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I jumped on the Downton Abbey fan train during Season Two. It didn’t take long to become engrossed in the drama surrounding the Grantham family. I subtly even got my husband hooked on the show when he started watching Season Three with me. (I finally got tired of answering questions, and we had to backtrack and watch the first two seasons so he could catch up.) He even wanted to send a sympathy card when Sybil died. It took a few weeks to comprehend that she was actually gone from our lives…I mean show.

One of the things I’ve found interesting is the way Downton Abbey has woven contemporary issues into a story line that dates back to the early part of the 20th century. Prostitution, homosexuality and abortion have all made it into the storyline one way or another. But no one prepared us for the attack and rape of Anna, one of Downton’s most beloved characters.

I watched the episode by myself when I was traveling out of town. I must admit, it left me uncomfortable and restless. I noticed from my Twitter feed that many others, especially women, were upset. Some made comments saying they might stop watching the show. The subject of rape hit an uneasy nerve—even though we were spared visual images that might have been shown.

Rape. The word alone conjures up pain and empathy.  I’m not an expert, but I believe women are tender towards the agony that was presented in this episode. Why? Because way too many women have been a victim of this crime, and it continues to haunt them.

In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control of 5,000 college students at over 100 colleges, 20 percent of women answered “yes” to the question, “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?” In other words, one in five college women has been raped at some point in her lifetime. 1

A similar survey showed the same statistics among high school students. Half of the girls told no one about the incident.2

Other important statistics you should know:

  • 57% of rapes happen on dates. 3
  • 75% of the men and 55% of the women involved in acquaintance rapes were drinking or taking drugs just before the attack.4
  • More than half of all rape and sexual assault incidents occurred within one mile of the survivor’s home or in her home. 5

We may be glued to our television sets and sympathize with a fictional character, but the real question is, “How will the church address this issue? How can you provide help to women who are silently suffering in our pews?” Although this is a very simple list, here are a few suggestions to consider:

Recognize there is a problem and begin a conversation. Provide small group opportunities for women where they can find safe places to share. Learn how to ask the right questions if you suspect a woman has been sexually assaulted. For instance, “Have you had an unwanted sexual encounter?” may be easier for someone to answer than, “Have you been raped?”

Understand that a sexual assault may be the underlying issue to a different symptom. For instance, if a woman is dealing with depression, panic attacks, anxiety or marital problems, it is possible that these are the manifestations of a previous unwanted sexual encounter.

Know that you are probably not equipped to handle this situation without professional help. Does your church have connections with professional counselors? Is there a woman on your staff who is able to minister to this need? I’m personally not a fan of men counseling women in general, but this is definitely an area where women need to be available to other women, especially older women who are wise and discerning. (In other words, who is your Mrs. Hughes?)

If you’ve been the victim of a sexual assault, here are a few reminders to you:

  • You are not responsible for the actions of an assault against you. If you were coerced or forced against your will, it is not your fault. Just as Anna began questioning whether she had led her attacker on, you cannot put blame, guilt or shame on yourself.
  • Please find a confidante and share your experience—report it to authorities if possible. Anna did not want anyone to know of the incident, and the pain she suffered in silence was greater than the pain she suffered when she shared it with those who love her.
  • The need for justice. For Downton fans, we all want justice for Anna. Who didn’t cheer for Mrs. Hughes when she confronted the perpetrator and gave him a verbal lashing? And that’s not enough. We want this guy punished. We want him to feel the pain he has inflicted. As a follower of Christ, we are told in The Book of Romans that God will provide revenge. He is our protector. While it’s difficult to sometimes see how God can bring about justice, trust Him and have hope that God will battle on your behalf.
  • Be reminded of God’s love for you and His plan for your life. If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault or rape, do not believe the lie that God loves you less. He can take your pain and use it for His glory. It is doubtful you will see a Biblical worldview on Downton Abbey because there hasn’t been evidence of that yet. Just know your Creator has not turned His back on you, and His love for you endures forever. Scripture reminds us that He can make beauty from ashes, and He can turn our sorrow into joy.

This is just the beginning of a conversation. Help us out. What suggestions do you have? How is your church offering help to victims?

Sources: (Information from

1Douglas, K. A. et al. “Results From the 1995 National College Health Risk Behavior Survey.” Journal of American College Health 46 (1997): 55-66.

2 Davis, T. C, G. Q. Peck, and J. M. Storment. “Acquaintance Rape and the High School Student.” Journal of Adolescent Health 14 (1993): 220-24.

3 Warsaw, R. I Never Called it Rape. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994.

4 Ibid.

5 Greenfeld, L. A. Sex Offenses and Offenders: An Analysis of Data on Rape and Sexual Assault, Washington, D. C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997.