Sexual Assault

Rape, Sexual Assault, and Consent

Rape, Sexual Assault, and Consent

Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes, and less than 40 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement.

This is because of the unique shame, fear, and embarrassment that sexual assault victims experience. All of this is then compounded by cultures of victim-blaming in which rape and assault victims are often said to be “asking for it” by dressing too provocatively, going out alone too late at night, or drinking too much. The victim-blaming impulse shows up every time stories of sexual assault appear in the news.

Defining assault and consent

With the prevalence of sexual violence, it is important to have a clear definition of sexual assault and consent. Many victims are not sure if what happened to them was assault, and the shame and pressure to remain silent lead to a recurring cycle of traumatization.

“Sexual assault” is the current legal term that replaced the narrow definition of rape, though some states use the terms interchangeably. In Rid of My Disgrace, a book I wrote with my wife, our definition of sexual assault is: any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority.

A key concept in all of these cases of sexual assault is that the victim did not consent to the sexual contact.

What is consent?

Consent is when an individual is freely able to make a choice based upon respect and equal power, and with the understanding that there is the freedom to change her or his mind at any time. To judge whether a sexual act is assault, we ask: (1) Are both people old enough to consent? (2) Do both people have the capacity to consent? (3) Did both agree to the sexual contact? If any of these are answered “no,” it is likely that sexual assault has occurred.

Consent requires communicating “yes” to engaging in a particular act. Consent is not given when one person says “no,” says nothing, is coerced, is physically forced, is mentally or physically helpless, is intoxicated, is under the influence of drugs, or is unconscious. Having given consent on a previous occasion does not mean that a person has consented for any future encounter. The law generally assumes that a person does not consent to sexual conduct if he or she is forced, threatened or is unconscious, drugged, a minor, developmentally disabled, chronically mentally ill, or believe they are undergoing a medical procedure.

Prevalence

Sexual assault affects millions of women, men, and children worldwide. Though its prevalence is difficult to determine exactly (because of under-reporting), the statistics are still overwhelmingly high: One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetimes.

According to the Bureau of Justice, women 16 to 19 years old have the highest rate of sexual victimization of any age group. Statistics show that 15 percent of sexual assault victims are under age 12 years old, 29 percent are ages 12 to 17, and 80 percent are under age 30. The highest risk years are ages 12 to 34, and girls ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault.

Shedding light on the truth

For victims, acknowledging and naming what happened to you is an important step in the healing process. For everyone else, greater awareness of the culture of violence and exploitation of women and children is essential so we can work to fight this evil and care for those around us who have been victimized.

White Horse Inn: “Sexual Abuse & the Gospel Grace”

White Horse Inn: “Sexual Abuse & the Gospel Grace”

Lindsey and I were guests on the White Horse Inn podcast and interviewed by our friend, Dr. Michael Horton.

The interview is on iTunes. Here is the information on the interview from their blog:

According to a host of recent indicators, sexual assault is on the rise, and unfortunately it appears to be occurring just as frequently inside the church as it is in the outside world. So how are we to deal with this growing challenge? More importantly, how are we to apply the gospel of grace to both victims and perpetrators of this type of abuse? On this program Michael Horton discusses this issue at length with Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, authors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.

Jesus And Violence Against Children

Jesus And Violence Against Children

We are regularly faced with the horror and prevalence of violence against children:

  • Almost half of all sexual abuse victims are children: 15 percent of sexual assault victims are under age twelve, and 29 percent are ages twelve to seventeen.
  • Studies suggest that up to 10 million children in the U.S. witness some form of domestic violence annually and approximately half of them are also victims of domestic violence.
  • Children are also the victims of sex trafficking at horrific rates: In the U.S., the average age of entry into prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that over 300,000 American children are at risk for sexual exploitation, and that an estimated 199,000 incidents of sexual exploitation of minors occur every year within the United States.
  • The global market of child trafficking is over $12 billion a year, with over 1.2 million child victims. Child trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world.
  • From 600,000–800,000 people are bought and sold across international borders each year; 50% are children, most are female. The majority of these victims are forced into the commercial sex trade.
  • Today, as many as 300,000 children, some as young as eight years old, serve in armed government or rebel forces around the world.

The only thing more staggering than the prevalence of this violence is the acute emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage done to the children who experience it.

In light of all this, it’s important to look at Scripture and see how God feels about children and wants them to be treated.

Jesus and children

In his ministry, Jesus showed striking interest in and love for children. To the surprise of his disciples, he often including them in his teaching: “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt 19:13–14). When the disciples came to Jesus asking him which one of them was going to be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom, Jesus called a child to himself (Matt. 18:2) and said, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:4). Jesus went on, telling his followers that part of their duty is to receive little children: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (Matt. 18:5).

In Mark 10, Jesus upholds childlike faith as admirable: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15; cf. Luke 18:17).

