Recently, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb published Rid of My Disgrace http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1433515989/commongrounds-20, a book that brings the reader face to face with the helpless horror of sexual abuse. But the Holcombs don't leave readers in despair; they also apply the Gospel to the hurts and shame that survivors experience.
Full disclosure: Justin and I are old friends, going back to our time together at Reformed Theological Seminary-Orlando. He went on to Emory for his PhD in religious studies, and we met up again in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia where I was working on my PhD and he was a post-doctoral fellow. In Charlottesville Justin met Lindsey, who trained in social work and then served sexual abuse survivors in town.
Today Justin and Lindsey are in Seattle, parents of two daughters. Justin is a pastor at Mars Hill Church where he serves the pastors, staff and laity.
Today is the start of a several part interview with Justin about Rid of My Disgrace.
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GL: How big is the issue of sexual assault?
JH: The number of occurrences of sexual assaults is staggering. It is much more common than most people know. At least one in four women and one in six men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. And these statistics are probably underestimates.
According to the most recent statistics, every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted, and approximately 80 percent of them are assaulted by someone they know (a relative, spouse, dating partner, friend, pastor, teacher, boss, coach, therapist, doctor, etc.). Researchers have estimated that sexual assault occurs in 10 to 14 percent of all marriages. Studies estimate that incest is experienced by 10 to 20 percent of children.
Regarding the age breakdown of sexual assault, 15 percent of sexual assault victims are under age twelve, 29 percent are ages twelve to seventeen, and 80 percent are under age thirty. The highest-risk years are ages twelve to thirty-four, and girls ages sixteen to nineteen are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault.
GL: What are some of the effects of sexual assault?
JH: The only thing more staggering than the prevalence of sexual abuse is the acute damage done to the victims. As sobering as the statistics are, they don’t begin to speak to the darkness and grief experienced by victims. Sexual assault causes huge amounts of physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual pain.
A major effect of sexual assault is disgrace, a deep sense of filthy defilement encumbered with shame. Disgrace destroys, deforms, and wounds. It alienates and isolates. Disgrace makes you feel worthless, rejected, unwanted, and repulsive. It silences and shuns.
Sexual assault causes harmful psychological effects that are more severe than effects of other crimes. During an assault, most victims feel terrified, fearful, helpless, humiliated, and confused. Afterward, any of these feelings can persist and intensify, especially terror and fear.
The most common psychological symptoms associated with sexual assault were anxiety and fear. Because sexual assault is always traumatizing, victims are three times more likely than non-victims to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, twenty-six times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide.
Various factors are linked to traumatic distress or feelings of disgrace from sexual assault. These include denial, shame, guilt, anger, distorted self-image, and despair. In our book, we focus on these six most prevalent responses to sexual assault and how the Good News of Jesus applies directly to each of them.
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Part 2 will post tomorrow.