Rachael DenholIander, Dr. Larry Nassar, Sexual Abuse, MSU, USAG
I normally write articles about church leaders or Christian groups. This is neither, but you will see soon discover that the hero in this story, Rachael Denhollander, is a Christian. In this story, you will see sacrificial love – love that puts the needs, safety, concern of others, far ahead of herself. It’s one thing to sacrifice for your family or friends, but Rachael sacrificed for strangers. She was steadfast, strong, determined, articulate, thorough, and unrelenting. She became a leader, a counselor, an encourager, a listening ear, and perhaps even a surrogate mother-like figure to many who had gone through the same horrific ordeal. For those who couldn’t speak, she became their voices; but by her bravery and courage, she empowered others to use their voice, even up until the very last day of testimonies.
This is about a highly publicized sex abuse case, not in the church, but in athletics. The Dr. Larry Nassar sex abuse case has been an important case. I like to watch cases like these to observe the tactics abusers or enablers use to hide the deviant behavior. When there’s one person who is abusing, many times there are others who enable the abuse. This is a classic case of systemic abuse just as we have seen at Penn State, in the Catholic Church (see Spotlight Movie), the Boy’s Scouts, and others.
Because of the graphic content in this post, I am issuing a trigger alert. If you have been sexually abused, this will likely be difficult to read. Use caution.
I have been following tweets and related articles for the past few days on Dr. Larry Nassar’s sex abuse case, and have selected some that stood out for me for various reasons. I think you will be able to get an overall picture of what has happened in this case. I will now summarize the background:
While under the pretense of giving medical treatment, with moms sometimes present in the examining room, Dr. Nassar, a physician who specialized in treating people with sports injuries, sexually molested girls as young as 6 years old. He positioned himself between the young girl and the mom while he did his evil deeds.
Dr. Nassar, sexually molested hundreds of girls over two decades. There are important people who turned their eyes in the worst case of systematic sexual abuse in sports history.
Rachael Denhollander is a former gymnast. She is married to Jacob, has three children, and is also an attorney. Here are a few important points to know about Rachael Denhollander, the hero of this story.
- Rachael was 15 years old when Dr. Nassar sexually abused her.
With one hand, he would carry out sports massage. With the other, covered by a towel, he would insert his fingers into Rachael’s vagina or anus. In one of their last sessions, he unhooked her bra and fondled her breast – the only time Rachael said she knew she was definitely being assaulted and not treated. (Source)
- Rachael discovered there were others who had the same “medical procedure” performed on them.
- After participating in gymnastics, Rachael then became a coach. She loved working with young girls.
- Rachael eventually went to law school and became an attorney.
- She investigated her so-called medical treatment and obtained her personal medical records.
- She discovered that at least 7 girls/young women had reported alarms about Dr. Nassar’s “medical treatment” between 1997 to 2015 to key people at MSU, to coaching staff, to police, but nothing had been done.
- She interviewed medical professionals to gain understanding about the pelvic floor treatment that friends of Dr. Nassar said was legitimate treatment.
- When a news article came out in the Indianpolis Star about sex abuse cases by coaches connected with USA Gymnastics, Rachael contacted the reporter and shared the information she had uncovered.
- Rachael went public with her name. As an attorney, she knew what would be involved, but also knew that this was the only way that she could bring attention to this case and hopefully stop Dr. Nassar from abusing more girls.
- She sacrificed her privacy, sharing the most intimate details of the sex abuse.
- This was the crucial step in this whole case. While some reported their cases, there was no face to attach with a name. There was no one to contact for interviews. Rachael became the key person with a name and a face.
- She faced scorn and ridicule, but knew that someone would have to do it in order to stop the evil monster who was continuing to abuse girls.
- Because she was an attorney, she knew what kind of documentation was needed to present her case. She was completely prepared.
- As a result of Rachael coming forward, others who had used Jane Doe names to conceal their names, started to come forward, revealing their identities.
- 90 survivors had planned to give their victim impact statements; however, after seeing the bravery of their peers, many more joined, to a total of 156! It was amazing to watch testimonies of girls/young women who were empowered as they shared their heart-wrenching stories.
- At least one victim could not testify. Her mother did instead, because she had committed suicide.
- One victim told her parents about the abuse, but they did not believe her for years. Her parents were friends with Dr. Larry Nassar and his wife, and both families spent time together on weekends and camping. When her parents did not believe her, they forced her to apologize to Dr. Nassar. Their relationship was strained for years. Eventually, her parents discovered the truth. The father was so distraught over the lost years and that he hadn’t believed his daughter, he eventually committed suicide.
- One thing that we learned in the victim impact statements was that whether it was just one incident or over years, sexual abuse harms people in so many ways. Many withdrew, got depressed, acted out. Many have or had difficulty with relationships, difficult with intimacy, difficulty going to the doctor or being around men. Trust is a challenge. Most of these girls doubted themselves and blamed themselves.
Please note: click on links in tweets are live.
Nassar worked for Michigan State, and at least 14 staffers and school representatives reportedly knew about his abuse for more than 20 years. Yet, even when Nassar was finally the subject of Title IX and campus police investigations in 2014, school president Lou Anna Simon didn’t even look at the reports, and at least 12 more assaults occurred before the doctor was fired.
Michigan State did worse than ignore Nassar; it enabled him. The school even continued to charge women for sessions in which he was accused of molesting them.
“My mom is still getting billed for appointments where I was sexually assaulted,” Emma Ann Miller, 15, said in court this week, before the university finally stopped halted its billing. (Source)
I cannot imagine what emotional turmoil this man, Thomas Brennan, has gone through. He sent many young girls to Dr. Larry Nassar for treatment.
There are a lot of people who owe Rachael Denhollander apologies. I hope that she gets them.
I love this. Jacob has been so supportive of Rachael.
If you have not had the opportunity to hear Rachael Denhollander’s powerful victim impact statement, here it is. It is so strong, thoughtful, loving, convicting . . . there are so many words I could use! This is what a humble leader looks like. Judge Aqualina said she has never had such a brave person in her courtroom. I’m sure she is right.
Watch this, and I think you will agree, too.
As if all that Rachael Denhollander had done the last 18 months wasn’t enough, let these words sink in. This is towards the end of her victim impact statement. Remember that sacrificial love we talked about? She even demonstrated it toward her perpetrator. This is amazing love.
Rachael Denhollander to Dr. Larry Nassar in her victim impact statement:
“In our early hearings, you brought your Bible into the court room and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know that the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God Himself loving so sacrificially that He gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin He did not commit. By His grace, I too choose to love this way.
If you have read the Bible you carry, you know that forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance, which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror. Without mitigation. Without excuse. Without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen in this courtroom today. The Bible you carry speaks of a final judgement where all of God’s wrath and His eternal terror is poured out on men like you.
Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the Gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you. I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so that you may some day experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me, though I extend that to you as well.”
There is one paragraph from Rachael Denhollander’s victim impact statement that I had known about before that was difficult to comprehend. Church is supposed to be a safe place, a place of refuge. Her church and closest friends failed her. How tragic:
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.
And finally, today, MSU President Lou Anna Simon finally announced her resignation. This is only part of it.
As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger. I understand, and that is why I have limited my personal statements. Throughout my career, I have worked very hard to put Team MSU first. Throughout my career, I have consistently and persistently spoken and worked on behalf of Team MSU. I have tried to make it not about me. I urge those who have supported my work to understand that I cannot make it about me now. Therefore, I am tendering my resignation as president according to the terms of my employment agreement. (Source)
Take note: “I have tried to make it not about me”
Total word count: 563 words. I = 28 times, my = 12 times, me = 3 times