A Letter to Survivors of Sexual Assault

To every person who has survived harassment, abuse, or violation:

Dear Friend,

I’ve been thinking about you and wanted you to hear a few things today, in case you never hear them for anyone else. I so hope this reaches you.

I imagine these days must be difficult for you.

Not that every day isn’t difficult given what you’ve endured, but I imagine these are especially painful times—
to see the headlines and the hashtags, and to be continually reminded of the personal hell you’ve walked through;
to watch people debate the veracity of accusers,
to see survivors cross-examined by strangers,
to hear supposed adults suggest a child’s consent,
to listen to professed Christians defend predatory politicians using the Bible,
to see lawmakers take the side of the victimizers,
to witness admitted offenders being rewarded.

I can’t fathom what it all must feel like to bear the brunt of such enmity and violence.
The chronic pain it all manufactures must be more than your heart can handle,
the rage it generates within you, immeasurable.
I imagine it all causes you to silently relive the nightmares over and over again—and I wanted you to know that I’m so very sorry.

I’m sorry for the first time you had your story so terribly altered by another human being—and equally sorry for the countless times others have knowingly or unknowingly perpetuated that moment; for the way we have further preserved your pain and prolonged your grief. 

It’s likely that you quietly carry much of this burden alone, and that must make the strain tremendous. I imagine it further confirms your decision to stay silent and to remain in the shadows; seeing what those who speak out are greeted by—the ridicule and minimizing and condemnation.

I know that you alone have specific proximity to this pain.
I know there isn’t anything I or anyone can do from a distance to step into that pain and sit there alongside you in it—though I so wish I could.
I know there’s little I or anyone can say to fully lift the weight from your shoulders; to replace the things you’ve lost, to rewrite the sickening plot twist you’ve had to live through—but I hope these words lighten the load enough today for you to keep going.
I hope they send a sliver of light to you there in the darkness, and that it makes a difference.
I hope you find in these words, something that feels like love—and that you rest in it.

My friend, I’m sorry for both your initial injury—and for the way the world causes you further damage when you take the risk of stepping forward, or simply as you endure our daily oblivion. You deserve far better. 

Even though I can’t walk in the shoes you’ve walked, know that I am standing beside you as closely as I can, and that I am for you.

And above all, know that you are loved and valued and respected and believed.

May you be greatly encouraged today.


If you are a survivor and you need help, or if you want to find out how you can be an advocate for survivors, here are some places to start: 

National Sexual Assault Hotline
EROC (End Rape on Campus)
National Domestic Violence Hotline

Safe Horizon
INCITE (For Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color)
On Eagle’s Wings Ministries
Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ)
NCLR Nation Center for Lesbian Rights 

Not Alone
Safe Helpline (Victim support for members of Military) 



27 thoughts on “A Letter to Survivors of Sexual Assault

  1. Thank you. As a survivor, the constant triggers are awful. Not a headline goes by without a tear and a mini or major panic attack.

    However, the society of brave women , quiet and outspoken, is like resting in the full armour of Christ.

    To me the most powerful words are, “It’s not your fault!”

    I am forever grateful to know I am neither alone or a foolish minority. Thank you sisters.

  2. John, I cannot thank you enough. I will try to get through typing this…I broke down crying reading these words. It truly means so much to hear them. I have felt so alone reliving the constant pain and images from the sexual assaults I have endured. I’ve been wondering if I’m just crazy that what has constantly been coming out over the past month has really triggered the PTSD after having worked through a lot of it in the past and thinking I was out ahead of it. Not only has it triggered the events of what happened, but it has also stirred up the pain of not being believed, blamed and brushed under the rug.
    I’m realizing there are seasons we go through in dealing with trauma, just as we do with grief. There are periods where it feels I have made tremendous strides and it’s not at the forefront of my mind – when I can look at it, and it doesn’t feel so present and painful but more off in a distant. Then, at times like these, it feels as if a tornado hits with the emotion, the flashbacks, and the intensity as if I had never gained much ground at all. I’m realizing, as I’ve been journaling a ton and talking with my therapist, that there is more healing taking place as I am processing through even more emotions/pain, as shitty as it feels.
    I write this for anyone else who is feeling as if you’ve been hit with a flood of flashbacks and pain, after thinking you had moved past it. The intensity of the pain is real…you’re not alone in feeling it. I’m with you through it. I wish we could come together and hold each other as we try to navigate our way through this time. But, know I am hugging you in my heart.

