In this article we follow Tory Flynn’s heart-wrenching story of being raped and the unexpected aftermath that God orchestrated in her life. As we hear from Tory (indented text), we also receive expert commentary from Dr. Diane Langberg, a specialist in ministering to people who have been traumatized.
Tory’s story begins
I was twenty-one and a senior in college. I went out for Halloween with friends to a bar. At some point during the night, I had a drink—and after that drink I remembered nothing. When I regained consciousness, I was being raped by a man I’ve never seen before in my life—a guy who was about fifteen years older than me.
One in five women has been raped. Like Tory, many are raped during their college years, and most of those incidents have been covered up for the sake of the institution. Ninety-three percent of these victims know their attacker. The majority of the perpetrators are male, but 3 to 7 percent are female.1
Tory’s decisions after the crime
After I was raped, I went immediately to the emergency room. At the hospital, I realized that my body was a crime scene. So much evidence would have been lost if I had immediately gone to the bathroom, taken a shower, and so on. Specially trained nurses—sexual assault nurse examiners—used a crime collection kit, called a rape kit, to collect information from my body. Without that evidence, I realized it would be very difficult to prosecute.
A police officer was called in to the emergency room I was in, and he asked me, “Do you want to file a report?”
I told him, “I was drinking. I don’t even know what happened, or who the person was.”
“It doesn’t matter. You didn’t consent. You don’t even know this person’s name. You didn’t want this.”
It’s critical for rape victims to understand: Exploitation (for example, by means of alcohol) tells us about the perpetrator, not the victim. Even if somebody is scantily dressed, what happens in response to that still tells us about the heart and mind of the perpetrator, not the victim.
I said to the police officer, “The man told me, ‘You consented.’”
The officer interrupted me, “He said that exact thing?”
“Yes.” The man’s use of “consent” language tipped the officer off, because that showed the officer that this man knew something about the law.
The legal definition of rape is broader than most people think. It means any sexual penetration of any orifice by a body part or an object without consent; and consent means communication between two people who make an agreement. As one lawyer I heard speak about this said, “If she was drunk or drugged, she did not consent. She was impaired and unable to consent by law.”
The whole idea of consent is something that is much different than it was, say, twenty or thirty years ago. But the fact is, even if a person put up limits that are different from the ones he or she started out with (for example, initially flirting but then backing off), the new limits need to be honored. It is a simple matter of respecting the person’s choice.
After I was released from the emergency room, the police drove me around in a squad car trying to help me identify familiar surroundings where the crime took place. I remembered a car, and they were able to use the license plate to trace the identity of the owner. They did a background check, and apparently he was arrested for rape twice before. And in each case, alcohol was involved. I eventually learned that neither of the other women—both younger than me—remembered anything regarding their assaults.
It was important that Tory get to the hospital and talk to the police immediately. Rape is a felony.2
Furthermore, I would not have her go to the police alone. Nor would I have her go to the hospital alone. Rape victims are terrified. (Male pastors should ask if female victims might prefer to be accompanied by another woman.)
Tory’s trials during the trials
Almost two years after the rape, the case moved forward to a criminal trial. The prosecution brought in the two previously raped women to testify at my trial. I thought it was going to be an open-and-shut case. “I’m doing everything right. I reported it. I went to the hospital. I got the rape kit. I did everything that I was supposed to do.” I completely put my faith in the justice system. (Appropriate, I guess, because I was a prelaw student.)
However, the judge banned the word rape from my trial. He also banned the words sexual assault, sexual assault kit, and sexual assault nurse examiner, because he said he didn’t want to prejudice the jurors. He asked me to sign a language ban swearing to the court that I would not use any of those terms. Instead of calling it rape, I was to call it sex and let the jury decide what happened. I was shocked by this and refused to sign the court order.
Because I refused to obey the judge, he had the opportunity to throw me in contempt of court, which is punishable by jail time or a fine. I hired my own attorney, and we sued the judge for taking away my right to say that I was raped—after all, that was the whole point of the trial! Overnight, it became a media firestorm. The story of the judge banning the word rape from a rape trial was featured on the Today show, Fox, and other media outlets. People magazine also did a story on my case.
