'It's disgusting' says victim of Andy Savage's sexual assault after church applauds him

The woman who was sexually assaulted 20 years ago aged 17 by the megachurch pastor Andy Savage has responded to his apology and to his church rallying around him with a standing ovation, saying: 'It's disgusting'.

In extraordinary scenes at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee on Sunday, Savage received the applause after reading out a statement admitting to 'a sexual incident' alongside Chris Conlee, his lead pastor, saying of the incident in 1998: 'Since then I have tried to live my life in keeping with that original act of repentance. For any painful memories or fresh memories this has created for anyone, I am sorry, and I humbly ask for your forgiveness. I love you all very much.'

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Conlee, with his arm around Savage, said to the congregation: 'We are so grateful for your support. I know when you support Andy in that way, you are also supporting Ms Woodson. You are supporting her healing. You are supporting, and you are praying for her, and we are willing as individuals and as a church to do whatever we can within the scope of what it means to offer spiritual healing, to do that for Ms Woodson.'

In a tearful telephone interview with the New York Times, Woodson said of the scenes, which were streamed live on the church's YouTube page: 'It's disgusting.'

She added that the episode had not been 'dealt with' as Savage had claimed because it had never been reported to law enforcement authorities.

It has now emerged that she reported the assault on Monday, speaking to a detective in the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department, which is just north of Houston.

The New York Times reported that it is not clear whether the case could be investigated, and that in Texas, most sexual assault crimes have a statute of limitations that would have expired by now.

'I just hope that by me coming forward that I would give courage to one other person,' Woodson said. 'It doesn't matter if I was his only victim. What matters is that this was a big problem and continues to go on.'

The developments came after The Wartburg Watch on Friday published Woodson's account of being sexually assaulted in Savage's car after he took a detour into some woodlands when meant to be driving her home after a church meeting, when Savage was a youth pastor in Texas.

Yesterday, it also emerged that another church leader in Texas has been put on leave of absence and is under investigation after it was alleged that he told the then 17-year-old girl 'not to mention' being sexually assaulted

In her blog, Woodson said she spoke to Larry Cotton, who was the Associate Pastor of Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church, about the incident and that Cotton told her he would talk to fellow church leadership, along with Savage, and she should 'not mention anything that had happened to anyone else'.

Cotton now works as the Director of Internship and Residency at The Austin Stone Community Church. That church has now put Cotton on a leave of absence while an investigation is conducted by a third-party.

It also emerged that Bethany House Publishers announced that they were dropping the publication of Savage's book, The Ridiculously Good Marriage.

Savage has received watertight support from Highpoint. Chris Conlee, the lead pastor, said in a statement after Savage admitted to the incident:' This information is not new to me or to our leadership...On behalf of the elders, pastors, staff, and Trustees of Highpoint, I want to affirm that we are 100 per cent committed to Andy...and his continued ministry at Highpoint Church.'

In her blog, Woodson recalls that after arriving in a deserted area of woodland, she writes that he asked her to engage in sexual activity with him, which she reluctantly did. Then, after around five minutes, she said Savage suddenly jumped out of the vehicle and ran over to her, falling to his knees with his hands on his head and begging her not to tell anyone what had happened. 'You can't tell anyone Jules, please. You have to take this to the grave with you,' she quotes him as saying.

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The victim then states that she approached the church's associate pastor to inform him of the incident and that the first thing the man said in response was: 'So you're telling me you participated?'

She writes: 'Not only did I suddenly feel this immense guilt for doing what Andy had asked me to do but I also started to feel that this was my fault somehow because I didn't stop him.'

She writes that the church sought to cover up the incident until she gained the courage to tell more people about it, and Savage subsequently left the church due to a 'poor decision' he had made, with no details being provided to the church's congregation.

'No one could imagine Andy doing anything bad or immoral, much less illegal, and so, it somehow became my fault that Andy was leaving,' the victim writes.

In his statement admitting to the incident, which he read out in church on Sunday, Savage said: 'As a college student on staff at a church in Texas more than 20 years ago, I regretfully had a sexual incident with a female high school senior in the church. I apologized and sought forgiveness from her, her parents, her discipleship group, the church staff, and the church leadership, who informed the congregation. In agreement with wise counsel, I took every step to respond in a biblical way.

'I resigned from ministry and moved back home to Memphis. I accepted full responsibility for my actions. I was and remain very remorseful for the incident and deeply regret the pain I caused her and her family, as well as the pain I caused the church and God's Kingdom.

'There has never been another situation remotely similar in my life before or after that occurrence. The incident happened before Amanda and I were engaged and I shared every aspect of this situation with her before I asked her to marry me. I further disclosed this incident to Chris Conlee before coming on staff at Highpoint and have shared with key leaders throughout my tenure.

'This incident was dealt with in Texas 20 years ago, but in the last few days has been presented to a wider audience. I was wrong and I accepted responsibility for my actions. I was sorry then and remain so today. Again, I sincerely ask for forgiveness from her and pray for God's continued healing for everyone involved.'

Woodson said she had decided to send an email to Savage on December 1 with the subject line 'Do you remember?' after being inspired to act by victims of abuse coming forward in Hollywood and elsewhere.

In the email which she says went unanswered, Woodson wrote to Savage:

'Do you remember that night that you were supposed to drive me home from church and instead drove me to a deserted back road and sexually assaulted me?

'Do you remember how you acted like you loved me and cared about me in order for me to cooperate in such acts, only to run out of the vehicle later and fall to your knees begging for forgiveness and for me not to tell anyone what had just happened?

'Well, I REMEMBER.

'#me-too.'

In her blog, she adds: 'To anyone who has suffered from sexual abuse in the church and the subsequent cover up and pressure to remain silent, I want you to know that it is not your fault. Most importantly, I want you to know that you are not alone.'

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