FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Healing from Sexual Abuse: My Story: Mary Demuth

with Mary DeMuth | May 16, 2024
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Are you suffering the effects of abuse? Mary DeMuth has lived it. She opens up about her own past sexual abuse and her path to healing. From shame to joy, her journey shows lasting peace is possible after trauma.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse? Mary DeMuth shares her story from shame to joy, proving lasting peace after trauma is possible.

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Healing from Sexual Abuse: My Story: Mary Demuth

With Mary DeMuth
May 16, 2024
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Shelby: Hey, Shelby Abbott here. I just want to give a heads up before you listen to this next program. Today’s conversation on FamilyLife Today covers some sensitive, but important, subjects that might not be suitable for younger ears. Please use discretion when listening to this next broadcast. Alright, now, let’s jump into it.

Mary: All that horrible stuff happened under evergreen trees. I go outside, and I sit my back against a hemlock tree. I look up, and I say to the Lord, “Would You just be the Daddy who will never leave me?” I didn’t come to the Lord out of the sense of my own sinfulness—of course, that would come—but I just had this desperate hole of needing a dad. That began the many, many, many-year journey of walking out: “What does healing look like?”

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: I just read somewhere that this author said, “When you tell your story, it helps you heal.” Do you feel like telling your abuse story helped you heal?

Ann: I read that same quote, and I—

Dave: —yes, she might be in the studio with us today. [Laughter]


Ann: I was resonating with that. I would have never guessed it, because of my own abuse. What you want to do is hide the story, hide yourself, hide everything. You think the last thing you ever want to dois tell your story; but there is something about telling your story that brings healing.

Dave: Yes. So, where are we going today?

Ann: Mary DeMuth is back with us today.

Mary: Yay!

Ann: Mary, I’m so glad you’re back. And you’re brave! You’re brave because you enter into areas that not all of us are willing to go into, especially when it comes to our past. You’ve been talking about this for a while. It’s been on your heart [and] on your mind, for healing for those who have been abused.

Should we go back and retell Mary’s story?

Dave: Yes, I’d love to hear your story.

A lot of people know you’re an author. I didn’t know this—I’m looking at two books in front of me. One says you wrote 16 books; the other says you wrote 40.

Mary: Now it’s 50.

Dave: What?! [Laughter]

Mary: Yes! 50.

Ann: Fifty?!


Dave: Really?

Mary: Yes. [Laughter] Crazy, huh?

Dave: Is that right?

Mary: Yes.

Dave: So, there’s been a—

Ann: —I’m going to bring a trophy the next time you’re in here. [Laughter]

Dave: There are 30-something books—

Ann: —that’s incredible.

Dave: —after this book? What year did this come out: Not Marked?

Mary: 2013? 2013.

Dave: Wow! You’re one busy writer.

Mary: Yes, I write about three books a year. That makes sense, yes.

Ann: Three books a year?

Mary: Yes.

Dave: We write about three every ten years! [Laughter] Something like that.

Ann: Mary, do you know—what are the statistics in terms of who has been abused (the amount): one in what? How many now? Do you know?

Mary: It’s so hard to quantify, but it’s usually said, about six-ish out of ten-ish for women, and three-ish out of ten-ish [for men]. The problem with that is so many people, like what you just said, don’t report.

Ann: Right.

Mary: And also, we don’t have a very robust view of the definition of sexual abuse.

The truth is that, in healing from it, the journey is very similar for [the] creepy uncle [who] puts his hand on your leg, versus the whole full-out problem that could happen. Those people who have had the creepy uncle are not reporting that; and so, a lot of us—many people; almost all—have had some sort of sexual contact that was unwanted.

Ann: With my story, I didn’t know what sexual abuse was. It wasn’t until I read Dan Allender’s, The Wounded Heart, that I remember saying, “That is sexual abuse.” Then, that took me into a journey. But I’m thinking you’re right. There are a lot of people who would have no idea that: “That is sexual abuse.”

Mary: Right. Hence, the under-reporting, plus all the shame associated with it.