Two of the criminal (rape) cases were declared mistrials, and the state began to attempt a third criminal trial. Simultaneously, the language-ban case was proceeding through federal court. I remember at one point asking myself, “Do I just sign this ban and try to get this case moving forward? Or do I try to do something better and benefit other victims who are going through the justice system and might have the same judicial rule thrown at them?” That was a really difficult decision for me, but I pressed forward and the case ended up going to the United States Supreme Court for consideration.
The Supreme Court hears only about 1 percent of the cases presented to them, and this case wasn’t heard. But it did create a precedent or case law, so that lawyers now can refer to this case and protect their clients from having something similar happen to them.
That’s the silver lining, I suppose. During the third criminal trial, the state decided to dismiss the case with prejudice. At this point, it was nearly four years after the crime. I had just gotten married. I went to my husband, crying. He asked, “What happened?”
I said, “They’re not going to hear the case. It’s over.”
He held me as I sobbed. “They didn’t get it right with Jesus. Why would you think they’d get it right with you?”
Those words resonated so deeply within me, because I had put so much of my hope and faith in the justice system. And it really took me a long time to realize that our court system is an institution created by man and does not necessarily deliver the justice that God promises.
That was over a decade ago. I was crushed at the time, but I did come to realize how all things work for the glory of God. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of the storm, you don’t see it. But looking back, I’m grateful.
After all of this, I had an idea for a Bible study to help victims of sexual assault, and I went to my church leaders. I was told, “Well, surely it exists already.” They gave me a list of the megachurches in the Midwest and said, “Call these churches and find out if they’re using a study and then we can just use it here, and you can help lead it.”
I called probably fifteen churches on the list. When I asked if they had a study to address sexual assault, they said, “Well, we don’t have that, but we have one to address people that are addicted to sex. Will that work?” No.
So I created a Bible study to help women who have been sexually assaulted, “Choosing Victory.”3
Pastoral care for the victims of sexual assault
One of the things we have to be very clear about is that God’s Word strongly condemns those who feed off the vulnerable, whether it’s because they’re poor, or weak, or unaware, or incapable, or impaired. Regardless of the reasons for being vulnerable, they are all made in God’s image and worthy of protection. Repeatedly in Scripture we read about God’s special concern for vulnerable and disadvantaged people, and how His people should exhibit the same compassion toward them.4 Caring for these victims is part of incarnating Christ’s love for them.
Access community resources
First and foremost, encourage victims to get to a hospital and to talk to the police as soon as possible. Many times victims will first tell a friend, but friends are not usually trained in forensic interviewing.5 Certainly, the body of Christ is desperately needed by the victim, but not to do a task they don’t know how to do (such as discuss the legal matters associated with prosecuting a crime). So often people who are told about the crime think they have to establish the facts or truth before calling law enforcement, but when they do that, they actually muddy the legal waters. Law enforcement officers are trained to ask questions in a way that is not leading, that invites truth, and that establishes what happened. Most of us aren’t trained to do that. I’ve been a psychologist for over four decades; I am not trained in forensic interviewing, and so if somebody came to me, I would get her to the police.
Of course, talking about these crimes is very difficult, and some women are not willing to press charges. That is their choice. If possible, they should be evaluated medically for injuries and potential infections. Then, once the evidence is collected, they have it if they want to press charges later.
Your community probably has a variety of resources for the victims of sexual assault. Inquire at your courthouse, hospital, and police station.
Assess victims’ particular struggles
You should also be aware that sexual assault victims are:
- Three times more likely to experience depression
- Thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol
- Twenty-six times more likely to abuse drugs
- Four times more likely to attempt suicide
- Likely to have significant struggles with post-traumatic stress
Furthermore, rape victims are overwhelmed; they’re afraid; they want to isolate because they think people will think badly of them; they feel helpless; they can have interpersonal difficulties; their faith might be shattered, and they often carry shame, even though it’s the shame of the perpetrator, not theirs. Many times victims’ identity is altered by the rape: “I was this, now I’m that.” Most victims struggle with self-blame: “If I’d gone home from work earlier, if I hadn’t walked down that street, this wouldn’t have happened.” If the rape happened at night, they might be afraid of the dark and find it difficult to sleep. There are women who go to bed at six in the morning after being raped, which means they can’t function if they have children, a job, or classes. They might entertain thoughts of suicide because of the significant depression that can go with being assaulted. Substance abuse is not uncommon, because people use it to numb the fear and the pain of what happened. Basically, rape is an injury to personhood; it’s not just an event, and consequently there is a long process to help women find healing from it.
