Note: This post is about sexual assault. If you need to, set it aside to read at a better time. Or skip it altogether.
You’ve probably seen the letter written by the Stanford sexual assault survivor.
It is a letter that resonated with far too many of us.
Like some of you, I, too, am a survivor of sexual assault. There are parts of my story that aren’t too different from that of the young woman who penned such powerful words.
Last year we saw an empty chair on the cover of New York Magazine, devoted to Bill Cosby’s accusers. Now we see a letter that describes what it is like to be a survivor of sexual assault. Our news feeds are filled with pieces about rape culture, forgiveness, the dangers of alcohol abuse, privilege, power, parenting, protection, and more.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, it isn’t so easy to see the news or our social media feeds right now, is it?
We are reminded of what we would prefer we had not experienced, of the sexual brokenness we experienced as part of the aftermath.
Sexual assault affects us all differently. While there are some common ways that many of us respond, carrying the emotional wounds of rape or other sexual assault is highly personal. Each woman’s story is her own, even when it seems similar to what many others have experienced.
It may have affected your sense of self, your ability to trust, your enjoyment of sexual pleasure, your sense of worth, and your ability to try certain sexual positions or activities. It might have shaped your relationship with God and your relationship with your husband. Being a sexual assault survivor has likely shaped who you are as a woman and as a wife. As Christians, our healing carries the added work of learning to forgive.
Even if you are mostly healed, you may encounter remnants of that brokenness from time to time.
You may experience a road block, habit, or temptation that you realize is in connected in some way to your sexual assault.
A sexual assault from years ago can affect you and your marriage today. Being a survivor means that we have learned to live with the assault. It doesn’t guarantee that we have healed.
Dear sister survivor, it was not your fault, no matter what you were wearing, what you’d been doing, where you were, or who you were with.
Whether your rape was your first sexual experience or your hundredth, you were violated.
Whether you reported your assault or have kept it secret for many years, you were wronged. It was still sexual assault. You have survived a violent crime.
You, created in the image of God, deserve the comfort of God’s great Fatherly arms wrapped around you in healing.
I want to beckon you onward in your healing. I invite you to make steps forward, from wherever you are.
Healing for you may not look like healing for another woman.
For some, professional or pastoral counseling is the best way to go. For others, healing without help is preferred because it can feel so empowering. The pursuit of healing may involve a bible study specifically relating to trauma or sexual brokenness. Some women find that journaling or drawing can build a path for healing.
I recently was in touch with a friend who wants to work on her healing on her own. I shared with her what this has looked like in my own life:
Here’s what “working on it” often looks like for me, once I’ve identified something specific that I need to address: I sit at my desk and cry for a while, allowing myself to feel sad that I experienced what I did and annoyed that I have to deal with it. I pray—not for healing, but for God to lead me to what I need to read and do. I do one of those “okay, God I’m going to open the bible, so you need to make the page open to where you want me to read” things. I usually open to the Psalms, conveniently located smack dab in the middle of the bible. And always, wherever I land is something that helps—about comfort, forgiveness, focusing on what I should do rather than on what I can expect from others, or whatever. I pray again, asking God to help me internalize what I’ve read. I have a journal where I copy out bible verses, so I write those verses into my journal. Then I always make a point of praying for my rapist and his family. I have found that praying for his family has helped me forgive him in a way nothing else has. The rape has lost most of its grip on me now. I was recently reading some new Bill Cosby stuff, and it didn’t pull at me as much as it did even last year.
There have been times when the work has left me raw—but the rawness is always followed by healthy new skin. The rawness is part of the healing for me.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the media coverage of sexual assault right now, it might be a good time to take active steps toward healing.
I would like to point you to my series on healing from sexual trauma. It was written for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and for sexual assault survivors.
You’ll find encouragement and, in the last post, specific things you can do to release the hold the assault has on your life.
One thing that helped me tremendously last year was to write out my story.
I encourage you to do the same thing. Write your sexual assault story. Own what is yours to own, but don’t own what was someone else’s. Read it aloud to yourself. There is great power in giving voice to part of your own life story. When I wrote about my experience, I saw patterns that I hadn’t recognized before. I had one of those epiphanies where just for a moment, everything made sense. And then I sat and sobbed for a very cathartic hour.
If you would like to share your story here, you may send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, with SURVIVOR in the subject. I will compile the stories into a post or page here. Not only can telling your own story be healing, reading the stories of others, knowing that you are not alone, can be healing as well.
Dear sister survivor,
It was not your fault.
You are not alone.
With God, you are never, ever alone.