I think, too, even if you look at that in the workplace—harassment. That’s also a form of sexual abuse. I think it is rampant, and I think that’s why it was so bewildering to me in the ‘90s—way back in the olden days of yore [Laughter]—when I would go and teach on this, and I would freak out all the nice coordinators in the back of the room. They’re like, “You can’t talk about that here.” I could see their eyes get really wide.

Ann: Where were you teaching?

Mary: Just in Texas—no, this was in Washington state—and I would teach at churches. But then, afterwards, there would be this group—a line of women—75 years old, saying, “I’ve never told a soul,” and weeping and just letting it out for the first time. I [thought], “I don’t care if the people don’t like that I talk about this.” I felt like the Lord was calling me to be a pioneer—to go first, so that other people wouldn’t feel alone, because I felt so alone in my story.

Ann: Me, too, because it’s not something that people—especially, back in the day—were sharing openly. Way to be a pioneer in this area. Thank you!

Dave: I know that, when we speak at the FamilyLife® Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, Ann will share her story. There’s a Sunday morning, where we split up the husbands [and wives]. After that talk, we come back together, and she’s gone. I can’t even find her, because there’s a line. They’re lining up to talk about her sharing that part of her story.

Ann: And it was back in the ‘90s when I started sharing that. People weren’t talking about it back then. I was shocked that they would want to talk about it so openly, and happy that they were willing to confess what had happened.

Mary: Yes, yes.

Dave: Give us a little bit of your story so our listeners who haven’t heard you in the past know what we’re talking about; and then, let’s talk about healing.

Mary: I grew up in a pretty scary home, very unprotected. For the first couple of years of my life, I was with my grandparents—which I have a couple of memories of—and then, I went back to live my mom and a man she met at a laundromat who became her husband. This was the ‘60s, so they exchanged flowers instead of rings and all of that.

I am now five years old. I go to a lady’s house after school because it was half-day kindergarten in those days. Her name was Eva. I affectionately—I guess affectionately is the wrong word—called her Eva, the chain-smoking babysitter. [Laughter] The one thing you need to know about her is that she hated children. Right away, these boys—whom I later find out were next door—knocked on the door of her house. They said, “Can Mary come out and play?”

Five years old, this began a year-long sexual abuse. It was horrendous.

Dave: How old were these boys?

Mary: They were in their teens, so they were probably 16-18 years old. They were bigger than me.

Ann: And the babysitter didn’t think, “This is something—”

Mary: She knew. She knew.

Ann: She knew?

Mary: She knew.

Ann: Even from the beginning?

Mary: I’m sure she knew. It’s evil. I mean, there’s really no other word about it.

Ann: It’s weird that a 16-year-old boy would want to hang out with a 5-year-old girl.

Mary: Right, but if you hate children—

Ann: —ohhh-

Mary: —and they would take the child off of your hands.

During all this time, I didn’t know anything. I did know it was wrong. That was a gift that the Lord gave me at that time. I wasn’t a Christian, but I knew what they were doing was wrong, and that they were at fault, which is a huge gift, because most sexual abuse victims internalize that guilt. The guilt belongs to the perpetrator, not the victim; but a lot of times, victims will hold that.

They would use a bad word to describe what they were doing. They also told me that, if I told my parents, they would kill them. I was terrified. First of all, I was a good little girl. I didn’t want to say that bad word. Second of all, I didn’t want to be responsible for their demise.

I was a pretty sophisticated five-year-old. I had all these thoughts about all of this. Finally, about three quarters of the way through the year, I decided that the safest person to tell was Eva, the chain-smoking babysitter. She said these five words to me. She said, “I will tell your mom!” And I believed her. So, the next day, I thought, “I’m set free!” And the knock came at the door. That evil woman pushed me back out.

At that point, I was like, “Okay, parents don’t care,” because I thought she told them. “So, I am going to have to protect myself.” I learned how to sleep. I would come home from half-day kindergarten. I would eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I would run to Eva, the chain-smoking babysitter’s bed, pull the covers over my head and pretend to sleep for the whole afternoon. That did save me, because at least I was out of her—I figured out her formula; I just needed to be out of her hair.

And then, we moved at the end of that year.