Be a refuge of safety for victims
Generally speaking, everything you do with sexual assault victims needs to be a reversal of the dynamics of that trauma. So, for example, a rapist doesn’t really care what his victim thinks. He didn’t ask how she felt about it, so help her be able to speak, to make choices, and to resume life with a measure of confidence. Learn to listen well. However, as a ministry leader, recognize that you are also a person in power. Thus, talking to you can be terrifying and feel unsafe—even though it also might feel important and needed. Therefore, it would be good to inquire, “Would you feel safer if there was always a woman in the room with us?” Ask her if she would like a referral to a counselor (someone she does not have to face every Sunday).
Help victims say what they might be afraid to say
Help victims use the Scriptures to express their pain. Introducing people to passages like the lament psalms enables them to use Scripture to express their fear, their anger, and other forms of emotional turmoil.6 Such passages give them a tool to stay connected with God and to speak the truth about what’s going on inside of them without fear, because it’s actually His Word that they’re saying back to Him. I think the church has sort of lost the art of lamenting, and I find it’s a real gift to give to survivors.
Victims will wonder, “Where in the world was God when this happened? He says He sees the sparrow fall; how come He didn’t watch me?” To help my clients voice such heart-wrenching questions, I find phrases out of some of the scriptural laments that mirror what they’ve said to me. “Here’s a phrase from this psalm, or here’s a phrase from Lamentations. Does this sound like what you’re saying?” When they affirm it is, then I reveal these are actually Scripture. “You can say these things to God. You can quote His Word back to Him to express what you’re feeling; you don’t have to hide what you’re feeling from Him.” If they connect to that, then I will direct them to some of the lament psalms and tell them to come back to me with three or four more phrases that resonated with their experience. This is a way of connecting them with the Scriptures based on the truth of their experience, and that connects them with God.
Remind victims of God’s central plan in our lives
An obviously profound and strong theme in the Scriptures is restoration and redemption. God takes the ugly and turns it into something of beauty. The Cross is so powerful in working with victims because there’s nothing that God’s Son didn’t bear. Jesus bore their griefs and carried their sorrows. He was brutally victimized and publicly shamed (including being stripped). And He was pierced. It cannot be done early on, but as they begin to heal, help victims understand the ways in which Christ identified with them for the purpose of bringing redemption and restoration where there had been darkness and perverse ugliness. He restores ruined things; that’s what He loves to do.
Tory came to this same realization:
Getting my old life back wasn’t the path that was meant for me. And so, finally I accepted it: “Okay, I’m going to stop fighting this, and I’m just going to go forward with this new me. This is my new reality.” Once I turned that corner, my life got much easier. And the rape stopped being the issue defining my life, and it started being a chapter in my life’s book. It started just being a piece of my life that helped make the fabric of who I am today. Genesis 50:20 has become a key in my life, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” God has restored me, has empowered me, and has encouraged me to do His work and help others. Through Christ, I choose victory.
Reaching this point is extremely difficult. But God’s grace is infinitely more powerful than the devastating effects of sin—or the sin of others—in our lives.
Also consider these four articles for more information on caring for people who’ve faced trauma:
- Editor’s Note: For more on sexual assault statistics, go to: https://www.nsopw.gov/en/Education/FactsStatistics; https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence; https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=317.
- Editor’s Note: A felony is a serious crime involving serious physical or financial harm to people that is punishable for more than a year in prison and possibly up to the death penalty if allowed in a state.
- For more information, go to: https://www.thecreek.org/choosingvictory.
- Editor’s Note: See Exod. 22:21; Deut. 10:18; 14:28–29; 24:17–22; 26:12–15; Ps. 10:14, 17–18; 68:5; 146:6–9; and James 1:27.
- Editor’s Note: Forensic interviewing is asking a series of questions in a specific way so as to establish what happened during a crime without suggesting how the informant might respond to the interviewer.
- Editor’s Note: Some sample individual laments are Pss. 3; 22; 31; 39; 42; 57; 71; 88; 120; 139; and 142.