When Counseling the Sexually Violated

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sexually violated

Counseling a sexually violated woman is heart-breaking and hopeful, for her and for the counselor. This article by Lucy Ann Moll, D.Min., a BCC counselor who counsels worldwide by Skype/FaceTime/Zoom, appeared first on her website.

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Sexually violated women are real people with real and tragic stories. But there is hope.

Perhaps you’re counseling a sexually violated woman now. Or maybe you have your own #metoo story. (I do.) She is broken, wounded, scared. She needs compassionate care. 

In this article, I ask you to consider 3 essential keys to care for women and girls who’ve been sexually violated. (Here’s the definition for sexual assault I am using.)

Remember Tamar. The bible has encouragement for us. The biblical account of Tamar’s rape in in Second Samuel gives voice to this young woman’s pain and does not excuse the despicable behavior of her half-brother. You may also want to check out pastor-counselor Bob Kellemen’s insights on this passage.

Sickening Statistics

Daily we learn of yet another incidence of sexual violation, don’t we? Among the latest reported victims are women and girls (and boys) harmed by Southern Baptist pastors and volunteers. And before then, Hollywood stars and congressmen made the news. 

And now comes a book by former Olympian gymnast Rachael Denhollander who tells her story of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar. It hits the bookstores in September.

“Who is going to tell these little girls that what was done to them matters? That they are seen and valued, that they are not alone and they are not unprotected?” 

–Rachael Denhollander

And on and on and on it goes. It’s sick. My heart hurts.

Indeed, almost all of the women I counsel who’ve been sexually violated can name the abuser: an ex-boyfriend, or a dad or an uncle, a brother, a neighbor, a family friend, even a mother or female cousin.

Eight out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, statistics show. And, hard to fathom, one person every 98 seconds is sexually assaulted in the US. Get more statistics from RAINN.org.

1: Listen Deeply

Counseling well begins with listening deeply. “Mari” first came to me because she was always on edge and living life small. Nearing 30, she spent most of her time at home or at a job she hated. 

She wondered why her fears loomed large, but then news of the arrest of an elderly neighbor on charges of sexual assault jogged her memory. Hadn’t she spent time on his porch beginning at age 7 or 8? Didn’t he give her toys and candy, tickles and back rubs?

As she told her story to me, and between sessions when she’d work on assignments I gave her, she remembered more details. She recalled that he’d guide her hand toward his his genitals, and he’d touch hers.

As I listened deeply she reclaimed hope and courage. 

Collect Data

I also read the police report. This might sound like I doubted Mari. I didn’t. I completely believed her. But since the elderly man’s arrest was public record, this data gathering helped me fill in the gaps and provide informed counsel. 

(NOTE: You may have heard of false memory syndrome,  which are false memories created by a therapist in a client through continuous suggestion. The topic came up in the coverage of Dr. Blasey Ford’s accusation against a Supreme Court nominee. You may also learn more by reading Ed Bulkley’s Only God Can Heal the Wounded Heart.)

Guard Your Own Heart

Also, as a counselor listens to the pain of sexual assault, it is easy to get so wrapped up in a counselee’s pain, and this may mean you sidestep the topic of your counselee’s failures.

The sexually violated woman is never, repeat never, at fault for her abuser’s sin against her.

Now don’t hear me wrong. The sexually violated woman is never, repeat never, at fault for her abuser’s sin against her. Yet in response to the trauma of sexual violation, she may also sin.

For instance in the case another counselee of mine, she began taking drugs to numb the pain of the sexual assault. Over the months we talked about the perpetrator’s sin against her as well as her godly and sinful responses, and sharing openly and without condemnation increased her hope. 

2: Watch for Signs of Trauma

Sexual violation is traumatic, and so it’s wise to watch for signs of post traumatic stress: hyper-vigilance, agitation, trigger response, flashbacks, nightmares, numbing — all or some of these may be present.

Among my first counselees was “Sandra,” whose parents pimped her when she was a young girl (and were arrested and lost custody). She clearly remembers a crying nurse when her foster parents took her to the ER and she tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat. She was about age 8. 

Her story was hard for me to hear and she often told it in a “little girl” voice, indicative of dissociation, a sign of post traumatic stress. As she told her story, I helped her make sense of her fear of the dark and her fierce dislike of surprises as well as her difficulty trusting people, even God. 

May I recommend Brad Hambrick’s resource Post-Traumatic Stress? His team will send it to you at your request. You’ll find information about at this excellent place.

3: Help Her Reframe Her Story

Your counselee’s story matters because she matters to Christ.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Remind who she is in Christ: loved, accepted, chosen, forgiven, redeemed.

Review gospel basics. Isn’t the gospel the best news ever? Basically, it’s the story of how God saw our need for a savior. Jesus took on flesh as he was born of the virgin Mary, and then crucified and buried. He rose again, defeating death, and is  now seated at the right hand of God. He sent the Holy Spirit who every believer in Jesus Christ.

Reframe her story. She is no longer a victim. In Christ she is a victor.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37

An essential part of defaming her story has three parts and is based on Ephesians 4:22-24:

  1. Discarding old patterns of ungodly thinking
  2. Thought reconstruction
  3. Adopting new patterns of godly thinking

Very often I show my counselees how to do this through a specific type of journaling. If interested, you can get the Transform Your Thoughts e-Journal.

Reminding your counselee of her identity in Christ, reviewing the gospel, and helping her reframing her story is part of your counselees’ healing, accomplished through Jesus Christ who is her healer.

A Question to Ponder

Do you find hope in the truth that if you’re God’s child, you are loved right now by an ever-present Redeemer you’ll never leaver you and always help you?

Read carefully what I am going to write next: Jesus was willing to be despised. He was willing to face rejection. He was willing to subject himself to hatred and violence. . .

(And) he did so willingly so that, as his children, you and I would be able to live in the hope and peace of that knowing no matter what we face in the human community, we are perfectly and eternally loved by him. –David Paul Trip in New Morning Mercies.

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