinder those same little ones from coming to Jesus. To fail to grasp the massive web of deception entangling an abuser and set him or her loose among the sheep is to be naïve about the very nature and power of sin. To be told a child is being or has been abused and to make excuses for failing to act is a diabolical misrepresentation of God. To know a woman is being raped or battered in hidden places and silence her or send her back is to align with those who live as enemies of our God. Protecting an institution or organization rather than a living, breathing lamb is to love ministry more than God and to value a human name or institution more than the peerless name of Jesus.

Dear church of Jesus Christ, we must set aside every agenda but one: to gently lead every man, woman and child into the arms of our Good Shepherd, who gave his very life to rescue us from the clutches of our enemy and from sin and death — who rose from the dead and called us to the safety of his side. As we follow this Good Shepherd, we will “eliminate harmful beasts from the land, make places of blessing for the sheep, deliver them from their enslavers and make them secure in places where no one will make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34:25-28).  Surely it is for such a time as this that the Church has been empowered to boldly and bravely embody the Good News to accusers and accused alike, and to forsake our own comfort and position to love the hurting with an illogical extravagance.

To all who have been abused, broken, deceived and ignored, we have failed you and our God. We repent for looking nothing like our Lord when we have silenced you, ignored you or moved away from you and then acted as if you were the problem. You are not the problem; you are the voice of our God calling his church to repentance and humility. Thank you for having the courage to speak truth. May God have mercy on us all and oh may the day come when his church reflects the indescribable love and compassion of Jesus, even to the point of laying down our lives for his precious sheep.

Dated this 17th day of July, 2013.

Click here to add your voice and sign this statement along with those listed below.


Carol Ajamian – Retired Jim Arcieri Pastor of Community Bible Fellowship Church in Red Hill, PA

William S. Barker – Professor of Church History, Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Steve Brown – Professor, Emeritus of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary, President of Key Life Network, Inc., and Author

P. J. (“Flip”) Buys – Associate International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, South Africa

Rebecca Campbell –  Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Theological Seminary

Alan Chambers – Founder, Speak.Love

Kelly Clark – Attorney with the law firm of O’Donnell Clark and Crew, LLP in Portland, OR

Julie Clinton – President of Extraordinary Women

Tim Clinton – President of the American Association of Christian Counselors and Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Liberty University

Wentzel Coetzer – Professor of Theology at Northwest University (Potschefstroom, South Africa)

James Courtney – Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY

Margaret Courtney –  Co-Director of Family Ministries at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY

Glenn Davies – Bishop of North Sydney, Australia D. Clair Davis Chaplain at Redeemer Seminary

Chuck DeGroat – Associate Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary and Senior Fellow at Newbigin House

Mary DeMuth – Author and Blogger

David G. Dunbar – Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Diana S. Durrill – Pastor’s wife and Sexual abuse survivor

Michael J. Durrill – Pastor of Valley Community Church in Louisville, CO

William Edgar – Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Rob Edwards – Pastor of Mercy Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Forest, VA

Mr. Rinaldo Lotti Filho – Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil (Sao Paulo)

Elyse Fitzpatrick – Counselor and Author

Ryan Ferguson – Pastor of Community Connection at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC

E. Robert Geehan – Pastor of The Reformed Church in Poughkeepsie, NY (RCA)

Shannon Geiger – Counselor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Dallas, TX

Douglas Green – Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)

Fred Harrell – Senior Pastor of City Church in San Francisco, CA

Robert Heerdt – Chief Investment Officer at BenefitWorks, Inc.

Walter Henegar – Senior Pastor of Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Atlanta, GA

Craig Higgins – Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Westchester County, NY and North American Regional Coordinator for the World Reformed Fellowship

Justin Holcomb – Author and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary

Lindsey Holcomb – Author and former case manager for sexual assault crisis center

Peter Hubbard – Pastor of Teaching at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC

Carolyn James – President of WhitbyForum

Frank James – President of Biblical Theological Seminary

Karen Jansson – Board member of the World Reformed Fellowship Board Member and Treasurer of the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund, USA

Kathy Koch – President and Founder of Celebrate Kids

Matthew Lacey – Development Director for GRACE

David Lamb – Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary

Diane Langberg  – Clinical Psychologist and Author

Daniel N. LaValla – Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical Theological Seminary

Samuel Logan – International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and Special Counsel to the President at Biblical Theological Seminary

Tremper Longman – Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College

Kin Yip Louie – Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at China Graduate School of Theology

Fergus Macdonald – Past President of the United Bible Societies (Scotland)

Todd Mangum – Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Dan McCartney – Professor of New Testament at Redeemer Seminary

Scot McKnight – Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and Author

Jonathan Merritt – Faith and Culture writer

Pat Millen – Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Seminary

Philip Monroe – Professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Theological Seminary

Amy Norvell – Director of Classical Conversations in Bryan/College Station, TX, Pastor’s wife, and Sexual abuse survivor

Thad Norvell  -Pastor at Community Church in Bryan/College Station, TX K.

