Sexual Assault

The Effects of Sexual Assault

The Effects of Sexual Assault

Since every person and situation is different, victims of sexual assault will respond to an assault in various ways. To pastor well in times of trouble, you should be aware of this.

The number of occurrences of sexual assaults is staggering. At least 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. The only thing more staggering than the number of occurrences of sexual assault is the acute damage done to the victim. The effects are physical, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

After a person has been sexually assaulted, it is normal to experience a range of feelings and reactions. Everyone copes in his or her own way. Some people have very strong responses after being sexually assaulted; others are calm or numb. Some feelings and reactions might be experienced directly after the assault or days and weeks later. Understanding that these feelings are normal and experienced by others who have been sexually assaulted may make the feelings and reactions less frightening.


Physical Effects

Immediate physical effects may be pain and bodily injuries, especially if the perpetrator used force. Specific physical effects may include: bruises, broken bones, STIs, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and pregnancy. Longer-term physical effects may be disturbed sleep patterns, nightmares, insomnia, loss of appetite, and stomach pains.


Emotional and Psychological Effects

Sexual assault causes harmful emotional, psychological, or physiological effects that are more severe than the effects of other crimes. These effects include:

  • Self-blame
  • Shame, guilt, or embarrassment
  • Anxiety, stress, or fear
  • Shock
  • Impaired memory, confusion, or disorientation
  • Anger, hostility, or aggression
  • Sexualized behaviors
  • Loss of sex drive or sexual dysfunction (not being able to perform sexual acts)
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Denial
  • Irritability
  • Erratic mood swings
  • Depression or despair
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sexual effects (ranging from avoidance to compulsive promiscuity)
  • Decreased energy and motivation
  • Numbing/apathy (detachment, loss of caring)
  • Restricted affect (reduced ability to express emotions)
  • Disturbed sleep, insomnia, or nightmares
  • Flashbacks or panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Diminished interest in activities
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Loss of security
  • Loss of appetite, eating problems/disorders, or gastrointestinal disturbance
  • Substance use and abuse (alcohol and other drugs) and other compulsive behaviors
  • Feeling powerless
  • Feeling uncomfortable being alone
  • OCD
  • Self-injury, self-mutilation (cutting, burning or otherwise hurting oneself), or substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Confusion of sex with love
  • Extreme dependency
  • Impaired ability to judge trustworthiness of others
  • Body memories
  • Feelings of alienation and isolation
  • Hyper-vigilance (always being “on your guard”)
  • Exaggerated startle response (jumpiness)
  • Hyper-arousal (exaggerated feelings or responses to stimuli)
  • Rewriting
  • PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).



Social psychology research on attitudes toward sexual assault demonstrates that our culture holds prejudices and negative views of victims. Thus, victims suffer from the trauma of the assault itself as well as the effects of negative stereotypes. The result is that after an assault, victims feel socially derogated and blamed, which can prolong and intensify the psychological and emotions distress of victims.



Because sexual assault victimization is stigmatized in American society, many suffer silently, which intensifies a victim’s distress and disgrace. Research has proven that victims who are believed and listened to by others adjust better than those who are not. Victims that experience negative social reactions can have poorer adjustment.



Those serving in supportive roles to the victim need to be mindful of the various feelings and reactions following an assault in order to provide practical, compassionate, and informed support.

Victims of sexual assault frequently have a hard time finding the words to describe how they feel or what they are thinking in response to the trauma.

Because of this, it is often helpful that the language of pain be offered by those who are not currently in traumatic pain themselves, but are able to empathize and speak on behalf of those who are. Describing the pain is a way to normalize how the victim is feeling rather than alienating them by not talking about it at all.


To be continued.

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb are the authors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault 


The Prevalence of Sexual Assault

The Prevalence of Sexual Assault

Every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, it is clear that at any time around the world there are hundred of assaults happening.

The number of occurrences of sexual assaults is staggering. It affects millions of women, men, and children worldwide. The prevalence of sexual assault in the United States is difficult to determine because the crime is greatly under-reported, yet the statistics are still overwhelmingly high: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. These statistics are probably underestimates too.