Jesus wants his followers to honor, protect, and care for those among them who are small and vulnerable, especially children. Part of Jesus’ ministry on earth involved healing children. In Mark 5:39, Jesus came into the house of a ruler of the synagogue, whose daughter had just died. Jesus said that she was not dead, but only sleeping. After they laughed at him, Jesus said to the child, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41; cf. Luke 8:54). Mark recounts what happened next: “And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement” (Mark 5:42). Similarly, in Mark 9, Jesus encounters a young boy who had been having demonic attacks. Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of him (Mark 9:25) and the boy fell down as if he were dead. Jesus took him by the hand and he was healed (Mark 9:27). Jesus, who calls himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), brings life and healing to children.

Jesus wants his followers to honor, protect, and care for those among them who are small and vulnerable, especially children.

God’s care for children

The tenderness and care Jesus showed for children is an expression of God’s heart toward the small, the weak, and the vulnerable, as seen throughout the Old Testament.

Part of God’s law, given at Mt. Sinai, was that no one should “mistreat any widow or fatherless child” (Ex. 22:22). Indeed, God is one who “executes justice for the fatherless” (Deut. 10:18) and curses anyone who perverts the justice due to orphans (Deut. 27:19). The Lord says that no one should do wrong or be violent towards innocent children and orphans (Jer. 22:3). Not only does God want his people to love and care for children, but they are called to do everything in their power to stop those who try to hurt, abuse, or oppress them. “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). Children are a gift from God (Ps. 127:3) and a blessing, and are to be loved, disciplined, and cared for.

Response

As we react to the shock and horror of violence against children, we should mediate on Jesus’ love and care for children. But God’s love should do more than just make us feel better—it should lead us to imitate his care for children, take action against evil like this, and pray for God’s peace and salvation to cover the earth.

Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

GMMcover You can pre-order our new children’s book, God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies.

Elimination Of Violence Against Women

Elimination Of Violence Against Women

Each year, the United Nations designates November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explains,

Violence against women and girls takes many forms and is widespread throughout the globe. It includes rape, domestic violence, harassment at work, abuse in school, female genital mutilation, and sexual violence in armed conflicts. It is predominantly inflicted by men. Whether in developing or developed countries, the pervasiveness of this violence should shock us all. Violence–and in many cases the mere threat of it–is one of the most significant barriers to women’s full equality.

The Bible teaches us that because of sin, suffering and violence entered the world. One expression of sin which is seen throughout Scripture and human history is the pervasive male domination of and violence against women. Here are some of the numerous ways that women around the world continue to experience violence and oppression.

Domestic violence

Women and children are the predominant victims of domestic violence, which is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior—physical, sexual, emotional, and/or verbal—used by one individual to maintain power and control over a partner in an intimate relationship. In the United States, every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Nearly 33% of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner, and domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority. Sexual assault affects millions of women, men, and children worldwide: One in four women and one in six men are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetimes. Most victims of sexual assault are female, and those responsible for sexual assaults are predominantly male and usually someone the victim knows.

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. It is the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or taking of people by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception for the purpose of exploiting them. Victims of trafficking are forced into labor or sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves many kinds of sexual exploitation such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. The U.S. State Department estimates there are about 12.3 million adults and children “in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world.”

Rape in warfare

There is a long history of rape being used in war as an effective weapon to create fear, shame, and demoralization among the victims and their communities. During war, women and girls have been systematically beaten, raped, and mutilated, often in front of family, as part of a strategy to exert dominance and bring about cultural and ethnic devastation. Rape in warfare is used as a reward and morale-booster for soldiers and also as punishment for civilian communities who resist armed aggressors.

Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, is a traditional ritual practiced in some regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The term refers to procedures involving removal of the external female genitalia or other cutting of the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. There are many negative health consequences including pain, infections, and difficulty with urination, sexual activity, and childbearing. An estimated 140 million women and girls have undergone the procedure, and an estimated 3 million girls will experience it every year.

Girl soldiers

Today, as many as 300,000 children, some as young as eight years old, serve in armed government or rebel forces around the world. Child soldiers have been reported in many regions, but they are most prevalent in Africa. Children are either forcibly recruited or “volunteer” out of threat, desperation, and lack of alternatives. Child soldiers are sometimes forced to commit atrocities against their own family or neighbors to make sure they can never return to their community. About thirty percent of child soldiers are estimated to be girls. In addition to being involved in combat, girl soldiers are frequently subjected to rape and sexual violence, or given to military commanders as “wives.”

Jesus cares for the oppressed

Male domination over and exploitation of women, in any form, should be resisted because it is evil. God calls his people to stand with the vulnerable and powerless and to resist those who use their power to oppress and harm others. While this is taught throughout the Bible, we see it most clearly in the ministry of Jesus, who gave special care to women and children.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:17

In making this declaration and in his ministry Jesus showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed is at the very center of his mission. His ultimate act of liberation was his sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, which set his people free from slavery to sin and death. Yet his teaching and his example show us that the good news of Christ’s saving work should be accompanied by tangible love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors if the gospel message is to be recognized in its full power.