  3. And less we forget everyone who lies about the the kind of horrors you went through as if pretending what happened to you, happening to them is in any way excusable.

    To those who blatantly lie using false sexual assault accusations to harm other, thus creating a shroud of doubt over the thousands more who actually do suffer from sexual abuse.

    Less we forget this IS NOT about someone else saying ‘my experience was much worse than yours’ ~ EVER.

    What happened to you was a crime which fell upon you and no other. How you choose to deal with that pain, shame, fear and anger is yours … but please never feel you have to be alone, or that you have to ‘measure up’ in any way.

    If you feel you want to keep quiet and deal with this through contemplation, prayer and internal reconstructive processes, so be it. That is your freedom to do so. Seize that freedom.

    If you choose to step forward, never feel the ridicule will matter ~ that it will feel worse than the initial violation … because it won’t as you have already shown the internal resolve to face this crime on your own two feet. By all means, find allies who will support and comfort you through the tough times ahead.

    Please, please never feel you need to ‘check out’ thought. That is giving your violator one final victory and denies you the ability to rediscover the beauties of true love, trust, honor and commitment. If you feel that way, seek help because there are many doors open to you and many willing to believe in you and help any way they can.

    True, you must find the Will within to save yourself, but please believe many will provide you the brick and mortar to build the new foundation for happiness within your soul. HE has always had faith in you. Please keep faith in HIM and faith in the belief this IS NOT what he wished for you.

    This is not about vengeance, this is about you and healing. The only ‘Cause’ here is you. The only goal here is you being the type of survivor who flies once more ~ scarred – true, but still free to fly and love and believe in others once more.

  4. I read this in a slightly detached manner because as a woman survivor of childhood rapes and then date rapes and then a rapist entering my home as an adult, not to mention in the entertainment business when I was young, I had to deal with movie producers asking me to dress in lingerie and a whip and give them a massage. When I refused one asked to buy my shoes because he” loved my feet”. I have had Headmasters of private Christian schools ask me for sexual favors on a therapeutic massage table in a clinic. I have had professional (Denver Nugget star player in the 80’s) whip his sheet off, in the basement of his million dollar home with his wife and kids upstairs. (Again, sent by the team to help with his rehab)
    I have been blamed for the behavior of sick men because I was (In the words of many) sexy. What does that exactly mean? I was fit and healthy and I did swimsuit modeling. Does that give someone permission to become a predator?
    In my 63rd year of life I offer this. IT IS NEVER THE VICTIMS FAULT. It is NOT okay to think that women are something to control or possess with a man’s position of power or money or strength. It is NEVER okay to demand sex, to think that you some how are due the act of violation against any woman’s will. I have rarely shared any of this EXCEPT when I think it will help another victim to NOT feel ashamed or alone. We are precious women of GOD, bought with the price of his beautiful life for the sins of us all. I for one rest assured that any sin I have done is forgiven and as such I MUST forgive ALL sin done to me. It is for my own good to forgive. It does not mean I condone. It does not mean I am okay with an unrepentant male. It NEVER means I have to be around a man like that or accept any lewd or disrespecting comments. It only means a perfect man covers all

  5. Thank you for saying all that. I was raped 50 yrs ago and it changed my life in a profound way. No one would know- but I do and I know what long term damage it did to me. Grateful thanks. It does help.

  6. Thanks so much for this. Our cell group is preparing Christmas gift bags for 24 abused women. We have been struggling in knowing what to write in our notes of encouragement. Your words are wonderfully helpful and inspiring. Thanks so much.

  7. Pingback: John Pavlovitz – A Letter to Survivors of Sexual Assault – Persona

  8. The list of resources is especially great. Thank you. I had something worse than assault happen to me – I had to endure knowing it happened to my teenage daughter, on a college campus thousands of miles away from me, where I slept peacefully unaware until weeks later when the truth was finally revealed to me. So much better had it happened to me personally than to this precious child whom I love more than my own self, though no one should have to endure this, ever. Your words matter, your heart is making a difference. Keep speaking love, as will I. Let’s forever keep each other encouraged. #powertothepeacemakers

  9. Thank you for your kind and empathetic words. I cried while reading them as you have aptly described what I and others go through daily. The weight of guilt for not telling, for thinking you put yourself in this positions, especially if you were date-raped, is overwhelming at times. And no matter how many years pass, it’s always a large or small festering wound. God bless you, Pastor, for your commitment to speaking the true word of God without qualifications. May you continue to be blessed to speak with His voice of truth!

