Over the past week, the revelations of a Hollywood mogul’s harassment, sexual assault, and threats came to light, making waves throughout Tinseltown. Harvey Weinstein was a successful American film producer and studio executive. He was also a man who used his authority to oppress and abuse women. As the allegations have emerged, so have the wounds and memories of the experiences of women around the world.
#Metoo, a hashtag started in response to Weinstein, has given voice to the prevalence of sexual assault. The church cannot ignore this tragic reality. Assault is not something out there; it’s something that women in our pews experience.
It’s difficult to speak and even write about sexual assault. There’s the potential for becoming the perpetual victim. But there’s also the real shame of being violated by another human being. Unfortunately, I know that shame all too well.
Do we realize that our sisters and brothers in Christ may have been victims?
I was sexually assaulted in college. I was not raped, but I was violated by a stranger. I was with a group of friends on a trip. We were “straight laced,” and many were Christians. An older man who was on the trip but in another room came in to visit a group of us (male and female). 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 others who 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.
I was young (18), 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 about a year. Yet, 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 don’t like statistics because they can be skewed. But there is no denying that many women have endured the pain of assault and/or harassment We know sexual 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 they are made up of real people who may be struggling in secret.
Holcomb states: “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.”
A call to leaders
The church should be a safe place for men and women. Unfortunately, we know that too often it is not. We should be at the frontlines of this fight for our sisters—and brothers— who are made in the image of God. When we hear about abuse, we should immediately contact the proper authorities. God has given us means for justice through them. And as we fight for justice, we look forward to the day when “God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed” (Eccel 3:17).
Part of making the church a safe place for victims means we must be talking about it—in a way that expresses God’s love for them and encourages their voices to be heard. Communicating in a way that overflows with the grace and love of Christ may help a silent victim to come forward. Embracing the victim allows us to emulate God in a tangible way. We who worship the One who draws near to the brokenhearted must embrace those who are suffering.
And abuse victims who feel a sense of dirtiness brought on by another can experience the real power of knowing they are white as snow before the Lord (Isa. 1:18), because Christ’s blood washes away shame. 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 (Rom. 8:34).
Leaders—please, speak out, weep, help, and have the courage to stand for righteousness. Let’s end the need for women (and men) to take it to a social media platform and pour out their grief and sorrows in 140 characters. May God embolden you to use your influence and voice to protect, serve, protect, and love the women around you.
A version of this post first appeared at The Gospel Coalition