Todd Akin, ‘Legitimate Rape,’ and Gospel Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault

Todd Akin, ‘Legitimate Rape,’ and Gospel Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault

This article originally appeared in Christianity Today.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin and U.S. Senate candidates started a national discussion about sexual assault this week after Akin’s offensive—or, at least, poor—choice of words in an interview Sunday night.

The Missouri Congressman, who attends a PCA church, said to a St. Louis TV anchor that a woman’s body is capable of preventing pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” He claimed a woman’s body can typically fend off pregnancy during a “legitimate rape” as he argued against allowing abortions in cases of rape, claiming such pregnancies are uncommon in the first place.

Rep. Akin’s direct statement is as follows:

It seems to me first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.

Akin later apologized, saying he was referring to “forcible rape” and acknowledged that women “do become pregnant” during such instances. But his comments revealed some clear misconceptions about rape and pregnancy that are worth clearing up.

Regardless of what one thinks about Akin’s comment and the ensuing ire from the public, the story provides an opportunity for us as Christians to better understand what rape and sexual assault really are, and to know how to respond with theological wisdom when someone we know becomes a victim.

 

Research

Based on statistics, you likely know a victim of sexual assault: At least one in four women and one in six men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. According to most recent statistics, every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted, and there are nearly 250,000 victims (age 12 or older) of sexual assault every year. Moreover, every year in the U.S., more than 30,000 women become pregnant as a result of rape. Not only can rape result in pregnancy, some studies show that it also may lead to higher rates of pregnancy than consensual sex.

Some research reports that the rate at which women get pregnant after an incident of sexual assault can be more than double that of a single act of consensual sex. In an article in the journal Human Nature, the per-incident rape-pregnancy rate was 6.42 percent, and as high as 7.98 percent with statistical correction. Of women having consensual sex, the per-incident pregnancy rate was 3.1 percent.

Because of this recent controversy, many are discussing sexual assault and the importance of defining it. They implications for this are enormous for victims and those who love and support them as well as for broader politics, policies, and the justice system.

Sexual assault is not just rape by a stranger with a weapon. Approximately 80 percent of victims are assaulted by an acquaintance: a relative, spouse, dating partner, friend, pastor, teacher, boss, coach, therapist, or doctor. And sexual assault is not just rape itself; it is any form of nonconsensual sexual contact.

Many victims experience the effects of sexual assault, but feel isolated or confused because they believe misconceptions of what sexual assault entails. This may result in feelings of self-blame, denial, shame, guilt, anger, distorted self-image, and despair.

I (Justin) have taught courses on sexual violence as well as counseled numerous victims of sexual assault as a pastor. I (Lindsey) have counseled victims of sexual assault while working at a crisis center as well as a domestic violence shelter. My graduate research was on sexual violence and public health responses. Together, we wrote Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.

Our definition of sexual assault is any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained, and which is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority (Rid of My Disgrace, 28). This definition gets beyond our society’s narrow understanding of the issue and expands the spectrum of actions that should rightfully be recognized as sexual assault.

The reasoning behind our comprehensive definition of sexual assault is manifold. First, clarity helps victims know that they are not alone in their experience. Second, victims would be more motivated to report if they knew that what happened to them was a crime. Third, a clear definition would reduce myths and victim-blaming. Fourth, it would also enable more services to be established to help victims of such an extremely violating crime, in addition to educating authorities on how to properly handle such a sensitive topic. Fifth, surveys and studies indicate that most people know almost nothing about the dynamics of sexual violence and have little or no experience in dealing with it.

When defining sexual assault as any sexual act that is nonconsensual—forced against someone’s will—it is important to understand that the “acts” can be physical, verbal, or psychological.

Sexual assault occurs along a continuum of power and control ranging from noncontact sexual assault to forced sexual intercourse. Sexual assault includes acts such as nonconsensual sexual intercourse (rape), nonconsensual sodomy (oral or anal sexual acts), child molestation, incest, fondling, exposure, voyeurism, or attempts to commit these acts. The definition of rape, in contrast, is straightforward in nature. As defined in the American Journal of Psychiatry, rape is “forced sexual intercourse that may be heterosexual or homosexual which involves insertion of an erect penis or an inanimate object into the female vagina or the male anus; in both sexes, rape may also include forced oral or anal penetration.”

Another significant issue is consent. Consent is when an individual is freely able to make a choice based upon respect and equal power, and with the understanding that there is the freedom to change her or his mind at any point. There are three main considerations in judging whether a sexual act is consensual or an assault. First, are both people old enough to consent? Second, do both people have the capacity to consent? Third, did both agree to the sexual contact? If any of these are answered “no,” it is likely that sexual assault has occurred. A person does not consent to sexual conduct if he or she is forced, threatened, or is unconscious, drugged, a minor, developmentally disabled, mentally ill, or believes they are undergoing a medical procedure.

