Rachael Denhollander VS. Dr. Larry Nassar
Note: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault that may be offensive or painful to some readers. What do you think is the greatest fear a woman may have? For some, it may be not being able to have a child. For others, it may be losing a loved one. Unfortunately for many women, it is being taken advantage of and not getting the justice they deserved. And I am not talking about money being stolen or being used to run errands for someone, I am talking about a woman’s dignity being taken away from them by offenders and perpetrators who want sex. This nightmare became a reality for Rachael Denhollander, a former USA gymnast who was part of one of the biggest sexual abuse sports scandals in history.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, about one in five women have experienced rape or an attempted rape each year, and about one in four college women experience rape or an attempted rape. This makes it almost impossible to not know someone in your life affected by some form of sexual assault. Jim Hopper, a clinical psychologist and independent consultant who teaches at Harvard Medical School, states that four to sixteen percent of college males admit to rape. The even scarier fact is that about one-third of those men in smaller studies have admitted to committing rape more than once, where the average is about four times for each rapist.
But do you want to know what is the scariest fact of all? One man who has committed over 300 sexual assault acts. That’s unfortunately true in our world today. I am talking about Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics and MichiganState University doctor/educator, who had Rachael Denhollander as one of his many victims.
Not too long ago, we saw the United States compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Out of all the Olympic sports, one of the most beloved by all fans to watch is women’s gymnastics. We have seen so many success stories with these women, such as Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, and more. Not only did all these gymnasts achieve Olympic medals in their time, but they also have something else in common. They were also all sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar.
Larry Nassar began working with the USA Gymnastics team as an athletic trainer in 1986. His first sexual assault dates back as early as 1992, according to SBNation. However, Nassar continued his career with the USA Gymnastics team, and eventually received his osteopathic medical degree from Michigan State University in 1993 and became the team physician and assistant professor for the school in 1997.
In 2000, Rachael Denhollander, at the age of 15, was sexually assaulted by Nassar as she got treatment for her wrist and lower back pain. IndyStar reports that all victims of Nassar had been “sexually penetrated when he put his fingers into their vaginas.” Denhollander reported that her mother was in the room at the time of these sexual assaults, but that Nassar positioned her and himself in a way where Rachael’s mother was not able to notice. Rachael says part of this is the reason why she kept quiet because she believed if her mother saw him “massaging internally” on Rachael, her mother would say something. Rachael also stated on her police report that she experienced penetration from her anus and her breasts were massaged, mentioned on IndyStar. His assaults would continue until 2016, and the youngest victim to date was six years old. It is said that Nassar never wore gloves during the assaults or as Nassar would call them, “examinations.”
With over 20 years of being an assaulter, the hope of these gymnasts and other athletes getting justice for their abuse seemed slim to none. Countless numbers of women reported their assaults to police, school/athletic authorities and other sources. Girls were told “Nassar is an Olympic doctor” and “he knows what he is doing,” or that “they must be misunderstanding what is actually going on.” However, in 2016, all that lost hope was about to change.
After police investigations and reports were made regarding Nassar and his sexual abuse in 2014, Rachael Denhollander was the first victim to speak up and pursue criminal charges against the former trainer of assaulting her back in 2000. Denhollander filed a police complaint on August 29, 2016, and on September 12, 2016, went alongside an Olympic gymnast to tell their stories of sexual assault and abuse, reported by SBNation.
In her interview with IndyStar, Denhollander said that what made Nassar able to perform these unforgivable acts was his ability to get people to trust him. Rachael states that he was a very warm and caring person, which made it all the easier to be able to trust such a man. “Honestly, part of what grieves me so much is that he has everything he needs to be an incredible leader,” said Denhollander about Larry Nassar in her interview. “He has the personality, he has the skill, he has the knowledge, and he’s using that to prey on people. What a waste.”
Because of the courage and determination Denhollander had, she was able to use her activism to help over 300 women share their stories of sexual abuse that Larry Nassar committed. Of these 300 women, Olympic medalists like Simone Biles and Aly Raisman were able to speak up as well about their tragic history with Nassar.
Denhollander continued her work towards getting justice and helped reveal the underground secrets the USA Gymnastics team and Michigan State University had as well. Executives and other authorities in both organizations faced charges for keeping Nassar’s assaults a secret, and coercing victims into settling lawsuits without their attorneys present. As a result, Michigan State University awarded $500 million to victims and survivors of Nassar’s abuse in 2018. Finally in 2018, Nassar was sentenced to life imprisonment (up to 175 years) after pleading guilty to sexual assault under guise of medical treatment.
Due to her advocacy and bravery, Denhollander is now an attorney, author, educator, and mother. She continues to help the USA women’s gymnastics survivors in the USA Gymnastics’ bankruptcy. She has also published an autobiography in 2019 titled, “What is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics.” Denhollander along with her autobiography released a children’s book called “How Much Is a Little Girl Worth?” in 2019, and in 2022 will release another children’s book called “How much Is a Little Boy Worth?”
If it wasn’t for Denhollander, we may have not seen Larry Nassar receive life imprisonment and we may have also not seen the courage of over 300 women speak up about their experiences of sexual abuse with the former doctor. Rachael states that communicating problems is the first step in taking action, specifically when it comes to sexual abuse. “If you cannot even acknowledge the problem, you cannot fix the problem . . . and that’s what communicates to survivors that they’re going to be heard and listened to, and it’s safe to speak up. If you did not communicate that, you haven’t done the most basic thing you need to start to change the culture around you.”