Ann: I just have to say—

Mary: —I know you’re already tearing up. I’m so sorry.

Ann: —just imagining—first of all, you’re a smart little girl to figure out how to get out of this; but I’m imagining—this little Mary, hiding in the bed, with the covers over your head to protect yourself. [Emotion in voice] It’s the saddest thing ever!

Mary: It’s so sad.

Dave: I’ll throw this in, from a guy’s perspective, as Ann’s husband; do you two ever experience—when I hear that, I get angry—[anger].

Ann: When I was reading Mary’s story through the book, I was like, “This is so wrong! Where’s the justice?!”

Dave: Did you experience thatpart? Or is that later or never?

Mary: I was too traumatized at the time.

Dave: Yes.

Mary: But interestingly enough—yes, of course, [I was] very angry—but I was more angry at other people. I was more angry at my mom for not protecting me; I was angry at my biological father, who was also a sexual predator, and was grooming me to be his next victim before he took his life.

Ann: Ugh!

Mary: But there was plenty of sexual abuse that happened from him to me. My biological father was doing that as well. There was a lot of anger. I’m still mad at him, to be super honest.

Dave: I love this: “chain-smoking babysitter”—[Laughter]—you found out she never told your mom? Or did she tell her later?

Ann: Yes, keep going in your story.

Mary: She didn’t, but I lived with the belief that she had for ten years.

Dave: Ten years.

Ann: You’re wondering, “Why isn’t my mom rescuing me?”

Mary: Yes, exactly! And the other thing that happened to me—and it’s why the title of the book is Not Marked—is that I felt like I had this “Come get me” sign on my forehead, like I had been marked by these predators.

I had several different instances throughout my life where I, thankfully, was a runner; and I would run away from any of those endless—thankfully, able to escape several different times of predatory teenage boys or men, who were trying to do that, again, to me. I thought, “What in the heck is wrong with me? Do I have some sort of honing beacon?” 

[Since] I had been so traumatized [and] so neglected, I had to learn, later in life, that I had to heal from those wounds, or I would continue to be preyed on. I realized that I had to settle that worth with the Lord; otherwise, I kept repeating those patterns. Even in female friendships, I would [think], “Why do I keep coming to these narcissistic folks?” I found out I was constantly attracted to narcissistic predators, because I was trying to complete a circle of the story: “If I can get a narcissistic predator to love me, I can prove I’m finally loveable to my parents.”

But then, I realized: “No, I have to prove I’m loveable to the One who created me.” When I settled that, I stopped trying to complete that story in an unhealthy way. I hope that makes sense.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: It makes sense, but I want you to explain it more. [Laughter] What do you mean you had to understand you are loved by your Creator?

Ann: Bring Jesus into the picture. What happened there?

Mary: Right. We had my father die when I was ten; my mother remarried again, and so, I had three fathers by that time. We moved several different times. And then, the seventh and eighth grade years were years of suicidal ideation, because I would look at the ground, and my feet standing on the ground, and say, “Why am I here except to be neglected or abused?”

During this time, my mom was never home; my stepdad was working a graveyard [shift]. I was an only child, and I was living on a farm with seven horses. I would come home from school, and I would be completely alone until ten o’clock at night. I learned how to cook, which is—I’m a good cook now—

Ann: —this is like the most tragic story!

Mary: I know it is. It’s getting better, I promise! I’m going to meet Jesus. I promise!

Ann: I’m telling you, though, it shows God’s grace and redemption.

Let me ask you, Mary, because I’ve recently done this—I had somebody ask me the question: “Picture your life, growing up, and the things that you went through. Could you see places where God was wooing you? [Where]He was showing you?”

I went back into those days of abuse. I remember, some abuse had just happened; I remember being outside. I was four or five years old. I saw a tree in the spring, heavy-laden, with these flowers. I can remember pulling the limb down, and it was so low. These gorgeous pink—it was probably a flowering crab [with] pink fragrant flowers—and I remember smelling them. It filled my heart with this happiness. That’s what came to my mind when somebody said, “Do you have recollection of God wooing you? Of saying, ‘I see you’?”

Have you ever thought through that?