 

Ignorance and Victim-Blaming

Akin’s comments reflect the common responses victims encounter—suspicious questions, doubt, victim blaming, bad science, and ignorance. These responses leave many victims feeling isolated and confused.

Because of the special attention paid to nuancing the type of assault—“legitimate” or “forcible”—for partisanship purposes, many victims feel blamed and as if they do not fit into the rigid qualifications of rape or sexual assault. This will cause some victims of assault and those who should be supporting them to downplay their horrible experience.

Akin’s ignorant comments and much of the political discourse that follows to defend or explain his statement will perpetuate the non-compassionate and misinformed response most victims receive, and will only intensify their pain.

Social psychology research on attitudes toward sexual assault has demonstrated that people 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.

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. Negative reactions to sexual assault victims, such as attributing blame or responsibility to the victim, generally have been found to be greater for assaults by acquaintances (and especially dates), sexually active victims, less “respectable” victims, nonresisting victims, assaults in which victims used alcohol prior to the assault, and assaults in which victims engaged in nonstereotypical gender-role behavior prior to attack.

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.”

  

A Theology of Sin, Violence, and Sexual Assault

Victims are not just statistics, but humans created in the image of God who experience a wide range of physical, emotional, psychological, and physiological effects.  The emotional effects of sexual assault are not just brain chemicals and physiological responses to stimuli, but they reveal what you believe about God, yourself, your experience of sexual assault, others, and the world.

The gospel of Jesus offers new emotions to victims, and ways to relate to their current emotions. Grace offers to victims the gift of refuting distortions and faulty thinking and replacing their condemning, counterfactual beliefs with more accurate ones that reflect the truths about God, themselves, and God’s grace-filled response to their disgrace.

Before we explore what God says in scripture about sexual assault and its effects, we must investigate what the Bible says about sexual assault, evil, and violence. Far from being a peripheral issue in the Bible, sexual assault is:

  • clearly depicted as a sin against the victim and God
  • mentioned frequently throughout the Bible
  • referred to as a symbol of how badly sin has corrupted God’s good creation
  • understood as a severe distortion of God’s plan for sex 

 

It is clear in the Bible that sexual assault is a sin against another person involving a physical, psychological, and emotional violation. Sexual assault is also a sin against God because the blessing of sexuality is used to destroy instead of build intimacy, and because it is an attack against God’s image in his image-bearers. Sexual assault is a sin against God because it violates his most sacred creation—human beings made in his image.

It is important to address the effects of sexual assault with the biblical message of grace and redemption. Between the Bible’s bookends of creation and restored creation is the unfolding story of redemption. According to the Old Testament, creation begins in harmony, unity, and peace (shalom) with God, other human beings, and nature, but redemption was needed because tragically, humanity sinned against God and his word and the result was disgrace and destruction—the “vandalism of shalom,” as Cornelius Plantinga calls it. This violation of shalom was a moment of cosmic treason before God, and plunged humankind into a relational abyss. Sin wrecks the order and goodness of God’s world, inverts love for God, which in turn becomes idolatry, and inverts love for neighbor, which becomes exploitation of others. Sin has defiled what ought to be.

Sex, the very expression of human union and peace, given by God to be pleasurable, intimacy-building in marriage, and the means by which his image-bearers would be spread throughout his good world, becomes a tool for violence after the Fall. Sexual assault is one of the most frequent and disturbing symbols of sin in the Bible. It is uniquely devastating precisely because it distorts the foundational realities of what it means to be human: sexual expression is perverted and used for violence, intra-personal trust is shattered, and disgrace and shame are heaped on the victim. Sexual assault creates in the victim’s mind a tragic and perverse linkage between sex, intimacy, and shame. It can influence how victims feel about themselves, how they understand connections and boundaries with others, and ultimately, how they relate to God.

But God does not leave humanity alone. Throughout the Old Testament, he promises to restore shalom through the promised Messiah of Israel and the hope of the world.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ occupies the central place in the New Testament, as the message of first importance. God’s desire for shalom and his response to violence culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The restoration of shalom is fully expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and its scope is as “far as the curse is found.” Jesus Christ came into this violent world that was shattered by sin, and he suffered a violent death at the hands of violent men in order to save rebellious sinners, rescuing them from divine wrath, and supplying them with divine peace, mercy, grace, and love. The cross is God’s attack on sin and violence; it is salvation from sin and its effects. The cross really is a coup de grace, meaning “stroke of grace,” which refers to the deathblow delivered to the misery of our suffering. The sinless one suffered disgrace, in order to bring sinners grace. The resurrection is the vindication that shalom has been restored. Jesus is the redemptive work of God in our own history, in our own human flesh.

Trusting Jesus isn’t a faint hope in generic spiritual sentiments, but is banking our hope and future on the real historical Jesus who lived, died, and rose from the dead. Grace is available because Jesus went through the valley of the shadow of death and rose from death. Jesus responds to victims’ pain and past. The gospel engages our life with all its pain, shame, rejection, lostness, sin, and death.

