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Christ’s Transforming Hope for Victims of Sexual Assault and Rape

Sexual assault and rape are horrifying experiences, which go on to affect all aspects of the victims’ lives. It is truly heartbreaking to listen to their stories and see how their lives have been devastated. My need for the Lord’s wisdom for helping rape victims was the major reason for writing (Un)ashamed: Christ’s Transforming Hope for Rape Victims. In the book, I seek to give the reader insights into how this trauma affects the victim and how they can know the Lord and his redeeming hope.

Defining Sexual Assault & Rape

Sexual assault is engaging in sexual behavior without the other person’s consent. Consent means that you agreed by choice and that you had the freedom and capacity to make that choice. Rape is when a person has been forcibly penetrated without their permission.

Stages of Recovery

After the attack, many victims experience three phases of recovery. The first phase is the crisis or acute stage. They are in a state of shock, fear, anxiety, anger, and may not believe that this has happened to them. The second phase, the short-term or outward adjustment stage, occurs in the immediate weeks after the attack. The rape controls their life. Their behavior begins to alter, as do their emotions and physical changes become evident. The third phase, the integration, or long-term reorganization stage, is when adjustment takes place and they are again able to make choices for their actions and behavior. It may take years to come to this point.

A Transformed Mind and Heart

Our gracious Lord can help victims in their inner being as he works in their hearts to redeem their suffering in many different areas of life.

  • Thinking – They will probably see themselves as a failure, defiled, dirty, a fool, without value, and lacking intelligence. Take time to beccome aware of what they are thinking and evaluate it according to truth (Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8). As they look at themselves, they will see where they fail. But as a Christian, this is not who they are. It is essential to remember that the rape was not their fault. The blame, guilt, and responsibility belong solely to the perpetrator.
  • Purposefully Thinking Truth – There are a few ways for them to live in reality, instead of remaining in a withdrawn state of dissociation. They can exercise, do housework, or hold onto something that means a lot. They can phone someone, play or listen to music, or pray. They can look around and take note of all the details in the room. They could sing, pray out loud, or speak scriptural truths.  
  • Flashbacks – When experiencing a flashback, they need to focus on their present location and who they are with. They can say, “This is not real, the vision will not hurt me.” Keeping a record of when the flashbacks occurred is helpful. They might occur at a certain time of day, the time of certain events, when they were outdoors or indoors, or during a meal. This can help them plan what to think about when they are in similar situations.  
  • Fear and Worry – As they seek to worship the Lord throughout their daily lives, they can focus their mind on who the Lord is. Passages such as Ephesians 1:3-14 and Colossians 1:3-14 are full of truths about who Christ is and what He has done. This is key in overcoming fear. Philippians 4:4-9 specifically teaches us about overcoming it. Throughout the day, and especially when fearful thoughts come to mind, they should bring that fearful thought to the Lord and then think about an attribute of God in relation to it. 
  • Guilt – It is essential for them to understand the work of Christ on the cross. By nature, they are a sinner who deserves to be punished, yet through Christ’s death on the cross they have been made righteous before God (Romans 3:23, 24). Since they are in Christ, there is no condemnation for them (Romans 8:1). God has justified them and Christ is seated at the right hand of God and is interceding for them (Hebrews 7:25; 8:1). The perpetrator is solely to blame for the attack. However, it is very important for them to confess any sin that they were guilty of before it (1 John 1:9). An example of this would be drunkenness. All personal sin should be confessed before the Lord so that they can receive forgiveness and be freed from its guilt. This in no way means that they are guilty or responsible for the rape. 
  • Anger – Anger is a whole-personed response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil. They are angry because of their God-given sense of justice. While it is normal for them to be angry, it is hard for their anger to stay righteous. For anger to be righteous, it must involve the following: (1) a sin that has occurred; (2) a concern for the glory of God, not one’s own glory; and (3) a righteous expression. Their anger will have aspects of God’s anger to it as well as aspects of human sinful anger. By working on their heart, they can deal with their anger (Ephesians 4:31-32). Living in the knowledge that the Lord is just and will execute justice, will free them from the desire for revenge (Romans 12:19; 2 Thessalonians 5-10).
  • Shame – By dying on the cross, Jesus died in a shameful way, being naked and exposed. He suffered shame so that others would be made righteous. Their shame has been borne by Him so that you may live a godly life (Isaiah 53:3-5; 61:1-10).
  • Depression – They may believe that nothing in life has sense or purpose. Their purpose will return as they live for the Lord, as they think about who God is, what He has done for them, and His promises (2 Peter 1:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4).
  • Evil Conquered – Evil does not reign and does not have the final say. Through His death on the cross, Jesus defeated Satan and evil. It was at the cross that Christ disarmed the rulers and authorities, putting them to open shame, and triumphing over them (Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 1:20, 21; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8).
  • Sin Conquered – Christ was made a curse for us, by bearing our sins on the cross. If they trust in Christ and what he accomplished on the cross, because their punishment was placed on Him, they can be forgiven and come into a new relationship with God (Galatians 3:13).
  • Satan and Death Conquered – The Son of God became human, destroyed the devil who had the power of death, and delivered those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14, 15).
  • Hope in Suffering – Jesus is a called the Man of Sorrows who is acquainted with grief. It is because of what He did on the cross that they can know that He is good and that evil will ultimately be defeated (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 2:10-18). 

This blog has touched on ways rape victims continue to be impacted by the horror of the attack and how our gracious Lord can bring his redeeming hope into their lives. It is impossible to write in an adequate way about these complicated and complex issues in an article this brief. If you are interested in reading further, please consider getting a copy of (Un)ashamed: Christ’s Transforming Hope for Rape Victims.

*This post was written and submitted by request by Anne Dryburgh, author of the above-mentioned book.

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