Getting a phone call at 4:00am is rarely good news. As a pastor and college minister I have had my share of them over the years and it has always meant someone is in trouble. Two years ago a young man gave us one of those calls. Something was wrong with his girlfriend (I will call her "Jane"), she was upset and hostile and could not talk to him. My wife and I got out of bed and came right over. Upon arriving we found a beautiful college-age woman sitting in the driveway crying uncontrollably. Coming up to Jane, she had the stale stench of beer and could not stand or talk, but could only heave great sobs of distress. We helped Jane up, got her into our car, and took her to our house. There Jane began to sober up and began telling her story: she had been at party near campus and got pretty drunk. At midnight she decided to go home, but made the decision to walk by herself across campus to try and make it back to her place. What happened next Jane could only remember in bits and pieces, and is perhaps every young woman's nightmare....
According to the American Association of University Women, somewhere between 20%-25% of college women are raped sometime during their college career; 65% of these attacks go unreported; and, alcohol is involved in 75% of the assaults. When a rape occurs, the victim should get to a safe place, resist taking a shower, get medical attention immediately, report the abuse, and receive counseling as soon as possible. Certainly, Jane made some bad decisions: excessive partying, having amorphous relationships (did no one try and stop Jane from leaving the party by herself?), and sexual license that was occurring at that party.
How should we respond and help in such a situation? Jane is not the only victim I have worked with, and I wish I could tell you that all the cases I have seen have a happy ending. Unfortunately, I must say that I have seen far too many believers in Jesus only add to the hurt by pointing out the bad decisions made on the part of the victim, as if they were not a victim at all but brought the assault upon themselves. Even in situations completely out of the victim's control, guilt is sometimes applied by probing what the victim could have done differently....
To put this in perspective, let me tell a hypothetical story. When my daughter was small she rarely walked, but ran everywhere she went. In public, I always had to hold her hand so she would not run off alone. As we walk down the sidewalk I tell her to hold my hand and not let go, but she pulls away and runs into the street, and is hit by a car. What will be my response? "Well, that's what you get for disobeying me!" No! Instead, I will have the reaction of much tears and doing everything I can to get her the help she needs, while all the time assuring her that I love her and will not leave her....
The way to handle a sexual assault of any kind is to turn it around and offer an assault of grace. All ministry is grace, and the grace of God is the thing that heals. The way people change is not through pointing out their poor judgments or finding out what could have been done differently, but through the grace of extending mercy and help in time of need, no matter the circumstance. In the novel, Les Miserables, ex-convict Jean Valjean makes the decision of stealing from the priest who extended hospitality to him. When caught by the police and brought to the priest, the man of God responds in grace by saying that the items were a gift. What is more, the old priest chastises Jean for leaving in such a rush the night before that he forgot to take the two silver candlesticks. This act of mercy and kindness changes Jean's life forever, and in turn, changes an entire town.
The cross of Christ is scandalous simply because of its radical nature of grace to all of us who are undeserving of it. So, if God can be gracious to people who are not even victims, how much more should we, as his followers, be about the kingdom business of extending vast resources of mercy and grace to genuine victims of abuse?
Are you prepared to respond to sexual abuse when it occurs?
--Have numbers in your cell phone of your campus counseling services, and of your local rape hotline.
--The Dean of Students on most campuses is ready and equipped to handle abuse situations. The victim will most likely need help filing formal reports.
--Many colleges also have women's services that have a comprehensive referral list of services to help the victim.
--The campus police are also ready to respond, even if the victim does not want to pursue criminal charges, through advising victims of their options and helping to create a safety plan for the future.
--Get to know all these people on your campus.
--Teach and equip our students in the way of grace in ministry through using the Bible to comfort a victim with assurance that God is close to the broken-hearted. Resist playing arm-chair psychologist and instead demonstrate grace through your presence and reassuring words.