Magazine article The Christian Century


Magazine article The Christian Century


Article excerpt


By Ruth Everhart

Tyndale, 336 pp., $14.99 paperback

Ruth Everhart's memoir is prefaced by a publisher's note warning that the book may offend because it includes violent events and vulgar language. I confess that as I read this, I chuckled darkly. It seemed unnecessarily apologetic. As the back of the book reveals, it's the story of the night in Everhart's senior year of college when two armed assailants broke into her college apartment and raped her and her roommates at gunpoint. The least a reader can do, in response to the critical witness Everhart provides, is to shift uncomfortably in her seat.

As it happens, Everhart is a careful narrator. There is nothing salacious about her telling of the events of that night or the process of grief, fear, and reorientation that followed them. The experience of reading her story is difficult, but there are no unnecessary details: this is neither a true-crime novel nor a sensational tabloid report.

Though the statistics were different in 1978 when the crime was committed, the sexual violence Everhart reports was unusual even for that time. She and her apartment mates were "perfect victims." No one could have suggested that alcohol consumption or anything about their attire "contributed" to their assault: they were home, asleep. Everhart wore a long, flannel nightgown. This crime was also unusual in its randomness. A 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the vast majority of victims of sexual assault know their rapist; rapes by strangers make up only 12.9 percent of those reported.

Also unusual is that the perpetrators were caught, tried, and convicted. Those attuned to American history may wonder if the police and court system's successes are related to the fact that the perpetrators were black men--"clowns" in the odd word choice of the women's ER doctor--and the victims were white Christian women.

Everhart would not think us cynical for wondering; she wonders herself. And it is her wondering--about race and guilt, shame and suffering, injustice and the goodness of God--that renders this book profoundly important.

Everhart grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church, as deeply situated in the theological universe of her community as a person can be. She was educated in Dutch Reformed schools, and her parents taught in those same schools. She wrote papers on Christian doctrine in high school; she has clear memories of pastors and sanctuaries from her earliest days. Theological questions and convictions shaped her personal experience and community life. Her story is unusual in this sense as well.

Following the break-in and rape, she felt anger, shame, and fear. She also struggled mightily with the Calvinist faith of her childhood, which taught the absolute sovereignty of God. Nothing happens outside of God's will. So why, then, had her life been ruined? Why had she and her friends suffered so?

People have always been tempted to answer the questions of those who grieve with responses of blame: you must have done something. This was true in the time of Job, and it's still true today. Forty years ago, a traumatized Everhart wondered if there had been something in her past that rendered her marred, deserving of such divine retribution. Worse still was the stigma attached to the sexual nature of the crime: the housemates wondered at first if they should tell anyone, or if that would make it worse. …

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