So now, to your pain, the gospel says, “You will be healed.” To your shame, the gospel says, “You can now come to God in confidence.” To your rejection, the gospel says, “You are accepted!” To your lostness, the gospel says, “You are found and I won’t ever let you go.” To your sin, the gospel says, “You are forgiven and God declares you pure and righteous.” To your death, the gospel says, “You were dead, but now you are alive.” The message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to disgrace.

  

Hope and Healing

Naming and describing the evil of sexual assault does not in itself accomplish healing for victims. However, it does provide clarity regarding sexual assault, and it allows for acknowledgment. If sexual assault is not defined, named, or described, then it remains hidden.

Telling the truth about sexual assault by acknowledging the traumatic experience is one important aspect of healing, but it is not the whole picture. Further healing comes as victims are able to interpret the effect of what happened to them within a larger pattern of meaning. The first step toward doing this is to look closely at the effects of sexual assault and the accompanying emotions.

Hopefully, this recent controversy will cause people to see that there is an epidemic of sexual assault, and victims need the kind of hope and help that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide. Tragically, most churches and Christians are woefully unprepared to help the one in four women and one in six men who have been abused sexually. Worse still, many Christian leaders (including parents) are ignorant of this epidemic because ashamed victims are reticent to simply declare what has been done to them, and untrained leaders do not recognize the signs of sexual assault or know how to inquire lovingly of victims.

What victims need is practical victim advocacy with biblical and theological depth, not the platitudes, suspicious questions, bad science, and shallow theology that is so prevalent.

We hope that while this controversy plays out politically it will encourage victims to ask for help, and that they will receive gospel-based help, hope, and healing. Thankfully, because of this controversy the issue of sexual assault is now a national discussion. This should encourage family and friends of victims as well as church leaders to learn how to respond and care for victims in ways that are compassionate, practical, and informed.

The disgrace that results from sexual assault has a way of grinding people down and heaping huge burdens on them.  Because of it people feel lonely, filthy, worthless, repulsive, hopeless, and unwanted. Our hope is that God will use the clear Gospel message to eliminate that disgrace and its effects. What victims need is for God to be strong when they are weak and for him to be close to the brokenhearted. We want people to experience God fulfilling his promises to them. We pray that God uses this controversy to heal victims and to apply the grace from Jesus deeper than the wounds people have experienced.

 

Grace for Victims

We pray that thousands of victims of sexual assault will hear the biblical message of grace and redemption. To victims, who know too well the depths of destruction and the overwhelming sense of disgrace, we want to communicate this message of grace:

What happened to you was not your fault. You are not to blame. You did not deserve it. You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. Nobody had the right to violate you. You are not responsible for what happened to you. You are not damaged goods. You were supposed to be treated with dignity and respect. You were the victim of assault and it was wrong. You were sinned against. Despite all the pain, healing can happen and there is hope. (Rid of My Disgrace, 15)

 

Jesus responds to your pain and past. Your story does not end with the assault. Your life was intended for more than shame, guilt, despair, pain, and denial. The assault does not define you or have the last word on your identity. Yes, it is part of your story, but not the end of your story. The message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to your sense of disgrace.

 

Recommended Reading

Confronting Your Abuser

Confronting Your Abuser

Since writing Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault, we have had the privilege of answering lots of questions from victims, those who support them, and even some perpetrators.

A frequent topic that has come up is confronting one’s abuser and those complicit in covering it up. While confrontation with an abuser may seem like the right thing to do, it is different for each person. For some it might be a great thing to do. They may confront their abuser, receive an apology, and feel a sense of freedom or closure. However, for others, confrontation may only worsen the effects of the assault.

There are five common questions regarding confronting a perpetrator. Before we answer those specific questions, we will summarize a few facts about sexual assault.

Prevalence

Sexual assault is an epidemic, and victims need the kind of hope and help that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide. The number of occurrences of sexual assaults is staggering, and it is much more common than most people know. At least one in four women and one in six men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. And these statistics are probably underestimates.

Approximately 80 percent of victims are assaulted by someone they know (a relative, spouse, dating partner, friend, pastor, teacher, boss, coach, therapist, doctor, etc.). This means that it is likely that many victims will see or interact with the perpetrator again after the assault.

 

Perpetrators

Predominately, perpetrators responsible for sexual assaults are male and are usually someone the victim knows. Although strangers are stereotyped as perpetrators of sexual assault, a high percentage of offenders are acquaintances of the victim. Most sexual assault perpetrators are white, educated, middle-class men.

If individuals who commit sexual assault offenses are not apprehended and prosecuted, they will likely continue to commit sexual offenses. One widely recognized study found that 126 admitted perpetrators had committed 907 sexual assaults involving 882 different victims. The more sex offenders that are apprehended and prosecuted, the fewer victims of sexual assault there will be.

