Rachael Denhollander rocketed into the public eye by speaking out against Larry Nassar, formerly a renowned therapist for USA Gymnastics who is now a convicted sex criminal. Her memoir, How Much is a Girl Worth? is a difficult read filled with moments of hope.
Denhollander describes how her interest in gymnastics rose and how her own dedication to the sport led to her getting into the top tier. That top billing ultimately led to recommendations to be treated by Larry Nassar, who was seen by many as having innovative treatments that could fix many symptoms and problems with gymnasts. Nassar, however, began a process of grooming and building trust that he betrayed to sexually abuse Rachael and more than 250 others.
Denhollander shows how abusers build the trust that leads to their being able to abuse others. She also describes how difficult it was to even acknowledge the abuse–coming to the realization that what Nassar was doing was not treatment but abuse. When someone is told by everyone with inside knowledge that someone else is trustworthy and doing innovative treatments, processing that as a child to discern that there is abuse happening is extremely difficult. Readers should be aware there are descriptions of the abuse in this book. It’s a challenging, disturbing read that exposes the abuse of Nassar and call readers to help prevent and prosecute more abuse.
Denhollander also offers critique of Christian cover-ups of abuse as well as how her own faith helped her. For example, Denhollander describes a Sunday school class in which the teacher and others said that King David did not abuse Bathsheba because should have gotten herself out of the situation he manipulated and used his power to get her into. Rather than seeing this as power rape, many of the people in her high school Sunday school class, including her teacher, said David did not abuse Bathsheba. As someone who had been abused and who recognized the signs, this was a disturbing moment for Denhollander, who writes, “This wasn’t just about me. I knew there was at least one rape victim sitting in that class too, and statistically, many more survivors… I knew they would feel guilt for their abuse–and the sting of those words [blaming Bathsheba for the abuse and/or exonerating David], untrue though they were, could be devastating…” (90). Denhollander’s own faith comes through poignantly when she recounts a scene using her notebook as she struggled coming to terms with God and her experiences (101ff). She began with the premise that “There is right and wrong” and as she developed her thoughts she decided that the things that she knew–that God defines good, that God is just and loving–couldn’t be contradicted by the answers she couldn’t figure out yet. It an exhausting (using her word) experience, but one that clearly helped ground her.
The book then recounts Denhollander’s developing relationship with Jacob, whom she met through talking online and who exemplified giving support throughout the rest of the book. From there, readers learn of her work to expose Larry Nassar as an abuser, the pushback she received from it, and, ultimately his being sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. She also describes her own frustration with the fact that time and again, victims were not being given voices are being allowed to make decisions about whether plea bargains would be offered or how various aspects of the case were handled. It’s a strong reminder that reform is needed in handling cases related to abuse.
How Much is a Girl Worth? should be read and digested in order to help ensure that abuse is caught when it happens and that covering it up should never be tolerated. More than that, it’s a testament to the power of faith and hope in awful situations.
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