“It happened on a Sunday night, even though I’d been a good girl and gone to church that morning.” So begins Ruth Huizenga Everhart’s account of what occurred Nov. 5, 1978, and how her life was forever changed.

Ruined (Tyndale, 2016) is the recounting of the night Everhart, then a senior at Calvin, and her four college roommates were raped at gunpoint by intruders in their off-campus Grand Rapids house and her struggles for nearly four decades after the harrowing crime.

“I had become aware of the long-term damage that was done to me,” said Everhart. “I decided it would be healthy to reconnect with the other victims. I was coming to recognize the impact of this event and wanted to reflect on it in a pretty thorough way, and I was curious how it had affected the other victims.”

In the process of reconnecting, an idea for a book was suggested, she said.

The reason for the disclosure nearly 40 years later is to offer hope to “all the women and men I know who have struggled with similar kinds of trauma,” Everhart said. “I thought they would appreciate something real, what it looks like to wrestle with God and how long it takes.

”For as the title of the book suggests, Everhart grappled with insecurity, fear and guilt. “I believed the messages I’d received all my life, both overtly and covertly, that if a woman wasn’t sexually pure, she was damaged, irreversibly,” she writes.

This perceived truth destroyed Everhart’s sense of value of herself and tested her relationship with God. “I wasn’t mad at men in general. I was mad at God,” she writes. “My indoctrination in sexual shame had connected the dots on an unconscious, emotional level. I believed I’d gotten raped as punishment from God. I was mad about it. But I couldn’t find my way out.

“... The other possibility I saw was even worse: my friends and I were the innocent vic-tims of a random act of violence. Which seems simple enough, unless you believe that God is sovereign. If everything happens according to God’s will, then did God will the rapes to happen? At the very least, He could have prevented them but chose not to. That scenario seemed unbelievable, even unforgiveable.”

Everhart believes there is more that can be done to help victims who are plagued by feelings of worthlessness and self-reproach. “I want people to know that you are more than what happens to you. No one can ever make you less than whole.”

In a closing letter to her daughters, Everhart writes, “In some ways I am sorry I had to write this book. ... But I cannot change my history. None of us can. Instead we have to learn to love our histories, whatever they might be. Our histories give us a particular lens on the word. If life is a gift—if the lens is a gift—then I should use that lens.”

A safer space

“Our society needs a revolution in responding to persons who have experienced sexual violence, and it is happening,” said Jane Hendriksma, who is the Safer Spaces coordinator for students at Calvin.

Two years ago, Calvin implemented the Safer Spaces policy, which, among other things, provides support and care for community members who are the survivors of sexual assault.

“Society was not well-prepared to offer the necessary support to survivors,” said Hendriksma, “but we are getting better at it. By hearing people’s stories, we can learn to respond in ways that are more helpful and supportive. As a college, we are working to fine tune policies, procedures and training that will allow us to serve our students experiencing harassment, violence and trauma.”

The college now has in place trauma-trained counselors at the Broene Counseling Center, support groups for survivors, and support offered throughout the court process.

“Our role is to be a regular presence for students who report sexual offenses,” said Hendriksma. “We support the student in any way we can, whether that is helping to accommodate academic issues, walking the person through the reporting and/or court process, assisting with housing, connecting the person to the chaplain or other resources, whatever is needed.”

Chaplain Mary Hulst and those in her office add another layer of support. “We are all trained in how to respond,” Hulst said of her staff. “Our first step is to assure the student that he or she doesn’t have to go through this alone.

“Probably the most asked question of us is, ‘Why would God let this happen?’ and I can’t answer that,” she said. “My belief is that God cares about us deeply, he grieves that this happened and our God is always working to move people from death to life. I can’t answer the ‘why’ question for another person, but we will meet them where they are and walk with them.”