'It's very hard to tell your story:' Woman who accused Memphis pastor of sexual assault tells her story

'It's very hard to tell your story:' Woman who accused Memphis pastor of sexual assault tells her story
Published: Jan. 7, 2018 at 3:32 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 8, 2018 at 2:15 PM CST
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Andy Savage (Source: Twitter)
Andy Savage (Source: Twitter)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Controversy surrounds Pastor Andy Savage at the prominent Highpoint Church in East Memphis, after a woman claims he sexually assaulted her two decades ago.

Saturday night, WMC Action News 5 spoke exclusively to that accuser who is now sharing her story.

When Jules Woodson was a high school senior in Woodlands, Texas, she claims a minister she trusted changed her life forever.

"I was sexually assaulted by my youth minister when I was 17 years old," Woodson said.

For the first time, Woodson is speaking publicly--exclusively with WMC Action News 5--about alleged sexual misconduct she claims happened at the hands of current Highpoint Minister Andy Savage, when he was in his early 20's.

"This is something I've struggled with all my life," Woodson said.

Woodson said Savage drove her home after a church event in 1998. She said he took her to an empty road and Savage assaulted her.

Woodson claims the day after the incident, she went to leaders at that church in Texas, but according to her, they did not contact authorities, never told her parents the whole story, and allowed Savage to resign.

"There was just this big cover up, and I felt so much pressure to come forward," Woodson said.

Twenty years later, Woodson is coming forward--inspired by the "Me Too" movement and other victims who have spoken out in Memphis over the years. Some have asked why she took so long to publicly come forward.

"It's very hard to tell your story. It's very hard to speak up, especially when you feel pressured by the church to be silent," she said.

On Friday, Andy Savage responded with a statement saying in part:

"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... I was wrong and I accepted responsibility for my actions."

Click here to read Savage's full statement.

For Woodson, this wasn't enough.

"His apology isn't enough because number one, he's lying about how he handled it. He never came to me, the church told him he couldn't talk to me and they told me I couldn't talk to him," she explained.

Woodson recently filed a report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The WMC Action News 5 Investigators have seen this report. But if anything, Woodson hopes her story affects change.

"I want other victims of sexual abuse, especially within the church, to know that they're not alone and to know that they have a voice," Woodson said.

Highpoint Church declined an interview Saturday night, but in a statement they said they were already aware of this incident and are 100 percent committed to Andy. They said they plan to address this incident Sunday in their sermon.

"I accepted full responsibility for my actions. I was and remain very remorseful and deeply regret the pain and suffering I caused her, her parents, the church, and God's Kingdom," Savage said on Sunday.

On Monday, Austin Stone Community Church placed Larry Cotton on leave in connection to Woodson's allegation. Cotton was on staff with Savage at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in 1998.

Copyright 2018 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.