One in four. That’s the average of how many women in America have experienced some form of sexual assault.
One in six. That’s the average number of men have been sexually assaulted.
These are underestimates.
Sexual assault is a crime surrounded by misconceptions and confusion. Definitions are either too specific to sufficiently identify instances of assault or too vague to even be helpful. It’s a crime that robs victims of their dignity and their identity. And often, in our attempts to be helpful, we find ourselves at a loss; we don’t really know what to say or how to help victims of assault and abuse.
How can the stain of disgrace be removed?
Authors Justin and Lindsey Holcomb provide a compelling, thoughtful and hopeful answer in Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault, as they apply the gospel to this horrendous crime.
Dividing the book into three sections, “Disgrace,” “Grace Applied,” and “Grace Accomplished,” the authors handle the subject matter with great care. It’s evident that they’re not working from a theoretical perspective, but that this is hands-on, practical knowledge. In part one, they begin by providing a proper definition of sexual assault. They define it as follows:
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. (p. 28)
“This definition,” they explain, “gets beyond our society’s narrow understanding of the issue and expands the spectrum of actions to be considered sexual assault.” (ibid) In fleshing out this definition, they also go to great pains to clear up a number of misconceptions:
- Sexual assault can be physical, verbal, or psychological
- Prior consent does not mean unlimited consent
- The perpetrators of sexual assault are more often than not educated, middle class, white men who know their victims
- While underreporting is a serious problem, false reporting is actually quite rare
Practically, this means that the myth of the mystery deviant jumping out of the bushes is just that: A myth. While things like this can happen, it’s more likely that a victim will be abused by a friend, family member, coworker or other acquaintance.
They also look to the effects of sexual assault. What was surprising to me was how varied the harmful emotional, psychological and physiological effects that can be. Some are: anxiety, OCD, panic attacks, eating disorders, gastrointestinal disturbance, hyper-arousal, various phobias, insomnia and other sleep disturbances, jumpiness… on and on the list goes (p. 39).
Further, the authors stress that it’s important to understand that acknowledgement does not equate or ensure automatic healing. Naming the sin committed is only the first step in healing.
In part two, “Grace Applied,” the Holcombs examine the implications of the gospel on the effects of sexual assault: