“I had been abused and was still being preyed upon by a college student at the church,” Denhollander continued. “He’d managed to do it while sitting me on his lap during a church Bible study. No one knew except me, and I wasn’t sure what I knew, except that I felt terrified and physically ill. I wasn’t about to describe what made me feel that way, either. So I hung out in the washroom, the one place he couldn’t find me.”
Denhollander wrote that one day her abuser simply never returned to church. It wasn’t until she was 12 years old, when she confided in her mother about the abuse, that she learned what had really happened.
Her abuser had been asked to leave the church after several female college students made complaints about his inappropriate behavior. Other adults, including Denhollander’s parents, had complained about the man’s behavior toward Denhollander and another young girl at the church ― not realizing he had already abused 7-year-old Denhollander.
Although her parents prevented further abuse, Denhollander reflected on how they were ostracized from the community for accusing the young man of sexual abuse. This experience, she wrote, informed how she later handled Nassar’s abuse.
“It also left me with a lesson I’ve never forgotten and had in fact taken into the exam room with Larry: If you can’t prove it, don’t speak up. Because it will cost you everything,” Denhollander wrote.
Denhollander publicly accused Nassar of sexual abuse in September 2016, telling the Indianapolis Star that he molested her during an appointment in 2000 when she was 15 years old.
Nassar, the former sports medicine doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, was a renowned trainer at the time. Denhollander endured an onslaught of victim blaming and character assassinations when she first came forward.
It wasn’t until a few months after she came forward that other athletes read her story and realized they had also been abused. Nassar, suspected of abusing nearly 500 athletes under the guise of medical treatment, is currently serving a life sentence on child pornography and child sex abuse charges.
Head over to The Washington Post to read Denhollander’s full essay.