Sexual abuse and sexual assault are two of the most painful experiences a human being can endure. From the initial trauma, the physical pain and the sense of betrayal to the often-lingering battles with identity, control, depression, anxiety and shame, it’s an aspect of this fallen world that leaves many lives in shreds. And it’s one that we, as counsellors, can often find hard to navigate. With so many avenues to explore, where do we begin? With such overwhelming emotions, how do we love and support people well for the long-haul?
Not everyone appreciates a structured approach to counselling but those who do may benefit from a book and associated course by Justin and Lindsey Holcolm, Rid of My Disgrace – Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault. It’s not particularly new (indeed it’s been around for a decade now) but it’s not one we’ve used a huge amount in the UK. It’s a resource that can be used by those wishing to gain more understanding of this desperately difficult topic, as something to read 1-to-1 with someone struggling or as the basis for an issue-based support group.
What does it contain? Part 1 begins with a story – the hideous rape of Tamar by her half-brother, Amnon, in 2 Samuel 13. It tracks not just the horrors of the assault but the impact of the action (or inaction!) of people around. It is a sobering reminder that it’s not just an assault that wounds deeply – the way other people respond can add to the despair. The reflection sets the scene for understanding the deep disgrace – that sense of being marred, tainted, unacceptable, hopeless, shamed and outside of true community – that victims / survivors often feel. But it also acts a springboard for the rest of the book, one whose aim is to bring hope through the provision of God’s grace.
In the rest of part 1, we visit definitions, statistics and an overview of the legacy abuse can bring. This is so much more than ensuring everyone understands the terms. So many, in the wake of assault or abuse try to reduce their pain by telling themselves “it wasn’t that bad” or “others go through worse”. This book leaves us in no doubt that: assault matters, it’s serious and we all need to act.
Part 2 is the place where we are invited to dig deeper into the difference grace makes to people’s lives. The book looks in turn at denial, self-image, shame, guilt, anger and despair and, through Bible teaching and testimony, helps us lift our gaze to our hope-filled Saviour. The words offer no quick fixes but encourage expression of pain and offer soothing balm to troubled souls that reorientate thinking and help people engage with the one who enables us to persevere.
In every good book, there’s always something that provides particular food for thought. For me, it was the reflection on Colossians 2:13-15 found on page 99. To know beyond any shadow of doubt that Jesus has disarmed the powers of evil, to see more clearly the ways in which that means the evil things done to us don’t define or have to disable us anymore, was a personally free-ing moment and a professionally galvanising one. Not new truths but glorious truths! There are plenty of other nuggets besides.
In conclusion, part 3 brings a biblical theology of grace. No dry academics here but an exciting journey through Old Testament and New to see the consistency and completeness of God’s kindness to broken people. As the closing prayer reminds:
Without him all within me is terror and dismay,
In him every accusation is charmed into joy and peace.
Without him all things external call for my condemnation;
In him they minister to my comfort. (p209)
As with any pastoral work, it’s important to be realistic – no-one who has been abused will read a single book and suddenly be OK. And it is a weighty book – if someone’s trauma means they are struggling to concentrate when reading, it’s a resource that will need to be taken in bite-sized chunks. But by being a rich, biblical resource, Rid of My Disgrace provides counsellors and counselees with a deep well from which transformational truths can be repeatedly drawn. Truths that, when applied – in relationship with God and others – truly can bring hope and healing to the most painful lives.
Definitely a recommended read for strugglers and those who walk alongside.
Rid of My Disgrace – Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault
Justin S Holcomb and Lindsey A Holcomb