Rachael Denhollander: A Powerful Voice in a Dark Place

On Wednesday, Larry Nassar got an unwelcome piece of news.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced him to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual molestation.

Nassar was formerly a well-respected doctor who worked with gymnasts. But behind the charming persona, Nassar hid dark secrets. That changed in 2016 when a former patient broke the silence.

After the Indianapolis Star released an article about covered-up sexual assault by gymnastic coaches, Rachael Denhollander contacted the Star about Nassar’s abuse during his treatment of her. This led to a followup article and video where Denhollander publicly told about her abuse. She also filed a report with the police, and a Title IX report with Michigan State University, where Nassar served on the faculty.

Rachael Denhollander is an attorney, and she did a good job of compiling her evidence. She figured that she needed to present a strong case. Considering that the police and legal system had dismissed previous complaints against Nassar, she was probably right.

But the fallout was tragic. As she writes in an op-ed in today’s New York Times:

I lost my church. I lost my closest friends as a result of advocating for survivors who had been victimized by similar institutional failures in my own community.

I lost every shred of privacy.

She kept on fighting. Soon, more victims began coming forward. At this time, around 200 former clients have accused Nassar of abuse.

In December 2016, the police found that Larry Nassar had collected 37,000 child porn images. They also found videos of him sexually assaulting children. The evidence was starting to mount.

It culminated in Nassar pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual misconduct. Then came the sentencing–and seven days of testimony from 156 victims.

Rachael Denhollander was the last to testify. Her testimony is over a half-hour long. Yet it’s so powerful that it’s well worth watching the whole thing.

You can also read the full transcript from CNN.

Some excerpts:

I believed the adults at MSU [Michigan State University] surrounding Larry would do the right thing if they were aware of what Larry was doing, and I was terribly wrong. And discovering that I could not only trust my abuser but I could not trust the people surrounding him has been devastating. It is part of the consequences of sexual assault, and it needs to be taken seriously.
I did not know that at the same time Larry was penetrating me, USAG was systematically burying reports of sexual assault against member coaches in a file cabinet instead of reporting them, creating a culture where predators like Larry and so many others in the organization up to the highest-level coaches were able to sexually abuse children, including our Olympians, without any fear of being caught.
…I know that at least one other high ranking MSU official has specifically called me out by name and said I’m in it for the money. This has never been contradicted, retracted or refuted. MSU, you need to realize that you are greatly compounding the damage done to these abuse victims by the way you are responding. This, what it took to get here, what we had to go through for our voices to be heard because of the responses of the adults in authority, has greatly compounded the damage we suffer. And it matters.
My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church and our closest friends three weeks before I filed my police report. I was left alone and isolated. And far worse, it was impacted because when I came out, my sexual assault was wielded like a weapon against me.
Often by those who should have been the first to support and help, and I couldn’t even do what I loved best, which was to reach out to others. I was subjected to lies and attacks on my character
Throughout this process, I have clung to a quote by C.S. Lewis, where he says, my argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But how did I get this idea of just, unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight. What was I comparing the universe to when I called it unjust?
Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else’s perception, and this means I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good.
I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from ever experiencing, and I pity you for it.


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