Some victims have been sexually assaulted from when they are a few days old, and some are in their 90s. People can be assaulted regardless of their color, race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, sexual preference, education, class, occupation, ability, or disability. Sexual assault is a frequent phenomenon and is a common experience for many women and men.



Approximately 80% of victims are assaulted by an acquaintance (relative, spouse, dating partner, friend, pastor, teacher, boss, coach, therapist, doctor, etc.).

Most victims of sexual assault are female. African-American women are assaulted at a higher rate than white women, and are much less likely to report it and get help.

According to the Bureau of Justice, women 16 to 19 years old have the highest rate of sexual victimization of any age group.

The National Center for Juvenile Justice reports that one of every seven victims of sexual assault (or 14% of all victims) reported to law enforcement agencies were under age 6 and that approximately 70% of the victims know their offender.

Sexual assault can occur in marriage and between dates and friends. Researchers have estimated that sexual assault occurs in 10-14% of all marriages. Studies estimate that incest is experienced by 10 to 20 percent of children in the general population.

15% of sexual assault victims are under age 12, 29% are age 12-17, and 80% are under age 30. The highest risk years are ages 12-34 and girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault.

Most victims of child sexual assault know their attacker: 34.2% of assailants were family members, 58.7% were acquaintances, and only 7% of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.  Of child sexual abuse victims, approximately 10% of victims are 3 and under, 28% are between ages 4-7, 26% are between ages 8-11, and 36% are 12 and older.


Childhood and Adult Sexual Assault

There is a high association between sexual abuse as a child and sexual assault occurring to the same individual in the future. Adults who experienced childhood abuse are at an increased risk of adult re-victimization. Childhood sexual assault was especially common among sexually assaulted men and women (61% and 59% respectively).

Women who had been sexually assaulted in childhood were at least twice as likely to be assaulted in adulthood. The findings regarding male victims is even more dramatic. Men who had been sexually assaulted in childhood are five times more likely to be assaulted in adulthood.



With regard to the reporting of sexual assault, there are two major issues to consider—false-reporting and under-reporting. While under-reporting is a major concern, false-reporting is not. Actually, false reports are quite rare. The figure often used by sexual violence experts for estimating falsified reports is 2 percent, which is a slightly lower rate than other crimes.

Given the horrific nature of sexual assault and the shame it brings to victims, it is not shocking that it is one of the most underreported crimes. The fear of intrusive and re-victimizing court procedures prevents many sexual assault survivors from reporting their assaults. Most sexual assault victims choose not to report their assaults. According to the FBI, sexual assault is “one of the most under-reported crimes due primarily to fear and/or embarrassment on the part of the victim.”


How Many People

Every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, it is clear that at any time around the world there are hundred of assaults happening.

Despite the inability to paint a complete picture of the occurrence of sexual assault, statistics can help us better understand how many people are suffering from the trauma and distress following an assault. These statistics also show us who the victims are. The need for care is great and so is the need for ministry leaders to know about the disgrace many people are experiencing.

Sadly, the odds are high that you or a few people in your life are victims of sexual assault. The Good News is that assault does not have to have the last word on victims’ lives. Yes, the abuse is part of the story, but not the end of the story because the message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to disgrace.


To be continued.

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb are the authors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault


What Is Sexual Assault?

What Is Sexual Assault?

What Is Sexual Assault?

What behaviors or acts constitute sexual assault? It’s important to define sexual assault for these reasons:

  1. Many victims experience the confusing and isolating effects of abuse because they are unclear on what sexual assault entails. This leads to denial and minimizing of the suffering of victims.
  2. Studies indicate that most people, and especially those in the church, don’t understand the dynamics of sexual violence and have little or no experience helping others deal with it.



Sexual assault is any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained, and it is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority. There are three main parts to this definition and we will look at each of these separately.


Sexual Behaviors or Contact

Sexual assault is mainly about violence, not sex. It is not a product of an “uncontrollable” sexual urge. Even though perpetrators use sexual actions and behaviors as weapons, the primary motivation is to dominate, control, and belittle another. This can be done with physical sexual contact as well as through non-physical sexual behavior. Sexual assault occurs along a continuum of power and control ranging from non-contact sexual assault to forced sexual intercourse. Sexual assault includes acts such as non-consensual sexual intercourse (rape), non-consensual sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, exposure, voyeurism, or attempts to commit these acts.



