Last month thousands of women took to the Toronto streets dressed in lingerie and miniskirts. Calling their movement SlutWalk, they were protesting a police officer's statement to college students, after a wave of sexual assaults at York University, that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." Organized mainly through social media, SlutWalks have now occurred throughout Canada, the U.S., and Europe. The goal, say organizers, is to debunk the belief that victims of sexual assault are responsible for the assault because of their clothing—or for any other reason.

Watch the latest video at

Christian singer Rebecca St. James, discussing SlutWalk with Sean Hannity on Monday, put to words this entrenched belief. The newly married St. James said, "Women are asking for sex if they are dressed immodestly." While she said "there is never an excuse no matter how a woman is dressed for a man to abuse a woman,"

I mean, I love the t-shirt modest is hottest. I absolutely believe it. I got married two weeks ago to a holy hunk. I have lived out purity …. I think there has to be a responsibility though for what a woman is wearing, personal responsibility …. Purity and modesty go hand in hand. I think when a woman is dressing in an immodest way, in a provocative way, she has got to think about what is she saying by her dress?

If SlutWalks and "modest is hottest" t-shirts sum up the current public conversation about sexual assault, then we need a better conversation. That's why Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault (Crossway Books / Re:Lit) comes as a breath of gospel-infused fresh air.

Authors Justin Holcomb and Lindsey Holcomb are uniquely gifted to write this book. Justin is a pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle and director of the Resurgence, and has taught classes on sexual violence at the University of Virginia. Lindsey worked at a sexual assault crisis center, then at a domestic violence center, before serving as a deacon at Mars Hill, where she counsels SA victims. Together they provide a theologically rich and meticulously researched resource for women and men who have suffered any forced sexual conduct or behavior—which is an estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in the U.S.

The Holcombs' goal is to show SA victims that the gospel directly and clearly heals the psychological pain of sexual assault. For an SA victim to hear that they are pure, accepted, blameless, affirmed, and made new in Christ, they say, is far more transforming and true than the self-help messages that are normative in secular counseling models: "What victims need are not self-produced positive statements but God's statements about his response to their pain," they write.

Article continues below

The book defines SA 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 or authority. SA is at root about violence and power, not sex, and usually occurs between people who know each other (dispelling the "armed man hiding in the shrubs" myth). The Holcombs list 60 possible effects of SA, including depression, panic attacks, self-mutilation, hypervigilance, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet one of the most devastating aspects of SA is what it tells victims about themselves, the Holcombs note: that they are "vile, defiled, filthy, and dirty, as opposed to them having had a vile, defiled, and dirty act done to them." Many victims struggle through denial, shame, guilt, anger, and despair, and a distorted self-image.

Yet Christ meets victims in each of these destructive emotions. God gives victims in denial permission to grieve, as the Psalms demonstrate. Christ himself "was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3). He doesn't turn away from the victim's suffering but in fact identifies with her in it. Jesus, the great high priest, opens the way for victims to approach God in confidence and honesty (Heb. 4:14-16). Many SA victims feel their very self was robbed in the assault, and suggestions from family or friends that the victim cued the assault reinforce a negative self-image. The Holcombs show that the victim's lingering question of "Who am I really?" is answered throughout the New Testament: In Christ, SA victims are redeemed and forgiven (Eph. 1:6-8), chosen, holy, and beloved (Col. 3:12), a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and the very righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21), to name a few. This identity is far better than what the experience of assault tells victims as well as what self-help culture tells them.

Despair is the most commonly reported symptom of sexual assault. To this, the Holcombs preach that God is making all things new (Rev. 21:5) and promises a future glory not worth comparing to present sufferings (Rom. 8:18). Some readers might balk at the notion that "eventually everything that happens, without exception, will be for your good"—an outgrowth of Reformed theology's high view of the sovereignty of God. Yet the Holcombs never suggest that God wills sexual assault, only that he is powerful and holy enough to turn the worst evil, even SA, into the believer's good.

Article continues below

Refreshingly, Rid of My Disgrace offers a strongly Reformed articulation of the gospel yet includes Christian voices from outside the Reformed camp. The book's final two chapters outline God's grace shown throughout the Old and New Testaments, and propitiatory views of atonement and expiation are central. Yet Cornelius Plantinga's classic book on sin, Miroslav Volf's work on forgiveness, and Dan Allender and Tremper Longman's book on the emotions appear often in the footnotes. Further, the Holcombs rely almost exclusively on secular research to frame the clinical effects of SA. More refreshingly, while Rid of My Disgrace is written specifically for SA victims and should be used with them in counseling, its scripturally soaked message is a healing balm for anyone grappling with despair, shame, and guilt.

The truth is, we all need our disgrace removed and transfigured into beauty. The Holcombs have offered a gift of love to victims of sexual assault, and a reminder of God's relentless redemption to all who dare to pick up this challenging book.