 

Questions 1: What are key indicators that a victim is ready to confront the abuser?

The first key indicator is that the victim has acknowledged what has happened to them and is not denying or minimizing the pain that occurred and remains. Initially, denial can slow the process down to create a buffer or safety zone so survivors can begin to cope with difficult emotions. However, instead of lessening suffering, too much denial and minimization may increase the pain. Denial does not allow the victims to deal with the severe mental and emotional tolls, the psychological destruction, and the traumatic effects of the assault.

Naming and describing the evil done does not ensure automatic personal healing. However, it does provide clarity regarding sexual assault, and it allows for acknowledgment. If sexual assault is not defined, named, or described, then it remains hidden. Telling the truth about sexual assault by acknowledging the traumatic experience is one important aspect of healing. The only way to move from denial, isolation, and self-protection is to look honestly at the assault that has been committed. Healing begins when the secret is disclosed and the shackles of silence are broken.

A second indicator is that a victim wants to confront their abuser. This is very important. Sometimes victims consider confronting their abuser at the urging of others. It is important that victims are not pressured, coerced, manipulated, or forced into confronting their victim by any one for any reason. Their will was violated once, and it should not be threatened again by those who are to support them. Many victims will never want to confront their abuser, and that is completely understandable and should be supported. Victims need to be empowered, not told what they should do or have decisions made on their behalf. So we would want to know if the victim desires to confront or if they are doing it for someone else. Desire to confront is a key indicator.

A third indicator is that the primary goal of the confrontation is truth and justice, not vengeance. This one can be tricky because anger, which is a valid and appropriate response to being assaulted, can feel similar to vengeance—but they are very different. Sexual assault creates anger at what has been done. While anger can be a natural and healthy response to the unquestionable evil of sexual assault, most victims express it poorly or feel they have to suppress it. Most victims have probably been discouraged from expressing anger, and suppressed anger holds them hostage and leaves them feeling vindictive, addicted, embittered, immoral, and unbelieving.

God is angrier over the sexual assault committed than anyone else. He is angry because what happened was evil and destructive. Godly anger is participating in God’s anger against injustice and sin, crying out to him to do what he promised: destroy evil and demolish everything that harms others and defames God’s name.

Anger expressed to God is the cry of the weak one who trusts the strong One, the hurting person who trusts the One who will make it all better. Because vengeance is God’s, victims can be free from the exhaustive cycle of vindictive anger.

Not seeking vengeance does not mean we are not angry, or that we avoid the truth, or that we do not seek justice. Many Christians mistakenly assume that not seeking vengeance means never feeling pain, anger, or a desire for revenge. It does not mean that painful memories of the past are wiped away, nor does it mean that a desire for justice is ignored. It is possible to relentlessly pursue justice without falling into the temptation to pervert it into injustice.

Not seeking vengeance is not sanctioning the violence they did to you. It does not mean victims do not participate in activities that impose consequences on evil behavior, such as calling the police, filing reports, church discipline, and criminal proceedings.

 

Question 2: What are common unmet expectations from confronting an abuser?

One expectation that is commonly unmet is that the perpetrator will apologize, repent, and ask for forgiveness. While that may occur, confrontations are frequently met with lies, denial, accusations, and a defensive tone.

Another commonly unmet expectation is that the abuser will gently listen and express some sense of remorse. Instead, those who commit sexual assault often engage in a distorted power dynamic because they have very poor self-image and desire to maintain power over another individual. It is possible that your abuser will not react well to being confronted and out of their realm of control. This is why it is always a good idea to not confront your abuser alone.

Some victims hope that the abuser will acknowledge some wrong-doing, even if they don’t admit to sexual assault. Oftentimes abusers have justified their actions for so long that they don’t consider what they did as abuse. This can result in the abuser denying the claim against them.

Another expectation that is commonly unmet is that it will feel fulfilling or bring closure. Confronting an abuser gives victims a chance to express exactly how they feel about what was done to them. Many victims do feel a sense of fulfillment, strength, healing, freedom, and standing up for themselves,  but those experiences are not guaranteed, no matter how well or poorly the abuser responds.

Most victims expect to not be blamed by the abuser. Tragically, there appears to be a societal impulse to blame traumatized individuals for their suffering. Victim blaming is especially common among perpetrators. Many perpetrators inflict verbal and psychological abuse on their victims by degrading, insulting, and blaming them for the assault. Confronting the perpetrator could make victims susceptible to further emotional and verbal abuse.

Some victims expect to get satisfying answers to questions such as “Why did you hurt me like you did?” or “Do you have any idea how much what you did hurt and affected my life?” While some perpetrators may provide answers that are satisfying, most will lie, deny, not answer, ramble, or try to justify what they did.

 

Question 3: What should I consider in planning to confront my abuser, and how should I do it?

Focus on doing the confrontation for yourself, not for the response you want to receive.

