Confronting a Culture of Sexual Assault

The hashtag #metoo has swept the internet this week in the wake of tragic news reports that multiple women were victims of harassment or sexual assault from movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein is just one of many prominent public figures in recent days to be accused of using their position of power to commit gross acts of sexual misconduct. The hashtag and recent news reports regarding famous public figures have brought into the light a national crisis that n whispers and hushed tones in the dark.

Sexual assault and domestic violence are mainstream. That is a terrible thing to write, but it’s incontrovertibly true. One in four women and one in six men will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. The vast majority of this abuse happens from early childhood through early adulthood. Statistics can be cold and sterile, but this is what makes the #metoo movement so significant. It’s personal. It’s your friends, co-workers and even family. Many who have been hiding misplaced guilt and shame for years because of an assault on their precious dignity are now exposing their wounds for others to see. Let us stop scrolling for a moment. We need to talk about this and we need to do something about this.

As followers of Jesus – how are we to think about these issues? As people who are called to do justice and love mercy, how do we confront a culture of sexual assault justly? How do we mercifully and lovingly care for those wounded by an abuser?

Justice | Confronting the evil in us and around us.

This month’s “commemorative” issue of Time Magazine lionizes none other than the late Hugh Heffner, founder of Playboy magazine. On one hand, our culture has celebrated the chief architect of the modern exploitation and objectification of women. Many hailing the original Playboy as a champion of “empowerment” and “liberation”. On the other hand, our culture is enraged, rightfully so, that a powerful movie executive would sexually exploit and take advantage of multiple women. Is the incongruence obvious? A culture that embraces the fantasy of 50 Shades of Grey, consumes more and more sexually explicit and violent entertainment will imitate its indulgences.

Can we stop pretending the mantra “sex is just sex” is liberating and empowering? God designed His creation to enjoy the fruits of sex in the safety and security of covenant marriage. This is the heart behind healthy Christian sex ethics. It’s not about restriction and oppression. It is about safety and security that leads to trust, vulnerability and ultimately the intimacy our souls crave.

Blood on our hands.

We can scoff at the various public figures disgraced by sexual scandal, but let us not be too quick to think of ourselves as innocent. Sexism, misogyny, chauvinism, and porn are problems in the church pew too. Women and children suffered greatly in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Historians point to the pornographic indulgences and diminutive views of women as primary reasons for their suffering. Why would we think any different of ourselves? Human trafficking is largely aided by the commercial enterprises of the porn industry. Men who laugh at sexist and degrading “locker room” talk and excuse evil because “boys will be boys” enable a culture of destructive attitudes and actions toward women. It is evil. If you’re guilty of these things, you should put the stone you want to throw at others down.

Mercy | Loving those wounded by an abuser.

The #metoo movement is very personal to me. People I love dearly have heartbreaking stories similar to the ones we’ve read about in the news lately. Their abusers might not be as famous as Harvey Weinstein, but their stories and lives are just as important. Like many who identify with the #metoo movement, my friends and family members who were victims of abuse are innocent, yet they wear the guilt and shame that belongs to the abuser. I remember the first time a young girl confided in my wife and me that she had been abused. As a young pastor, I was dumbfounded and had no idea what to say or do. I had no seminary training for this. Unfortunately, as the years went on, one student became two, then three and so on. It’s likely that in reading this post you’ve thought of someone you know and love that has suffered from some form of abuse. What do you say? What can you do? Here are four suggestions:

You can be a safe friend. Listen well and be trustworthy with their story. Believe their story and assure them that they are not to blame.

You can be an encouraging friend. Support them emotionally and practically. Remind them that they are loved and cared for by you, but more importantly, their Heavenly Father. Remind them of the grace, hope and healing that is found in the person of Jesus Christ.

You can be a patient friend. Healing takes time. Be patient in good days and bad days as they deal with the crime committed against them.

You can be an advocating friend. Encourage them to seek medical and mental health treatment. Offer to go with them to meet with a counselor, professional or law enforcement. Let them know that they don’t have to go through this alone.

Is there hope?

Maybe you identify with #metoo because you’ve been on the receiving end of sexual assault or abuse. Maybe you question if there is any hope for healing in your life. Can Jesus really change anything? Consider the very first words recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, the ancestry of Jesus. In ancient times, your lineage was an important part of your identity and standing in society. Four women are mentioned in Jesus’ ancestry, a unique fact as only paternal figures are typically recorded. These women share something in common – they were taken advantage of. Three of them bore the shame of sexual exploitation. Why would Matthew mention these women in Jesus’ story? Because Jesus’ story is about healing love. The very first words in the Gospels paint the stunning portrait of redemption by showing us that Jesus can take the most broken and pain riddled lives and transform them into beautiful works of grace. Jesus can do the same for you. Jesus wants to do the same for you.


Resource to consider: Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb


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