Mary: Yes, definitely. For me, a lot of that abuse happened at the root of an evergreen tree. I think, in some ways, the Lord has created the human body in such a way that protects us. I did disassociate and fly up to the top of those trees. That disassociation was a gift; but I also—little things—, like all the music I was attracted to, as a child and then as a young adult, had Christian themes to them.

Ann: Really?

Mary: When I was in the sixth grade, my grandmother, who never went to church, said, “You need to get baptized.” They took me to this church. The requirement was that you had to go to one Sunday school class. I [went] to one Sunday school class. We made Jericho out of these cardboard bricks and kicked them over in the name of Jesus. [Laughter] I [said], “I want to go back.” My mom said, “No, you’re not going back.” This is where I am—at seventh and eighth grade, to get back to the story—suicidal ideation; writing suicide poetry.

And here’s what I want to say to those of you who are in children’s lives: there was a counselor who saw where I was, and I believe he was a Christ-follower. He allowed me to come into his office at any moment. I was this little girl, who was this total straight-A student, but I would cry in the middle of class; because at this point, my mom’s third marriage was breaking up. That man, I had kind of attached myself to. He was going to be leaving—and I was going to lose everything. So, he [the counselor] was there for me that year. I see the hand of God in that.

And then, the next year—my ninth grade year, a friend of mine invited me to Young Life. She said, “It’s really fun. There are cute guys there.” [Laughter] I said, “Okay, cool.” [Laughter] But after all the fun, and the shaving cream, and singing songs, someone would stand up, and they would talk about Jesus. Every time I heard the name of Jesus, my heart would just pound out of my chest. That whole year, I would hear about Jesus.

And then, my sophomore year, I went to a weekend retreat where they gave the whole gospel. What is so poignant about what scholars call inclusio, when you have something that starts here and ends here—you also see it in the Genesis narrative, and you also see it in the book of Ruth; or chiasm: you start at the same place you finish.

All that horrible stuff happened under evergreen trees. I go outside, and I sit my back against a hemlock tree in the Seattle area. I look up, and I say to the Lord, “Would You just be the Daddy who will never leave me?” I didn’t come to the Lord out of the sense of my own sinfulness—of course, that would come—but I had this desperate hole of needing a dad. I like to tell audiences, “And then, I was completely healed, and everything was fine.” [Laughter]

Ann: Wouldn’t that be nice?! [Laughter]

Mary: But that began the many, many, many-year journey of walking out: “What does healing look like?” Some of that is: “How can marriage be a place of healing for a sexual-abuse victim?” How we—my husband wrote in this book as well—how we, together, worked this very traumatic issue.

Ann: Can you give us a taste. Let’s start walking into that, and we’ll continue it into tomorrow; but give us a taste of what that started like, how that healing journey started with your husband.

Mary: Well,—

Dave: —or even before your husband.

Mary: Yes!

Ann: Yes, yes.

Mary: I’ll back up slightly. I cried a lot, because I just loved Jesus—and people loved me—these Young Life leaders would love me; it was very powerful. When I got to college, I found a group of friends that actually believed that God healed people. They prayed for me for four years, and I wept.

When I finished college, I was thinking, “Oh, good! I’m done with that.” [Noise as if checking things off a list] When I got married, we had the conversation. I didn’t withhold it from him, but I had told him, “But that’s in the past, and God’s healed me of that.” Hahaha!

Ann: This was our [Ann with Dave] conversation: “I’m good now, because I know Jesus.”

Mary: “Jesus healed me.”

I did a lot of pressing down of that story, and when all these triggers and things would come up, I would have these frustrating evangelical voices in my head that said, “You have to be all sexy for your husband.” I was paralyzed by it. And then, constantly felt guilty that I wasn’t fulfilling my duties.

That will—I think, when we talk tomorrow, I’ll tell why I wrote this book, which goes back to that story; it was excruciating. I cannot tell you how excruciating it was for me to talk about sex with my husband. It felt like I wanted to barf; it was just so hard, because I could not see it as beautiful. I could not see it—we’d gone to a FamilyLife® marriage conference, [but] I couldn’t see it as the gift God gives spouses. I could only see it as trauma.