Establish the boundaries, pick the time and place so it is comfortable, convenient and safe for you.

Be prepared to feel again some of the painful emotions and other effects of the assault. Confronting is not easy because memory know no time, and confronting can cause victims to remember the assault and feel the pain all over again.

Work with a pastor, friends, family member, counselor or someone you trust, and role-play before the encounter. Write out the main points you want to make and memorize them or bring notes with you. Keep in mind that the goal of the confrontation is to say what you want to say and ask for what you want.

Know what you want to say. We encourage people to write down what they want to say so they can communicate it clearly. Just being near the perpetrator can cause a flood of many different emotions that could significantly influence how and what is communicated if it is not written down.

Call it what it was: a serious sin and crime. It wasn’t an “unfortunate occurrence” or a “misunderstanding” or “something to get over.”

Do not confront your abuser alone. Even if you aren’t concerned about safety issues, it is still a good idea to have a support person there with you before, during, and after the encounter.

Oftentimes it is not possible for a victim to confront the abuser because the individual is unknown, deceased, in prison, not safe, geographically distant, or missing. You can still engage in a form of confrontation by writing a letter or visiting their gravesite.

 

Question 4: Justin, as a pastor, what have you said to perpetrators of sexual assault?

I’ve said something like this before:

“Sexual assault is a sin and a crime. You have committed a serious sin and crime.

“First, for your sin, you need forgiveness. Trust in Jesus because he died in your place and for your sin of sexual assault and all other sins. On the cross, he was treated like a criminal so you could place your trust in him and be declared righteous, forgiven, and innocent before God. There is no sin beyond the grace of Jesus. You can’t out-sin his abounding grace.

“Second, for your crime you deserve justice and need to make restitution. This means you will need to turn yourself in to the proper authorities. You also need to repent and apologize to the person or people you sinned against. Put it in writing first so they don’t have to see you unless they want to. Offer to meet with them and any family or friends they want present if they want to confront you on person. Offer to pay for the counseling they endured because of your crime.”

 

Question 5: What kind of advice would you give to a forgiving victim and a repentant offender who are mutually interested in reconciliation? If both parties were interested in experiencing healing of their relationship, what kind of guidance would you give?

Forgiveness and reconciliation are miracles. So, the first thing is to acknowledge that a desire to forgive and reconcile is a gift from God. God was in the business of reconciling us to him even while we were still enemies of God and committing cosmic treason. Only experiencing the forgiveness of God provides the deepest motivation and ability to forgive others.

But that doesn’t mean the victim should be forced into interaction with the perpetrator if they don’t feel safe. Be patient and very aware of how the victim feels. The fracture in the relationship was severe, so healing and building trust can take a long time. Go at the victim’s speed and listen to their concerns and needs. Their will was violated in the assault, and they should not have it violated again in the healing process. Offenders don’t get to dictate what they want in the process.

Be hopeful that God makes sinners into new creations. The perpetrator, if they trust in Christ, is forgiven, but the consequences of their sin could last for a lifetime (such as registering as a sex-offender, divorce, and not being able to see the grand-children alone). While celebrating the fact that sinners are made new, err on the side of caution in pursuing renewal of the relationship between a victim and their assailant.

Involve others in this process. A husband who assaults his wife doesn’t have a right to privacy in marriage anymore, and others need to be involved. Be wise and pursue healing of the relationship with a pastor, counselor, and others who can give support to the victim and be involved in the relationship as an advocate for the victim. Accountability and involvement of others is crucial.

 

For more on the topic of hope and healing for sexual assault victims, read Justin and Lindsey’s book Rid of My Disgrace or their blog posts on the topic.

 

8 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse

8 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse

This post is by my wife, Lindsey.
 

We wrote our book, Rid Of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing For Sexual Assault Victims, because it is an important and prevalent issue as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been or will be assaulted during their lifetime. Heartbreakingly, many of the victims of this epidemic are children: 15% of those assaulted are under age 12, and 29% are between ages 12 to 17. Girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault. Here are eight ways you as a parent can protect your children from sexual abuse.

1. Explain to your child that God made their body

An explanation can look something like, “Every part of your body is good, and some parts of your body are private.”

2. Teach proper names of private body parts

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.

Clearly identify for your child which parts of their anatomy are private. Explain to your child that “some places on your body should never be touched by other people—except when you need help in the bathroom, or are getting dressed, or when you go to the doctor.” You can do this with young children during bath time or have your child dress in a bathing suit and show them that all areas covered by a bathing suit are “private.” The bathing suit analogy can be a bit misleading because it fails to mention that other parts of the body can be touched inappropriately (like mouth, legs, neck, arms), but it is a good start for little ones to understand the concept of private parts.

3. Invite your child’s communication

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 (even areas not covered by the bathing suit)—no matter who the person is, or what the person says to them. Assure your child they will not be in trouble if they tell you they’ve been touched inappropriately—rather, you will be proud of them for telling you and will help them through the situation.