Eric Perrin – Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Cherry Hill, NJ

Michael Reagan – President of the Reagan Legacy Foundation

Matthew Redmond – Author

Nathan Rice – Director of Middle School Ministries at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Bellevue, WA

Tamara Rice – Freelance Writer and Editor

Adam L Saenz – Clinical Psychologist and Author

Karen L. Sawyer – Vice Chair and Chair Elect of the Board of Trustees, Biblical Theological Seminary and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Arcadia University

Scotty Smith – Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN

Ron Scates – Preaching Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Dallas, Texas

Andrew J. Schmutzer – Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute

Chris Seay – Pastor at Ecclesia in Houston, TX

Mike Sloan – Associate Pastor at Old Peachtree Presbyterian Church in DuLuth, GA

Basyle J. Tchividjian – Executive Director, GRACE and Associate Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law

Laura Thien – LMHC and Board Chairperson of the Julie Valentine Center in Greenville, SC

Jessica Thompson – Author

Rick Tyson – Senior Pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA

John Williams – Ruling Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Washington Island, WI

John Wilson – Pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Australia

William Paul Young – Author

The Importance of Being Believed for Sexual Abuse Victims

The Importance of Being Believed for Sexual Abuse Victims

Social psychology research on attitudes toward sexual assault has demonstrated that individuals in our society hold many prejudices about and negative views of sexual assault victims. Thus, victims often suffer not only from the trauma of the assault itself but also from the effects of these negative stereotypes. The result is that victims feel socially derogated and blamed following their sexual assault, which can prolong, continue, and intensify the substantial psychological and emotional distress the victim experiences. It is clear that negative reactions from family, friends, loved ones, and society have a harmful effect on victims.

Because sexual assault is a form of victimization that is particularly stigmatized in American society, many victims suffer in silence, which only intensifies their distress and disgrace. There appears to be a societal impulse to blame traumatized individuals for their suffering. One rationale is that this provides nonvictims with a false sense of security if they can place blame on victims rather than on perpetrators. Research findings suggest that blaming victims for post-traumatic symptoms is not only erroneous but also contributes to the vicious cycle of traumatization. Victims experiencing negative social reactions have poorer adjustment. Research has proven that “the only social reactions related to better  adjustment by victims were being believed and being listened to by others.”

This post is an excerpt from Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.


Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Books and articles on protecting children, training them, and caring for abused children.

The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the U.S. The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.

The campaign this year is child sexual abuse prevention. Here are some resources I wanted to make available on this issue.

Rid of My Disgrace

In honor of SAAM, the ebook edition of Rid of My Disgrace is available for $0.99 until Monday, April 8th.

Posts On Protecting Children

Recommended Reading On Training Your Children

Recommended Reading On Caring For Your Child If They Have Been Abused

Resources From GRACE

I serve on the board of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Their resource page has some helpful articles and videos:

The Respond Conference

Matt Chandler, Greg Love, Paul Tripp, and myself will speak at Respond—a free, one-day conference at The Village Church advocating a biblical response to sexual assault.





5 Ways You Can Teach Your Children About Their Sexual Development

5 Ways You Can Teach Your Children About Their Sexual Development

This post is by my wife, Lindsey.

As a parent, modeling respectful behaviors and boundaries and sharing age-appropriate information can counter unhealthy social norms around sexuality and relationships. Children are constantly learning social norms from peers and the media and it is your job to teach them what is expected or appropriate in interactions and relationships.

From infancy you can start talking about healthy childhood development. This may not be something natural for you, so you will need to learn about healthy childhood sexual development and age appropriate behaviors to better discuss unhealthy behaviors or abusive touch with your children.