  10. Teach, Train, Prevent, Prosecute
    this stops the problem right?
    when people who are not raised, trained, taught values in life or disciplined for actions.
    Taught that there is a consequence for Greed, Theft, violance, wrong language, wrong actions towards other s .
    This is the culture set before us.
    Takers , not givers
    Selfish, self centered , NOT others center
    this is what you get.
    The Bible , YES the bible , Holy word of God , Mighty God who holds mankind, womankind, people accountable for every action, thought and work done will Judge the Heart and those who commit such actions.
    With out God, Faith, True Relationship , Accountability for our self , this is what you get.
    Stop, Pray, Trust, Believe, Follow Jesus Christ s example s written in the bible , Holy words of leadership and eternal destiny.
    Unless a man, woman, child is born again, changed , turned into a new creation , that of Jesus Christ , they will just keep doing selfish actions like this, these , listed above.
    Seek Holiness, Turn away from sin , Run from those false leaders who lead with deception .
    Only the word of God, the Holy scriptures , and a true clear conscience to God will keep man in check. and control his lust

  11. Thank you John. You hit the nail on the head. I’ve been out of the workforce for over 10 years now and you are absolutely right. I have a “movie reel” in my head today re-living the assaults and harassment that I lived through when I was a Legal Secretary. No way to speak out because I would have been “black balled” by the close knit male dominated workplace. I spent one and half years working on an offshore oil/gas production platform, me the only woman with 60+ men, and WAS NEVER harassed or assaulted. Why the law firms? Because Lawyers think they are above the law and have all the power. Some were even judges. Appalling & chilling now that my granddaughter has entered the workforce. I want to protect her and other women from the hostile work environments that I have experienced. Thank you again for speaking of this horrible issue.

  12. Thanks John.

    Your heart, and your stand, matter.

    In my expereince, I find having (particularly) men say something like:
    – I hear you.
    – I wish this didn’t happen to you – it wasn’t ok!
    – I stand with you.

    Feels really helpful and healing.

    Bless you in your continued ministry
    and Bless us ALL, everyone.


    this purging we are going through right now
    – so wonderful and terrible, for most folks, not just survivors.
    Intense and confronting.

    It is a tough time to be a sexual predator,
    these folks carry a lot of damage, and it must be a scary time.
    I am praying for them, at least as much as anyone else.

    So, I am bothering to say all this, because I want to give a shout-out to Louis CK – who I just read a headline regarding his acts of sexual misconduct.

    In his statement, Louis C.K. said,
    “These stories are true.”

    ! wow !
    I celebrated.
    We need this – it is great modeling.

    I read the article and I am impressed – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/10/arts/television/louis-ck-statement.html

    Everybody does crappy stuff.
    He is showing us how to OWN it.
    We don’t see nearly enough of this.

    Hopefully he will do what he can to change, to keep learning, serve others better, and make amends.

    IMO, we need to see much, much more of this in the public space,
    and do it ourselves in our everyday lives, IMO.

    Thanks for reading!

  13. I am a survivor and even through healing, physically, emotionally, and spiritually have taken place there is, it seems, always a shadow. My heart just bursts open for the horrible things that are being said and blamed on women. Thank you for your love and support for all women everywhere. It is time.

  14. This is a wonderfully supportive post. Thank you. I have had very positive personal experiences with the following two resources. One is a therapy and one is an online resource. (I am not a therapist.)
    – 1in6.org is a resource focused on men who have been through abuse or unwanted sexual trauma or advances.
    – emdria.org is a resource that helps people find a nearby EMDR therapist. I had overwhelmingly positive experiences with this therapy. It is widely utilized for people suffering from loss and trauma related PTSD. Maybe if you look these over and decide they are appropriate for your site, you could add them. I feel that men often face a specific set of challenges. Of course as I write that, I realize every single person who has been traumatized faces a different or specific challenge. I wish to echo your post; I wish to express support for those who have been on “the dark side” due to sexual dominance and trauma. I want them to know they are supported. They are believed in and they are believed.

  15. I didn’t think that would make me cry, and it didn’t until the last sentence because we’ve heard it all.

    Will our anger and pain be buried once more?

    I truly hope not.

    Thank you.

  16. Hey John!! Is good to see you using your voice once again. Yes it is painful to keep silent and it is painful to speak up about sexual assault. It appears to be a no win situation at the moment. I am praying for change. Perhaps one day our MeToo will be met with justice and our perpetrators will be held fully responsible for their sex crimes. All the best!!

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