4. Differentiate between good touch and bad touch

Be clear with adults and children about the difference between OK touch and inappropriate touch. Most of the time you like to be hugged, snuggled, tickled, and kissed, but sometimes you don’t and that’s ok. Let me know if anyone—family member, friend, or anyone else—touches you or talks to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Teach little ones how to say “stop,” “all done,” and “no more.” You can reiterate this by stopping immediately when your child expresses that they are all done with the hugging or tickling. Your reaction is noteworthy for them as it demonstrates they have control over their bodies and desires.

If there are extended family members who may have a hard time understanding your family boundaries, you can explain that you are helping your children understand their ability to say no to unwanted touch, which will help them if anyone ever tries to hurt them. For example if your child does not want to kiss Grandpa, let them give a high five or handshake instead.

5. Don’t ask your child to maintain your emotions

Without thinking, we sometimes ask a child something along the lines of, “I’m sad, can I have a hug?” While this may be innocent in intent, it sets the child up to feel responsible for your emotions and state of being: “Mom is sad . . . I need to cheer her up.” If someone wanted to abuse a child they might use similar language to have the child “help” them feel better and the child might rationalize it as acceptable if this is something they do innocently with you.

6. Throw out the word “secret”

Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise. Surprises are joyful and generate excitement, because in just a little while something will be unveiled that will bring great delight. Secrets, in contrast, cause isolation and exclusion. When it becomes customary to keep secrets with just one individual, children are more susceptible to abuse. Perpetrators frequently ask their victims to keep things “secret” just between them.7. Identify whom to trust.

7. Identify whom to trust

Sit down with your kids and talk about whom you and they trust. Then give them permission to talk with these trustworthy adults whenever they feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused about someone’s behavior toward them.

8. Report suspected abuse immediately

You’ve read these steps, now consider yourself an advocate against childhood sexual abuse. Report anything you know or suspect might be sexual abuse. If you don’t, it’s possible no one else will.

 

Advice for Pastors in Caring for Victims of Sexual Assault

Advice for Pastors in Caring for Victims of Sexual Assault

 

This interview was part of DG Live where Desiring God talks with authors and pastors. A friend was kind enough to layout an outline below, so if you see a part that strikes you, you can jump straight to it. To watch the video of the interview, go here.

 


 

Lindsey and I wrote Rid of My Disgrace, a book for victims of sexual assault. Pastors should assume that 1 in 5 of their congregants is suffering or has suffered as a victim of sexual assault–and be prepared to counsel and care for those hurting with the hope of the gospel.

Here’s the stats quoted for you to think about as you look out over your people:

  • 10-14% of marriages are dealing with sexual assault
  • 1 in 4 women are victims of sexual assault
  • 1 in 6 men are victims of sexual assault
  • 10% of children have experienced incest (not just sexual assault)
  • 16-19 year old girls are 4 times more likely than the general population to be assaulted
  • 80% of sexual assault victims are under 30 years old
  • 15-20% of victims are under the age of 12

 

Interview Outline

The Book:

  • Author & Book Background: 2:10
  • The Big Idea of the Book: 4:15
  • Defining Sexual Assault: 5:25

 

The Victim:

  • Over and Under Reporting: 9:15
  • Emotional/Psychological/Spiritual Effects of Sexual Assault: 11:10
  • Prevalence of Sexual Assault (statistics): 14:45
  • Why We Don’t Talk About It: 17:20
  • The Importance of Acknowledging Sexual Assault: 19:45
  • The Book’s Message to the Victim: 23:00
  • Key Findings and Frustrations in Non-Christian Research on Sexual Assault: 24:40
  • Findings: Self-Blame & Care Techniques: 25:10
  • Frustrations: Bad Advice to Victims: 26:10
  • Frustrations: Self Help Approaches are Actually Cruel: 29:00
  • Advice for Victims Who’ve Never Shared Their Story: 31:20

 

The Pastors, Friends and Family:

  • Pastoral Care for Victims of Sexual Assault: 39:15
  • Applying the Gospel to a Victim’s Story: 42:00
  • What You Should Not Say to Victims: 47:10
  • What You Should Say to Victims: 50:10
  • The Signs of Sexual Assault: 51:53
  • Questions to Ask: 53:35
  • Specific Ways Pastors, Friends and Family Can Help: 55:20
  • Helping When the Victim is a Child: 59:40

 

The Perpetrator:

  • What Does the Gospel Say to Perpetrators?: 1:01:20
  • Consequences & Reconciliation for Perpetrators: 1:03:13
  • The Pharisee’s Prayer – Beware Self Righteousness: 1:04:30

 

In Closing:

  • What Forgiveness and Reconciliation Look Like: 1:05:30
  • Gospel Application Paradigm for Victims of Other Sins: 1:10:30

 

If you’d like to hear more on this topic from Justin, he also taught a workshop at the Seattle 2010 A29 Boot Camp – you can listen here.