In a New York Times OpEd from late January, the first victim of Dr. Larry Nassar’s to come forward shared how speaking out against the physician cost her several friendships and proved to be the difficult choice when compared to staying silent. After sentencing Nassar to up to 175 years in jail, judge Rosemarie Aquilina told victim Rachel Denhollander: “You made all of this happen. You made all of these voices matter. Your sister survivors and I thank you. You are the bravest person I have ever had in my courtroom.”
Legal Background Prepared Her To File Complaint, but Not for Emotional Toll
One of more than 200 victims, Rachel Denhollander, now an attorney in Louisville, Kentucky, was the first to go to authorities with allegations of abuse at the hands of the former Michigan State University sports medicine physician and USA Gymnastics team doctor. Denhollander was just 15 years old when Dr. Nassar abused her under the guise of providing pelvic floor therapy. Several years later, in 2004, she was working as a gymnastics coach and decided to tell another coach about Nassar with the hope that her fellow coach would not allow her team to see him for care. That same year, she also told a nurse practitioner about the abuse. In 2016, the Indianapolis Star published a piece about sexual abuse within USA Gymnastics and after learning of the story, Denhollander contacted them to share what had happened to her. She realized that it might be time to officially file a complaint against Nassar with the police. But before she did so, her legal education and experience as an attorney taught her that she had come prepared with hard evidence in order to have her voice heard. She told the New York Times that the average pedophile is reported 7 times before an allegation is actually investigated, so she knew she had to have as much documentation as she could in order for her story to be taken seriously.
On August 29, 2016, she went to the police with medical journals that detailed pelvic floor therapies and techniques used, her own medical records that indicated Nassar had violated her by not using any of these therapies, her journals from the time of the abuse, a statement from the nurse practitioner that she had confided in during a 2014 visit, as well as a character witness who could speak about Ms. Denhollander on a personal level.
After her story in the Indianapolis Star, she said she was turned away by members of her church, shunned by friends, and told that she was an “ambulance chaser” who was looking to get rich.
It’s this mentality, she believes, that allows a predator, a pedophile, to continue to work and have access to victims. People are fearful of speaking out against those in positions of trust, such as doctors, pastors, teachers, or anyone in a job that at the core is supposed to be based on service and compassion. Ms. Denhollander is right. Why has America allowed blind acceptance to sexual assault and pedophilia to be a part of our culture for so long? It’s one thing for sexual abuse to occur at all, but to allow it to continue to happen to children? Denhollander reported to the NY Times that many of the other victims described having tried repeatedly to report Nassar, but to no avail.
America has a shared belief that doctors and those in positions of trust would not abuse power or be anything other than a source of well-meaning guidance or medical care. As Dr. Nassar proved, a white coat is nothing more than a costume when worn by the wrong person. It’s time for all women to start being able to speak the truth and be heard about sexual abuse and assault. Ms. Denhollander has hopefully paved the way.