To help get you started, here are five ways you can teach your children about their sexual development:

1. Create safe, positive, and open communication patterns, especially around sexuality and development. Your children will have lots of questions about their bodies, other people’s bodies, and life in general. Answer their questions with age-appropriate and candid responses. This will build confidence and trust with your child. Teach them that there are no secrets in the family and that they can always ask you anything and tell you everything. Instead of the word “secrets” use “surprises” when necessary. Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise.

2. Teach and use correct names of body parts, such as penis, vagina, breasts, bottom. You can begin this from infancy. It might be uncomfortable at first, but use the proper names of body parts. Children need to know the proper names for their genitals. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions that need to be asked, and for telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.

3. Initiate conversations with your child about relationships and their body. “When I was a little girl I had a lot of questions about my body parts and other people’s body parts. Do you have any questions you want to talk about?” Or “I know you like to play dress up at school or your friend’s house, but it’s not okay to take off your clothes to put on a costume unless you are at your house with mom or dad home. Do you understand why I say that?”

Also, let your child know they can tell you if anyone touches them in the private areas or in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable—no matter who the person is, or what the person says to them.

4. Promote healthy behaviors by praising your children when their behaviors model healthy friendships and respect for personal boundaries. “Brian, that was great when you listened when Sara said she wanted you to stop hugging her. That was a good way to respect your friend’s boundaries and stop when she asked you to.”

5. Model respectful boundaries with your children by teaching them from a young age that they are in control of their bodies and have a responsibility to respect the boundaries of others. “Most of the time you like to be hugged, snuggled, tickled, and kissed, but sometimes you don’t and that’s okay. You have a right to personal space, privacy, and boundaries. Let me know if anyone—myself, family member, friend, or anyone else—touches any part of your body or talks to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

If your son or daughter does not want to kiss or hug you or someone else do not force the exchange. Instead teach them to say, “No thank you.” They can give a high five or wave hello or goodbye. Encourage your child to seek help when something feels uncomfortable for them. It may take awhile for extended family members to catch on to this new trend in relating, so you as your child’s advocate will need to explain what is allowed and not allowed.


Pre-order our children’s book: God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

Child Sexual Abuse and the Church

Child Sexual Abuse and the Church

The Washington Post reported on a lawsuit accusing past and current leaders of  Sovereign Grace Ministries, a network of evangelical churches, of covering up alleged child sexual abuse and forcing children to “forgive” abusers.

Another article by The Washington Post reports on a statement made by Sovereign Grace Ministries that claims that permitting courts to second-guess advice given by the church to those involved could “represent a blow to the First Amendment.”

Whether the allegations are found to be true or not, it is a sobering reminder of how critically important it is to protect our children and to have vigilant, effective policies within our churches. Below are some important resources.

Posts on Protecting Children

Resources from G.R.A.C.E.

I serve on the board of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Their resource page has some helpful articles and videos:





Protect Your Children

Protect Your Children

Great Advice On Protecting Your Children

Recommended Reading On Training Your Children

Recommended Reading On Caring For Your Child If They Have Been Abused

Interview about Sexual Assault on the White Horse Inn

Interview about Sexual Assault on the White Horse Inn

Lindsey and I  were recently interviewed by Michael Horton on the White Horse Inn about sexual assault and how we can best apply the gospel of Christ to victims and the perpetrators. Here is a highlight from the interview.

Michael Horton: How do you talk about the fatherhood of God, when the [earthly] father is about the worst person in their life?

Justin Holcomb: Most victims have a voice screaming lies to them, and so our job is to do everything possible to proclaim the truth that undermines, annihilates, and shuts that voice up. And so going after the fatherhood of God is a great place to go because you get to say amazing things about the Father who loves them appropriately.

They have a foil. They hear things like, “When you have faith in Christ there is nothing you can ever do that will make him not want you and reject you.” Because of their horrible experience, it makes certain dimensions of the gospel presentation glimmer ever brighter for them. So we go straight to that and say, “He’s strong and powerful, but he never uses it against you because you are his child. You don’t have to earn anything, because you have an inheritance.” And so we pull out all of these great connections to the fatherhood of God. He is loving and powerful always accepts you. All of the “no” goes to Jesus, and all of the “yes” goes to you.

Go to The White Horse Inn for the entire interview or subscribe and listen to it from their podcast.



Are you uncertain how to respond with to sexual assault? Learn more about Respond’s free one-day conference.