Last Sunday was the U.N. International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The web was streaming with articles in support of women experiencing abuse, highlighting God’s love for women and hatred for abuse and rebuking men who abuse.
The message is desperately needed. Last week, The Daily Herald reported that an Illinois high school soccer team had sodomized rookie players as part of a hazing ritual that had apparently been going on for many years. In my hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee, we are awaiting the retrials of the men who, in 2007, carjacked, kidnapped, violently raped, and murdered a young couple while out in the early morning hours.
I’m thankful the issues of rape and sexual assault are being addressed, especially on Christian sites like The Gospel Coalition. But I have noticed the influx of articles is generally written by men. And though many men are assaulted, the majority remains female. I wondered why fewer women addressed this topic. The truth is it’s difficult to write about sexual assault. First, there’s the potential for becoming the perpetual victim. Then there’s the real shame of being violated by another human being.
Unfortunately, a seemingly innocent situation can quickly turn criminal and painful. That was the case for me.
I was sexually assaulted in college. I was not raped, but I was assaulted by a stranger. I was with a group of friends on a trip. We were “straight laced,” and many were Christians. We all slept in a hotel room together (male and female), but the ladies had the bed and the guys had the floor. An older man who was on the trip but in another room came in to visit. We thought it would be fine (we were naive and young). To say the least, it wasn’t okay. He did something inappropriate to me during the night that startled and woke me. Thankfully I was in a room with many people. Others woke up and confronted him immediately. He was kicked out of school and went to jail. During the court hearing I learned that he had a wife and had molested his kids. Just awful.
I was young (18) and immature and found myself in court helping convict a sex offender for jail time. The aftermath in my life was nothing compared to what I imagined for his family’s life. I struggled with fear at night and didn’t trust men for possibly one full year. God did a work of grace in my heart to forgive the perpetrator, pray for his family, and begin to trust God for my safety and security.
We know sex abuse, rape, and assault are widespread. But did you know that one out of six women in the United States has been raped at some time in her life? Do we realize that our sisters and brothers in Christ may have been victims?
In Rid of My Disgrace, Justin Holcomb addresses these and many other staggering statistics: “According to the Bureau of Justice, women sixteen to nineteen years old have the highest rate of sexual victimization of any age group.”
It is easy to throw out statistics or share raw facts. But we must remember that victims are reading—-even right now. There is someone, some sister- or brother in-Christ, who, like me, might be struggling with fear or anxiety. And many are struggling alone. No one knows.
Holcomb shares: “According to the FBI, sexual assault is ‘one of the most underreported crimes due primarily to fear and/or embarrassment on the part of the victim.’ One research report claims that only between 5 percent and 20 percent of sexual assaults may actually be reported.” He continues, “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.”
We must address these issues in a way that expresses the love of God for the victims. This includes the debate about abortion for rape victims. We know abortion is wrong, but we must communicate in a loving and gentle way. Communicating in a way that overflows with the grace and the love of Christ may allow a silent victim to come forward. Christ’s blood washes away shame. Abuse victims who may feel a sense of dirtiness brought on by another can experience the real power of knowing they are white as snow before the Lord (Isaiah 1:18).
Embracing the victim allows us to emulate God in a tangible way. We who worship the God who draws near to the suffering must embrace the brokenhearted.
There is no better news for a suffering brother or sister than the Good News that Jesus Christ walked this earth perfectly, hung on a Cross, bearing the full weight of shame, sin, and wrath on his back, and defeated death, rising from the grave! Jesus is now—-right now—-seated on the throne at the right hand of the Father. He is interceding for you and for me (Romans 8:34).
As you challenge others to take action against abuse, remember that victims are reading and listening. They need amazing grace.
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13 emphasis mine)