Review by Bronwyn Lea. Bronwyn Lea is a lawyer, mom, Bible teacher, and author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-Crazed World (forthcoming April, 2020),
“If you see something, say something” is a familiar motto that encourages vocal community engagement in combatting evils ranging from terrorism to human trafficking. But there’s a dangerous and false corollary to this belief: that if nothing was said, nothing probably happened.
In her new book, What Is a Girl Worth? (Tyndale, 2019), Rachael Denhollander traces the story of her sexual assault at the hands of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, and the grueling process required to bring him to trial. Denhollander makes it clear that the apparently simple act of saying something is in fact incredibly difficult in the case of sexual abuse. “Incredibly” is the right word to use, for it speaks to the difficulty of finding things believable or credible.
In recounting her story, Denhollander explains the two-fold challenge: First, it’s incredibly difficult for sexual abuse survivors to speak up and be believed. Second, it’s incredibly difficult for listeners to really hear and believe.
The Scriptures have much to say about bearing witness to evil and injustice, and What Is a Girl Worth? offers a sobering reminder of the importance of qualitative listening. As believers, we are called to be not just hearers but listeners (Mark 4:12) and doers (James 1:22). We are to listen and respond to God’s word, and we are to listen out for and respond to injustice, just as God our Father does. But both the act of speaking and the act of listening are fraught with complications.
Nassar first assaulted Denhollander in 2000 when she was 15 years old, but it was only in August 2016—sixteen years later—that she filed a complaint with the Michigan State University police department and shared her story with the Indianapolis Star. Why wait sixteen years?
Denhollander, now an attorney, advocate, and abuse educator, believes that understanding why it’s so hard for sexual assault victims to speak up is “one of the most important things we have to reckon with as a culture.” Her will and voice had already been silenced when the abuse occurred, explains Denhollander, and speaking up about what had happened and what was going on in her mind “felt like yielding the last bit of privacy and security I had left.” She was an injured girl seeking medical help from a trusted doctor, but her “own trust had been weaponized. [Her] request for help had been exploited.” If it was so hard for her to acknowledge the assault, how would anyone else possibly believe it?
Denhollander, like countless sexual abuse victims, remained silent. Not completely silent, though. In 2004, when she heard that one of the girls she was coaching had been referred to Nassar for treatment, her desire to protect the girl from potential abuse compelled her to tell her own story to a trusted confidant. She chose Jackie, a beloved coach whose partner was a police officer, hoping that in this couple she would find two adults both able and willing to help. But when her painful disclosure was met with resistance and the coach decided to refer the girl to Nassar anyway, Denhollander felt crushed. “Saying something is one thing. Being heard—and believed—is another,” she writes.
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Source: Christianity Today