Seized in a dark parking lot by two men, Kelly Putty, then 16, was taken to a field and brutally sexually assaulted. In a bizarre twist, her attackers stopped to pick up one of their wives from work. Kelly pled with the woman to let her out of the car. The woman let her go and Kelly immediately ran to police. Her attackers were arrested.
The Road to HealingAs long as that night of horror lasted, Kelly’s road to healing was longer. She did her best to pretend that her life had gone back to normal. Like many survivors of sexual assault, she had a pain inside that wouldn’t go away. But her healing started when she encountered Jesus Christ.
At 17, Kelly married her boyfriend, Shane, a believer in Christ.
Her newly minted faith allowed her to relinquish the crushing emotional weight of her experience.
“I turned that whole mess over to God and started letting him carry that burden for me.”
But another hurdle waited: learning to forgive the men who had ended her innocence with their cruel and selfish choices.
Kelly read in Scripture that God tells her to forgive her enemies. She meditated on Jesus’ words on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But she didn’t feel like she could do the same. So she started praying simply for the ability to forgive those who had wounded her. It didn’t happen overnight, but—day by day and prayer by prayer—she felt the bitterness and pain draining away.
She believed that she had forgiven her attackers, but in the back of her mind, she sometimes wondered whether she really had.
Kelly’s decision to forgive was put to the test during a church service. The pastor asked each congregant to put their hand on the shoulder of someone nearby. Kelly reached forward, and then realized that the woman whose shoulder she now touched was the mother of one of her attackers. Should Kelly pray for this woman, who had appeared in court day after day in support of her rapist?
“I just found God’s strength there in that moment, and continued on and prayed for her,” remembers Kelly. “God did a work in that moment and showed me the power of forgiveness. When I made that decision, I saw her in a different light. She wasn’t the person who had sat in the courtroom supporting my attacker. I saw her heart broken over what had happened just as mine was.”
A New Perspective on PainToday, over 20 years after the attack, Kelly lives outside Nashville, Tennessee, with Shane. They have six children: five biological and one adopted from Ethiopia.
In 2009, the Puttys founded Ordinary Hero, a child advocacy organization whose mission, according to Kelly, “is to inspire and empower ordinary people to make an extraordinary difference in the life of a child in need.”
Kelly also speaks out about the power of forgiveness for victims. In addition to appearing on a panel at Prison Fellowship, she has shared her remarkable story on The 700 Club.
Kelly emphasizes that forgiveness does not excuse a crime, but it does release the survivor from the burden of pain and resentment.
“It’s just very freeing,” she says. “I believe that you have to come to the place of forgiveness in order to move on to God’s purpose for your life, and He can continue the work of turning that which was meant to destroy you into His good work for you.”
Though the memory of her attack still holds some pain, Kelly believes that her subsequent healing has helped make her who she is today—a confident wife, mother, photographer, and children’s advocate. She also helps other victims to see how their pain can be redeemed for God’s purposes. “I encourage everyone, especially victims, to not discount themselves because they have been through something that has scarred them, but to look deep inside themselves and see how God will use that very vulnerable moment in their life to help them relate to other victims and give them hope for their pain.”
Her experiences also help her deal with life’s smaller grievances.
“When you have to overlook someone’s huge, life-altering fault, it helps you let other things go,” she says. “I still lose patience in traffic, but God is always there to remind me of the big things.”
Hope Aglow supports the mission and message of Prison Fellowship.