I hadn’t thought of Kelly for years. When I was working a second job at an urgent care center to pay off my student debt, she was a young mother, working nights and weekends so she could be home during the day with her young children.
I had recently suffered the greatest trauma of my life when my cousin, 9 months younger than me, was murdered by a stranger who broke into her apartment. I kept going to work, not just because I needed the money, but because it was a distraction when my world felt upside down.
A few days into my new reality, a co-worker asked me how I was doing, and I started to respond. Instead Kelly piped up: “I need you not to talk about this around me. In fact, it is hard for me to see you. I can’t think about what happened to you. I’m a mom and if I think about this happening to you, someone I know, then I must admit it could happen to someone I know.”
I felt only anger then. This WAS my life. I couldn’t not hear about it, and I certainly couldn’t stop thinking about it.
But I understood Kelly’s feelings a little better when I began to read What is a Girl Worth? My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth About Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics by Rachael Denhollander. Like Kelly not wanting to hear about my story, I didn’t want to know the darker details of what Denhollander experienced. I had been deeply moved when I heard her stunning courtroom testimony in January 2018. I knew the issue of sexual abuse was important. But faced with the reality of what had happened to a homeschooled Christian girl with an intact family, I was overwhelmed. If it could happen to her, it could happen to my child. As a mother, I most commiserated with Denhollander’s mother, who had been in the exam room with her daughter and Larry Nassar, not realizing the abuse that an expert deceiver was perpetrating right in front of her.
Denhollander, a modest person who would rather not talk about what happened to her, carefully presents sensitive details. I would read through many pages riveted by the story, and then would have to stop and take a break for a few days from the reality of the perversion and darkness that exists in so many people and the trail of wreckage they leave in their wake. Evil is real, and it seeks to destroy our very identity as children of God.
If, like me, you would just rather avoid the topic and pretend sexual abuse doesn’t happen, you should read this book. You will be wiser, more understanding, and better able to spot the signs and symptoms of abuse. You will understand the hesitancy women feel who fail to report abuse at the time it happens. You will also discover how often reporting gets nowhere, and how quickly a victim learns that. Too often the church, law enforcement, and other institutions haven’t listened and have turned a blind eye, rather than wade into the messy and painful waters of sexual abuse.
Denhollander sheds light on an often-misunderstood response to abuse—the freeze response. She explains that many victims feel numb and incapable of doing anything to stop what is happening to them. Her account is a reminder that no abuse survivor is alone—many have experienced the same powerlessness and are healing from its ongoing consequences.
I can’t protect my children from all evil. But I can keep open lines of communication with them. I can make sure they understand that if they are ever abused, they can tell me and I will respond with love and understanding, not blame. I can pay attention to the outside influencers in their lives and be watchful for “groomers.” Denhollander’s own mother is a powerful role model. When she begins to suspect abuse, she asks her daughter about it, and listens to her carefully.
Denhollander uses the strength of her gifts and the pain of her experience to fight for justice. She repeatedly reminds us that she didn’t want to have this platform and didn’t want to tell her story. On a cold Michigan day, she asked a judge “What is a Girl Worth?” This book is her answer: “Everything.”
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