Consent is when an individual is freely able to make a choice based upon respect, 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 or not a sexual act is consensual or is an assault:

  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 or behavior?

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.



There are varying methods perpetrators use to violate victims. In some cases, sexual assault may involve the use of force, which may include but is not limited to physical violence, use or display of a weapon, or immobilization of victim. Sexual assault may also involve psychological coercion and taking advantage of an individual who is incapacitated or under duress and, therefore, is incapable of making a decision on his or her own.

Sexual assault occurs when a nonconsensual sexual act or behavior is committed either by:

  • Physical force, violence, threat, or intimidation
  • Ignoring the objections of another person
  • Causing another’s intoxication or impairment through the use of drugs or alcohol
  • Taking advantage of another person’s incapacitation, state of intimidation helplessness, or other inability to consent


Why It Matters

There is an epidemic of sexual assault and victims need the kind of hope and healing 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. Helping victims of sexual assault starts with knowing what “sexual assault” is.


To be continued.


Justin and Lindsey Holcomb are the authors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault 


Why Sexual Assault Is Not Just a “Women’s Issue”

Why Sexual Assault Is Not Just a “Women’s Issue”

A common misconception is that sexual assault is just a “women’s issue” and up to them to solve. This is wrong for numerous reasons.

More men than you think are victims of sexual violence.

Statistics tell us that 1 of 4 women and 1 of 6 men are victims of sexual assault. While there are more female victims than males, it is clear that sexual assault spans the sexes.

Researchers found that the sexual assaults of males are severely under-reported, perhaps even more so than sexual assaults of women. Male sexual assault victims are much less likely to disclose information regarding their experience than are females. Very few men will report being sexually assaulted because they don’t want to feel like they are less of a man or don’t want to be regarded as homosexual. Therefore, they constitute an extremely under-identified, under-served, and frequently misunderstood population.

Someone in your life is probably a victim.

It is not just a “women’s issue” because every female victim is likely a wife, daughter, mom, sister, friend, co-worker, grandparent, niece, or sister-in-law of some man. Their pain is your “issue.”

Some victims are sexually assaulted from when they are a few days old and some are in their 90’s. People can be assaulted regardless of their color, race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, sexual preference, education, class, occupation, ability, or disability. It is clear that sexual assault is a frequent phenomenon and is well within the range of being labeled a “common experience” for women, men, and children. According to the most recent studies, every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted.

 Sadly, the odds are high that a woman in your life is a victim of sexual assault.

 The perpetrators are usually men.

Sexual assault is also a man’s issue because most perpetrators are male and are usually someone the victim knows. That doesn’t mean that most men are perpetrators. It means that, predominately, perpetrators responsible for sexual assaults are male. Most sexual assault perpetrators are white, educated, middle-class men.

 Men should support and care for victims of sexual assault.

Men are not just perpetrators or possible offenders, but they can be a huge asset in supporting and caring for victims both female and male. The more informed men are regarding sexual assault, the better. Because sexual assault is a form of victimization that is particularly stigmatized, 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.

Victims experiencing blaming and other 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.

More men, especially pastors, need to understand the specific pain and suffering that comes from sexual assault so they can respond in ways that are biblical, compassionate, and informed.

Justin Holcomb and his wife, Lindsey, are the authors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault. Sources for the statistics cited above can be found in this book. 


5 Books Every Youth Minister Should Read

5 Books Every Youth Minister Should Read

The books on this list are not about youth ministry but for youth ministers so you will be better equipped to serve by knowing the culture and lives of youth well and knowing the Gospel and its power to heal even better.

Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton.

This book maps the landscape of the spiritual lives of American teenagers. It is the most comprehensive and thorough study ever done on the topic, and the authors, Smith and Denton, are top-notch sociologists of religion. They find that the “spiritual but not religious” affiliation thought to be widespread among young adults is actually rare among American teens. Smith and Denton helpfully describe “moralistic therapeutic deism,” which they call the dominant religion of most American teens.

Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers by Chap Clark

This book reveals powerfully the painful, lonely inner-world of many teens. Clark explains that abandonment is the defining issue for contemporary youth and traces this throughout family life, school, peers, morality, and other dimensions of teens’ lives. The final chapter, which promotes five strategies to counter the “tide of systemic abandonment,” is particularly helpful.

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper

Piper explains what God achieved for sinners by sending Jesus to die. This book will help you explain why and how the work of Christ on the cross is central to the Christian faith: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Any one of these chapters would provide you plenty of material for a sermon, teaching, or group discussion.

On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde

Forde celebrates the cross as proof that God will have mercy on sinners and warns us not to seek God apart from the cross because it is in the cross that God will be found. The only solution for humans bound by sin is the forgiveness that comes from Christ alone. This is what youth feeling the guilt and shame of their sins need to hear, not some horrible message of self-help and behavior modification. If you aren’t preaching salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, you’re probably preaching “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul D. Tripp

There is a deep need for a gospel-centered, biblical counseling vision to influence youth work and the youth worker role. As you’ll be listening to youth talk about their dreams, pains, and struggles, you’ll need to explore the wisdom and depth of the Bible and apply its grace-centered message to them. This book will help you do that.

Sexual Assault: Disgrace and Grace

Sexual Assault: Disgrace and Grace

The number of occurrences of sexual assaults is staggering. At least 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. More staggering than the prevalence is the damage done to the victim. The effects are physical, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Sexual assault is not just rape by a stranger with a weapon. Most victims (approximately 80%) are assaulted by an acquaintance (relative, friend, dating partner, spouse, pastor, teacher, boss, coach, therapist, doctor, etc.). Sexual assault also includes attempted rape or any form of nonconsensual sexual contact. This post is written to sexual assault victims, not about them. 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. Nobody had the right to violate you. You were supposed to be treated with dignity and respect. You are not damaged goods. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. Healing can happen, and there is hope. While all of this is true, you may still feel the effects of the sexual assault—disgrace, a deep sense of defilement and filth that is encumbered with shame.

Disgrace vs. Grace

Disgrace is the opposite of grace. Grace is love that seeks you out even if you have nothing to give in return. Grace is being loved when you are or feel unlovable. Grace has the power to turn despair into hope. Grace listens, lifts up, cures, transforms, and heals. Disgrace destroys, causes pain, deforms, and wounds. It alienates and isolates. Disgrace makes you feel worthless, rejected, unwanted, and repulsive, like a persona non grata (a “person without grace”). Disgrace silences and shuns. Your suffering of disgrace is only increased when others force your silence. The refusals of others to speak about sexual assault and listen to victims tell their story is a refusal to offer grace and healing.

One-Way Love

To your sense of disgrace, God gives grace. He restores, repairs, and re-creates. A good short definition of grace is “one-way, unconditional love” (Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life). This is the opposite of your experience of assault, which was “one-way violence.” One-way love does not avoid you but comes near you, not because you earned it but because you need it. It is the lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. One-way love is the change agent you need. You need something to change regarding the internal pain you are experiencing. The experience of sexual assault frequently causes a victim to ask two questions: How can I be rid of my disgrace (2 Sam. 13:13)? How can I receive grace? The answer to both questions is the gospel of Jesus Christ.


The Bible begins with creation in harmony, unity, and peace, and it ends with a restored creation. In between these two “bookends” unfolds the drama of redemption. Salvation was needed because of the tragedy of human rebellion that resulted in disgrace and destruction. Because God is faithful and compassionate, he restores his fallen creation and responds with grace and redemption. This good news is fully expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and its scope is “as far as the curse is found.” Jesus is the redemptive work of God in our own history, in our own human flesh. Victims can more meaningfully celebrate the victorious resurrection of Christ when they can identify with the horrendous victimizing of the cross. Jesus was the recipient of violence that mirrors much of what victims experience (shame, humiliation, silence, betrayal, pain, mockery, travesty of justice, loneliness, etc.). His suffering and death were real and brutal, but there was a resurrection after Good Friday. The cross is both the consequence of evil and God’s method of accomplishing redemption. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that God is about redeeming, healing, and making all things new.

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb are the authors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.