Here is my review of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault. If you post this review on some sort of social networking site and let me know in the comments I’ll draw your name out of the others who do the same and send you a copy of the book.
In Rid of My Disgrace Justin and Lindsey Holcomb take sexual assault out of the shadows, and give pastors, counselors, friends and families of victims, and the victims themselves an informative and gospel-centered book to apply the grace of God in Christ to persons disgraced by sexual assault.
Chapter one gives a brief overview of the entire book and illustrates the meaning of grace and disgrace by using the biblical story of Amnon’s sexual assault of his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13). In chapter two the Holcombs leave no room for narrow definitions of this crime and show its rampant prevalence. There continues to be debate over what exactly constitutes sexual assault, and they call for a broader definition than some societal classifications, defining it as “any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority” (p. 28). Some of the reasons for their broad definition is that it helps remove the feeling of aloneness that victims experience, it classifies what has occurred as a crime, and reduces the tendency of victims to blame themselves (p. 28).
The statistics of sexual assault are staggering:
- One in four women and one in six men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime (p. 13).
- Eighty percent of the victims are assaulted by acquaintances like relatives, teachers, friends, pastors, etc., not strangers (p. 19-20).
- Over thirty-four percent of child sexual assault perpetrators are family members (p. 33).
- Victims of incest are mostly female, but men may report it less because of societal pressure to not be vulnerable (p. 32).
- It occurs in 10-14 percent of all marriages (p. 32).
- Most sexual assault perpetrators are men whom are usually white, educated, and middle-class (p. 33).
This is only a snapshot of the shocking amount of sexual violence that occurs, but this book is not primarily about statistics. Nor is it just for victims of sexual assault. This is a book predominantly about the comprehensive power of the gospel. It proclaims the healing, redeeming grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God has good news for the world, and he applies grace to those who are disgraced by sexual assault.
Rid of My Disgrace is psychological, theoretical, and theological, while remaining strongly personal. Justin and Lindsey apply gospel grace not to impersonal statistics, but to persons created in the image of God. Close to half of the chapters conclude with an individual’s story of being sexually assaulted and how the gospel has given them a hope and a future. For instance, a woman named Barbara, who was repeatedly raped by her husband, testifies to the life-changing grace of Jesus in her story:
My story is no longer steeped in shame because Jesus took it all and ended its grip on me with his death on the cross…Because of his death and resurrection, I am no longer identified by the sins I have committed or by the sins that have been committed against me. Unlike my husband who did not love me as God intended, God is for me and loves me. God sees me as perfect, pure, righteous, and holy because of what Christ did for me. (p. 87)
The authors explain the purpose and content of their book:
In Rid of My Disgrace, we address the effects of sexual assault with the biblical message of grace and redemption. Jesus responds to your pain and past. Your story does not end with assault. Your life was intended for more than shame, guilt, despair, pain, and denial. The assault does not define you or have the last word on your identity. Yes, it is part of your story, but not the end of your story.
The message of the gospel redeems what has been destroyed and applies grace to disgrace. (p. 14)
God’s grace is his “one-way love” for sinners, which is opposite of the “one-way violence” that victims have experienced (p. 15). The Holcombs write,
One-way love does not avoid you, but comes near, not because of personal merit but because of your need. It is the lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. One-way love is the change agent you need for the pain you are experiencing. (p. 15-16)
In chapter three the focus is on the varied psychological effects of sexual assault because the trauma of being assaulted is “not only done to, but also experienced by, victims” (p. 37). Finding healing does not come from gathering strategies to increase self-esteem and going inside yourself for healing, rather it comes from looking outside yourself to the healing and restorative work of God in Christ. God hears the cries of victims, and takes on flesh in the person of Jesus to restore what is broken. The gospel is the remedy for the devastating effects of abuse.
Chapters four through nine describe how the gospel redeems the negative effects of sexual assault. While victims often cope by denial (chapter four), the healing provided by the gospel “involves naming evil for what it is and seeing how God rages against it to reestablish shalom and proclaim his steadfast love for you” (p. 63). Though victims receive a distorted self-image (chapter five) and feelings of worthlessness, the gospel gives a new identity and calls you: “redeemed and forgiven, made righteous, new creation, God’s workmanship, reconciled to God, saint, chosen, holy, and beloved, child of light, not darkness, pure, blameless, glory of God, holy, blameless, and above reproach, and the righteousness of God” (p. 79). Whereas victims experience shame (chapter six) and feelings of “nakedness, rejection, and dirtiness” (p. 89), Jesus “reveals the love of God for his people by covering their nakedness, identifying with those who feel or have been rejected, cleansing all their defilement, and conquering their enemy who shames them” (p. 93). While many victims sense guilt (chapter seven) due to believing that they may have played a part in being assaulted, and even though they should never take responsibility for the assault, they do need to come to terms with their own sinfulness “in your response to the sins done to you” (p. 110). The gospel demonstrates how at the cross Jesus has taken the place of sinners who have committed “cosmic treason” (p. 111) against God and has removed the condemnation that sinners deserved and cleanses a guilty conscience so that “you can now have confidence, rather than fear, in relating to God” (p. 118). Most all victims feel anger and while rightly placed anger is a healthy response to the evil of abuse the anger that turns into bitterness and hate is sinful. The forgiveness of God demonstrated in the crucifixion of Jesus on behalf wicked sinners empowers victims to forgive their perpetrators by “calling the perpetrators what he/she/they are—evildoers and sinners” while “acknowledging the consequence of God’s judgment for the sins committed, and then not holding the charge against them” (p. 137). Finally, while despair (chapter nine) is the main symptom of those who have been abused, God’s good news in the resurrection-event of Jesus vindicates that he has defeated Satan, sin, and death and that the “evil done to you is not the end of the story” (p. 147).
The last three chapters give a biblical-theological analysis of sin, violence, and sexual assault (chapter ten) along with primers on grace in the Old and New Testaments (chapters eleven and twelve). These chapters are central to understanding the sin of sexual abuse and the hope that the gospel brings. They link your personal story to the wider framework of God’s story, and how he has restored shalom and the sexual disintegration that ensued due to the fall of humankind in the redemptive work of Jesus. God has not left this broken world, nor has he left you. He has come incarnate in Jesus to conquer evil, forgive sin, defeat death, and rid you of your disgrace.
A few things I’d like to see in further editions: 1) how the sovereignty of God relates to sexual assault; 2) how the gospel can redeem the perpetrators of sexual assault; 3) how spouses, parents, and friends can practically and gracefully walk those victims that they love through receiving hope and healing.
My only concern about the book is that because it is heavily footnoted and deals with the ins and outs of psychology and theology, sadly, it may intimidate some who desperately need its message. My hope would be that, in addition to the book, Rid of My Disgrace could be whittled down a bit and turned into a booklet for those victims who find reading difficult or because of the trauma they have experienced are presently unable to read a book of this density.