Caring for Victims of Sexual Abuse

Finding the courage to voice your story of sexual abuse can feel impossible: too exposing, too embarrassing, too painful, too taboo. Tragically, sometimes the hardest place to share such stories is within the church. “Why is this so,” asks Scotty Smith, “and how can the church do a better job of giving men and women the voice to tell their stories of shame?”

In this eight-minute video, Smith is joined by Justin Holcomb and Trillia Newbell to discuss how congregations can practically recognize, love, and care for victims of sexual abuse. For example, “The power of the pulpit shouldn’t be overlooked,” Holcomb observes. When preaching, he simply lists sexual abuse among the many sins Calvary addresses. “Just naming it can go a long way.”

“When you are violated, you feel alone,” explains Newbell, who shared her own story last year in a piece titled “Remember the Victims—Like Me.” “It took me until [2012] to tell more than five people.” One of the problems, Smith suggests, is that we often do a far better job of understanding guilt than shame. But the gospel is not just about clearing a record of guilt; it’s about disarming the power of shame. Our divine older Brother and Friend identifies with us in our pain and embraces us in our dirt. As Holcomb remarks: “‘Without spot, wrinkle, or blemish’—Christians are called what Jesus was.”

It’s imperative in our churches not only to openly recognize the prevalence of sexual abuse, but also to “connect the dots” to the person and work of Jesus. “We are all victims and agents of sin,” Smith observes, “and the gospel alone gives us the means of finding freedom in view of the day when Jesus returns to finish making all things new.”

Caring for Victims of Sexual Abuse from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Holcomb is the author of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault (Crossway, 2011). In the video he recommends Edward Welch’s Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (New Growth, 2012).

  • Steve Cornell

    Thank you for focus on this important matter! Sexual abuse is an issue I didn’t think I would encounter very often in pastoral counseling. In fact, during a graduate course in pastoral psychology that devoted significant attention to counseling those who have been sexually abused, I quietly doubted that we needed to give so much time to the subject. I was wrong – VERY wrong. I never realized how much I would be involved helping others deal with this life-altering trauma.

    Over the past couple of decades, I have been called to help more people work through the effects of sexual abuse than I could have ever imagined. And sexual abuse is more common than most of us realize.

  • Christy Fitzwater

    You have NO IDEA how encouraging this is to me right now! I’m a pastor’s wife who has become aware of the level of sexual abuse victims in my church. I’ve worked up the courage to teach “The Path to Sexual Healing” Bible study this fall, but I have been scared to death to open this can of worms. You have spoken courage to my heart! THANKS!!!!!!!!

  • Kandace

    When I was in my early 20’s I confessed to my college advisor (Who happened to be a psychologist) that I had been sexually abused as a little girl by my grandpa. His response, “Wow, you have done really well considering that fact.” Looking back I now realize that statment help set me up for 20 more years of denial. I was not doing well, nor was I well. I did not talk to anyone after that except to confess it to my husband who had no grid for processing such a tragedy. The decisions I made years down the road proved my professor wrong and finally God pulled the rug out from under my feet and allowed me to take a painful fall. Though I don’t blame what I did on the fact that I was sexually abused, it woke me up to look at the lie I had believed all those years of “doing well.” Being able to repent, mourn and grieve over all the years of striving and taking control of my life was only possible by a new awakening to the Gospel. I just read Rid of My Disgrace. SO thankful this is being talked about and allowing women more freedom to come out of hiding to be healed.

  • Verna Wyatt

    This dialogue is desperately needed in the Church. I’ve been working with victims of crime for 20 years, and have been raising awareness about child sexual abuse for at least 15 years. I find that Churches do not want to discuss the topic. They don’t think it could ever happen in their congregation, and I guess they don’t think victims would ever be in their midst. But, talking about this issue, and helping victims heal with the help of the Gospel is what we need! One out of four girls, and one out of seven boys will become victims of crime, and really these are reported numbers. Most of the victims I know never reported. Thank you for publicly putting his out here for people to see.

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