Rachael Denhollander, Nassar’s first public accuser: ‘You chose to pursue wickedness’

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Rachael Denhollander was a 15-year-old Kalamazoo homeschooler when she was first molested by Larry Nassar

24 Jan 2018 | Julie Mack| MLive

“In 2000, Rachael Denhollander was a 15-year-old Kalamazoo homeschooler when she was molested by Larry Nassar, a Michigan State University sports medicine doctor.

In 2016, she became the first person to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abusing his patients under the guise of medical treatment.

This morning, Denhollander was the last of 156 women to give a victim impact statement in Nassar’s epic, seven-day sentencing hearing in Ingham County Circuit Court.

“You made this happen,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Denhollander about her role in bringing Nassar to justice. “You are the bravest person I’ve ever had in my courtroom.”

The courtroom, packed with Nassar’s victims and their supporters, gave Denhollander a standing ovation at the end of her half-hour statement, where she made an impassioned plea for a long sentence and called out the institutions that she says enabled Nassar’s behavior.

“How much is a little girl worth?” Denhollander said to the judge. “I submit to you, these children are worth everything the court has to offer.

“The sentence today will send a message across the country, to every victim and every perpetrator,” Denhollander said.

She told Nassar that he “chose to pursue wickedness, no matter what it cost others.”

Her choice, she said, was to stand up for what was right, “no matter what it cost me.”

Denhollander also took MSU administration to task, noting that four women have said they complained to MSU athletic department staffers about Nassar’s treatments before Denhollander was abused.

“You have refused to answer a single question,” she said in comments directed at MSU. “You play word games” in saying there was no criminal cover-up of Nassar’s behavior.

But, she said, “Nobody ‘knew’ because nobody handled the reports properly. The victims were silenced.”

She specifically called out MSU Board of Trustees Vice Chair Joel Ferguson for referring to Nassar victims who are suing MSU as ambulance chasers looking for a paycheck.

“The actions of adults in authority have greatly compounded the suffering of the victims,” Denhollander said.

Nassar pleaded guilty in November to first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges involving seven women, including Denhollander. Under his plea agreement, he faces a maximum of up to life in prison.

Also under the plea agreement, any woman accusing Nassar of sexual abuse was allowed to give a victim impact statement. So many women asked to speak that the hearing was extended from four days to seven.

Nassar to be sentenced today after hearing with reverberations far outside court

 

The case has drawn national attention because of the number of victims and Nassar’s longtime association with USA Gymnastics, which used Nassar as team doctor at four Olympic games.

Denhollander was abused by Nassar when she was a 15-year-old gymnast treated at MSU’s sports-medicine clinic. She and her mother, Camille Moxon, were thrilled to get an appointment with the the renowned doctor.

At that first appointment, Nassar did a thorough exam of Denhollander and recommended myofascial release, a type of massage to loosen the muscles.

But first, he said, he wanted to re-align her hips.

Nassar had Denhollander stand next to the exam table with her legs apart, she recalled.

While massaging her hip area with one hand, Nassar slipped his other hand up her shorts and underwear and, without warning, used two fingers to digitally penetrate her vagina, Denhollander said.

It was simply not possible, she thought initially, that it might be sexual abuse. Moreover, her mother was in the exam room, although her view was blocked by Nassar.

“I can’t be the only one,” Denhollander said she told herself. “This was clearly something he does regularly. He was very sure, very practiced; it was very clearly standard procedure. It’s not possible for him to be doing this regularly, and for MSU and (USA Gymnastics) to be unaware of it.”

Denhollander had several more appointments with Nassar, and he penetrated her each time.

Over the next year, she told her mother what happened. Moxon was shocked.  But they hesitated to call police, figuring it was Rachael’s word against a well-respected doctor.

Nassar “was (MSU’s) golden boy. He was USAG’s golden boy,” Denhollander told MLive in December 2016. “He was so loved in the community that I was very sure … I would be crucified and he would end up empowered to know he couldn’t get caught.

But over the years, Denhollander continued to think about Nassar and gather research on intravaginal treatments. The more she learned, the more she was convinced that he was not performing a legitimate medical procedure.

She finally came forward in August 2016 after she read an Indianapolis Star expose on USA Gymnastics’ alleged mishandling of sexual-abuse allegations.

Nassar wasn’t mentioned in the Star’s August 2016 report. But Denhollander thought the investigation offered an opportunity to bring Nassar to justice.

She contacted the Indianapolis Star and the police, which led to a Sept. 12 news story which Denhollander and another woman, Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, detailed their alleged abuse by Nassar. At that point, Dantzscher was an anonymous accuser, but Denhollander allowed the Indianapolis Star to use her name and photo.

The story sparked a flood of criminal and civil complaints from other Nassar patients. There are now more than 200 women who have accused Nassar of abuse.

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