“”Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
I have been asked that question more times than I can count. Sometimes it is motivated by a genuine desire to understand, and sometimes it’s articulated like a weapon, casting doubt over whether my abuse even occurred. The truth is, I did say something sooner – many of us did. But as survivors of sexual assault will tell you, saying something is one thing. Being heard – and believed – is another.”
On August 4th 2016, Rachael Denhollander pressed “send” on an email that would change her life, and the lives of many others, forever.
In response to a news article which accused USA Gymnastics of systematically burying reports of sexual misconduct against their coaches, she contacted the IndyStar explaining that she had experienced sexual abuse not by a coach, but by the USAG team doctor Larry Nassar.
This was only the beginning of an arduous and costly battle to see justice done, and to see other girls protected from experiencing what Rachael and so many other gymnasts experienced while being treated by Nassar.
“What Is A Girl Worth?” is Rachael Denhollander’s memoir of this journey.
It is powerful, well-written, and extremely compelling. The subject matter means that it is not an easy read, but there is much to learn from her experiences and it is a story that needs to be shared.
While I had heard part of Rachael Denhollander’s story and seen a transcript of the victim impact statement she gave at Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing, I had no idea just how hard the fight had been, and how much effort it had taken for Rachael’s story, and those of the other gymnasts, to be heard and believed.
If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll know that I tend to think in music, and, as I read the book, a song kept returning to my mind:
“To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
To run where the brave dare not go.
To right the unrightable wrong,
To love pure and chaste from afar,
To try when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star.
This is my quest,
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless,
No matter how far.
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march
Into hell for a heavenly cause.”
For me, this summed up Rachael’s journey, and I was left in awe at her courage and determination to pursue this “impossible dream,” at how she fought for justice at great personal cost and with no guarantee of success. Truly she did “march into hell for a heavenly cause,” facing doubts and criticism and the questioning of her motivation every step of the way, on top of the pain of having to repeatedly relive her trauma, yet she remained focused on her goal and never lost sight of the reason why this battle was so important.
“Eighteen stories. Eighteen survivors. Eighteen people wounded who never needed to be. It was legitimate and right and good to fight for justice for them. Their wounds mattered. What they had been through mattered. And every blind eye turned, leading to the destruction of these women and little girls, mattered… Love is the motivation that will give joy and peace when doing the right thing is hard and hurts.”
A few more of my take-aways from the book are:
- Rachael was the perfect person to take on this “impossible” task. Her legal training equipped her to understand the systems and navigate the best way forward in a way that few other survivors would have been able to do. She had a loving, supportive family who walked with her every step of her gruelling journey, and her Christian faith provided the love and courage she needed to persevere. Like Esther, it seems that she was raised up for “such a time as this,” but like Esther, she had to make the risky choice to obey.
- Someone has to go first. Following Rachael’s accusation of Larry Nassar, over 250 women came forward saying that they, too, had been abused by him. One brave act may seem like a drop in the ocean, but the ripple effect can be tremendous, and Rachael’s courageous act and willingness to go first enabled many other women to find their voices.
- Even “impossible dreams” can come true. On 24th January 2018, Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years in prison for sexual assault of minors. Despite the many challenges along the way and the ferocity of the fight, in the end Rachael and the other women were heard, and believed, and justice was served.
Of course, while this battle has been won, the war is not over. Nassar may be in prison, but there are plenty of others still abusing children, and there is a tremendous need for people’s eyes to be opened to the reality of this, even in the church. (This is another focus of the book, and for further reading on this I’d recommend Mary DeMuth’s recent book “We Too.”)
Above all, this book is a call not to turn a blind eye or to live in denial, but to fight for our children and their safety, and to listen to and believe survivors of abuse and support them in their quest for justice.
What is a girl worth?
All I can say is that Jesus valued children very highly, and if we claim to follow him, we should do the same.
“About that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Jesus called a little child to him, and put the child among him. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck, and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
(Matthew 18:1-6 NLT)
I’m grateful to Tyndale House and Netgalley for access to a complementary digital copy of the book. This is my honest review and I only share books here that I genuinely believe will be beneficial to my readers.
Amazon links are not affiliate links, but simply provided for your convenience.