For me to bring it up felt like I was really broken, really damaged. He had to suffer the consequences. Talk about being mad! He was mad at those boys, too, because they stole something from me that caused me to really not engage in the act of marriage. I just did what I did naturally; I flew up into the tree limbs, and I watched everything happen, but I couldn’t put my body there, because I was still too traumatized, and I was so little trauma-informed that I didn’t know what was going on with me.

We weren’t talking about that at that time in the ‘90s. I just didn’t know, so I was constantly feeling defeated, like I was failing my husband. I also was completely shaky, and freaked out, and trying to pull myself up by my bootstraps. Now, I wish I could go back and see what the Lord was seeing there. I know He just wanted to hold me through all of that, but I was just broken.

Ann: What would you do differently, knowing what you know now? And I’m thinking of a listener who’s saying, “I’m going through that right now. I haven’t really dealt with it; I’m feeling those same things. I just disassociate when it comes to any kind of physical intimacy.” What would you say to her?

Mary: First, “an untold story never heals.” She needs (or he needs) to pour out that story. Sometimes, people cannot do it verbally. So, write it down and slide it across to a safe person; that person needs to be safe. Find a safe person, and let them read it first if you can’t say it out loud. Get it out first.

But the second is trauma-informed counseling, and especially someone who deals in sexual abuse. And even if you could go further, [someone who understands] sexual abuse and then, who’s a marriage expert, because it’s just such a complicated thing. It is the best gift that you’ll give that part of your marriage, for sure.

But we were poor. I mean, I wanted counseling, but we just had no—

Ann: —and counseling wasn’t a thing, back then, the way it is now.

Mary: No! I actually wanted it, but we just didn’t—I was a stay-at-home mom; we had no money. And the first time I was finally able to get counseling was when my husband was in seminary. They said that wives could go to counseling [with] the people training to be counselors for free. I was like, “Finally!” I began that journey then.

Dave: You were really not talking to anybody, except your husband—

Mary: —correct; yes.

Dave: —for a while.

Mary: A couple of friends knew as well. Again, they didn’t necessarily have my—I had a pretty traumatic story, so they didn’t know how to counsel me. He didn’t have that story; he didn’t know how to counsel me. And then, you’re dealing with the hurt and pain he was experiencing, which I just couldn’t carry; because I was carrying so much of my own. The transition began to happen later. We kind of muddled our way through. We’ll talk about that in the next episode.

Ann: I think that’s, too, why your book is so powerful—to have your husband’s voice in it as well, to say: “This is what it was like,” and “This is what you can do.”

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Mary DeMuth on FamilyLife Today. You know, this topic is always so complex and can even be difficult to even approach. I’m so glad Mary was with us today to be honest about sexual abuse and its effect on our lives. I, personally, am a sexual-abuse survivor. Hearing her talk about it is something that will, no doubt, be part of the healing process, not only for me, but for you, too, if this is your story.

Mary has written a book called Not Marked: Finding Hope & Healing After Sexual Abuse. Not only is this her story, but it offers some added perspective from Mary’s husband, Patrick, to support any spouses who want to foster healing and strengthen their relationship with their spouse if they’ve gone through something traumatic like this.

You can get your copy of Mary’s book, Not Marked, right now by going online to to request your copy there. Or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

This topic is, obviously, difficult. And it’s a part of families everywhere. That’s one of the reasons why we, at FamilyLife, are so passionate about helping to reach marriages and families. It hits you right at home, and we want to be part of the solution in your life. One of the ways we’re able to do that is we have partners who come alongside us, give monthly, and help support the ministry of FamilyLife.

If you want to be a part of the solution, and join us in this ministry, we’d love it if you’d become a monthly partner. The cool thing is, all this month—in the month of May, every donation that you give will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $550,000. You can learn a little more about the details by going online to and clicking on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. Or, again, you can give us a call at the number: 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Now, tomorrow, Mary DeMuth is back with the Wilsons to talk about how past trauma impacts your marriage. She’s going to talk about discovering healing and getting some advice from abuse survivors. That’s coming up tomorrow; we hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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