Most athletes, for better or worse, are usually defined and remembered for their actions in the arena or on the playing field.
That will never be the case for Rachael Denhollander.
Denhollander, a member of USA Gymnastics, was the first woman to publicly accuse Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor, of sexual assault. Her courageous decision to speak out against Nassar was followed by more than 250 woman coming forward as survivors of Nassar’s abuse, leading to his life imprisonment.
In her just released memoir What Is a Girl Worth? (Tyndale), Denhollander tells the inspiring true story of her journey from an idealistic young gymnast to a strong and determined woman who found the courage to raise her voice against evil, even when she thought the world might not listen.
This deeply personal and compelling narrative shines a spotlight on the physical and emotional impact of abuse, why so many survivors are reluctant to speak out, what it means to be believed, the extraordinary power of faith and forgiveness, and how we can learn to do what’s right in the moments that matter most.
Denhollander came forward many years after the incidents, shortly after reading a trending news story, “A Blind Eye to Sexual Abuse: How USA Gymnastics Failed to Report Cases.” She had hesitated in the past because “I knew what it felt like to speak up and be dismissed.” In an email to the IndyStar, which was continuing an investigation, she says, “It was my word against his…I was confident I would not be believed.”
She told the MSU Police Department in August 2016, filed a Title IX complaint with the university and then shared her story of sexual abuse with the IndyStar. Denhollander said Nassar sexually assaulted her when she was a 15-year-old gymnast and sought treatment from him for lower back pain. She came forward 16 years after Nassar first abused her, which led to a floodgate of other women who came forward with similar allegations against him.
The book raises important questions as to how Nassar got away with it for so long and how can we protect the vulnerable in our own families, churches, and communities.
Denhollander, now an attorney, advocate and educator, will not be remembered for her accomplishments as a world-class athlete with USA Gymnastics. It is more likely she will be remembered as:
- One of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People
- One of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year
- Joint recipient of ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Actually, she will be remembered for far more than having her name engraved on prestigious awards.
Denhollander was the last to speak during both of Nassar’s sentencing hearings. In asking the judges to impose the maximum sentence on Nassar, Denhollander said, “How much is a little girl worth?” She answered her own question: “These victims are worth everything.”
She says, “The cost, emotional and physical, to see this through has been greater than many will ever know. I made this choice, knowing full well what it was going to cost to get here and with very little hope of ever succeeding. I did it because it was right.”
She writes, “What I had set out to do—stop a predator and give survivors a voice—had been accomplished. No, the work wasn’t done. But that chapter was. And in many ways, that chapter was less about finishing and more about starting. Starting the healing for so many.”
Fellow Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman has written, “Rachael was there for each court session of that sentencing, each impact statement and each fellow survivor. This show of courage and conviction inspired many people to feel less like victims and more like survivors. We still have a long way to go before we achieve all the change that is so desperately needed, and I am grateful to be fighting alongside Rachael, my sister survivor.”
What is a Girl Worth? is available for purchase.
About Rachael Denhollander:
Rachael Denhollander is an attorney, advocate and educator who was the first woman to speak publicly against former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, one of the most prolific sexual abusers in recorded history. As a result of her activism, more than 250 women came forward as survivors of Nassar’s abuse, leading to his life imprisonment. She regularly appears in national and international media and is a New York Times and Vox op-ed contributor, Rachael and her husband live in Kentucky with their four children.