Review – What Is Girl Worth, by Rachel Denhollander

It’s occasionally difficult to distill any book, particularly one of this weight, into words. This is a book that should never have needed to be written, and it is one of the most powerfully affecting books that I’ve ever read. This book is deeply challenging, and it is entirely possible to experience a huge range of emotions while reading it; I routinely cycled through anger, frustration, compassion, joy, and sadness as I turned pages in it. There are more than a few times when I had to put the book down and walk away from it simply because it was too emotionally demanding to continue reading, as this subject generally is. Other passages, particularly near the end, moved me to tears.

For those who do not know the story, Rachael Denhollander was sexually abused by Larry Nassar while in her early teens during treatment for injuries received as a result of gymnastics. As someone who had previously been a victim of abuse, it did not take a long time for Rachael to realize that what Nassar had done was wrong and illegal, but she writes eloquently about how tightly she kept that secret because the entire family was fully aware that Nassar was untouchable due to his associations with MSU and especially the US Gymnastics program. She not only painstakingly documented what happened to her, but also built an entire library of information in the hopes that one day someone out there would provide an opening that would allow him to face justice. That opening was provided by the investigative team at the Indianapolis Star1 many years later, after she believed her opportunity to press charges had expired, in a story about the coverup of abuse in the US Olympic program.

I think this book will be a huge encouragement or challenge to three groups of people. The first group is for survivors2 themselves. For those who have been through the trauma of any kind of abuse, learning to vocalize what happened to themselves and even to be courageous enough to talk about it are the first two major steps in their recovery. Abuse victims come in all shapes and sizes, and many of them have learned that the best way to “deal” with their trauma is to try and will it away or to bury it under layered internal defenses, which is yet another educational aspect of the book. For Rachael in particular, it meant repeatedly testifying about what was done in graphic detail to reporters, police, court, and the media. Now she is testifying to it in excruciating and personal detail in this book. Most survivors will not ever do this, as the cost is simply too high. Rachael, on the other hand, is very forward and blunt with the description, but her pointedness is for our own good. If we couch the realities of abuse in polite language, it can diffuse the power and weight of the truth we need to know. For this reason alone I would recommend the book to anyone.

The second group of people are those of us who may be aware of the case and are interested in her story from an insider’s point of view. I know that I first heard about Rachael through the sentencing hearing and closing witness statement, which has now been seen more than a million times via different channels on YouTube.3 These people may be familiar with the case but not the dynamics of abuse or the criminal justice system, and this book should come as a shocking and eye-opening expośe into how abusers can co-opt everyone into silent complicity and erect walls of protection that not only buffer them from accusation but also prevent the victims from ever going forward and continually opens up new avenues for further exploitation.

The third group of people that this book should challenge are those charged with shepherding people4 in their local church. This is traditionally the role of pastors, elders, and deacons, but it should also include those who are responsible for children’s ministries, Sunday School, VBS leaders, and community outreach team members as well. Because the church is generally a volunteer-lead, volunteer-run ministry to the community-at-large, we are particularly susceptible to those who may appear as angels of light but who may have evil intent. Having abuse prevention policies are good, helpful, and are legally necessary but having an understanding of the methodologies of predators will help us understand our own cultural blind spots as well. This book will give you some exposure to understanding the things to look for from predators and more importantly, people who are being groomed for abuse or abused at home. This is an area that we traditionally do not cover well or in detail in our counseling materials, and many of the resources that we might look to for guidance generally do not do a good job of handling the topic of abuse.

In addition, those who lead the church must develop (if they do not already have) the necessary discernment and fortitude to engage with those who are adept at spin and misdirection. Perhaps some of our churches would not carry the reputations they do if the pastors had learned to look beyond the façade of trusting “friends” and supporters and seen the hideous realities underneath, which leads into my next point.

One major thought that went through my head as I read the book was “what would have happened if Rachael were in my church and she didn’t have the background and training that she did?” If Rachael had come into my church as an overweight mother of four that lived in a mobile home, or as an angry seventeen-year-old African American teenager who kept mouthing back to me, or a sullen and withdrawn boy who kept running away from his home…would I have listened to them? Would I have acted to get at the real issue instead of what was being presented? Would I have even known how to get past the external shell and at the heart of the issues that were really going on? To my shame, I have to say that I might not have done that. That’s a terrifying proposition, because we will receive judgment on the basis of all the works that we have done, including our thoughts. James is very clear to warn us of the dangers of being selective shepherds in James 2:1-13, and Matthew 25:40-45 reminds us of our responsibility to care for the naked, hungry, thirsty and imprisoned. How much of a prison is being abused by someone and yet unable to get someone to believe that you were? Do we really want to follow the model of the priest and Levite, who saw the beaten man on the Jericho road and callously cross over to the other side5? Are abuse victims not our neighbors too?

I could easily spend a dozen more pages talking about how important and educational this book is, and still never be a line closer to finishing, and I haven’t even touched on her ability to write or many other aspects of the book. God has specifically used her grit, fortitude, and determination in our day to tear aside the veils of secrecy that shrouds this topic. You must read this book, and I’d encourage that any schools or universities that are in the business of training ministers to make it required reading for their students. I wish I had this book years ago, when I was in undergrad or seminary…but I have it now, and others can read and learn from it too. Go buy it now!

Notes

1 https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2016/09/12/former-usa-gymnastics-doc….

2 Abuse victims do not generally like to be called victims, but survivors.

3 291,000 views (WXYZ TV), 346,000 (CNN), 293,000  (MLive), and 72,000 (USA Today) channels.  This is a small gathering completed on 8/27/19.

4 Luke 10:29-37.

5 Luke 10:25-37.

Jay Camp bio


Jay Camp holds a MA and a BA in Pastoral Studies from Bob Jones University and Northland Baptist Bible College (later Northland International University). He serves at Fishkill Baptist Church in Fishkill, NY in many different capacities and is married to his wife of fifteen years.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Not the sort of book I want to read... which increases my appreciation for the review.

In my "day job," I read about what's going on with helping victims (still the preferred term in the criminal justice system) on a pretty regular basis. There is a great deal of energy going into it. It's not always well-informed, well-spent energy (as when Universities set up kangaroo courts to convict persons accused of sexual assault without any opportunity to cross examine witnesses, verify facts, or otherwise honor due process).

But much of it is well spent. There's a lot of education and training energy going to helping police officers be more "victim centered" and "trauma informed" in their procedures. This is encouraging for a lot of reasons. Among them: more sensitivity to victims and the "retraumatization" of the questioning process takes longer but gets better results in terms of obtaining verifiable facts and physical evidence. That leads to more successful prosecutions of these evil-doers (no, they are not merely "offenders"). In addition, as procedures get wiser and gentler with victims--and related programs are rolled out--more victims feel emboldened to come forward.

Not all of them are going to be able to prove their claims and get somebody jailed. But as more make the attempt, more abusers (which are quite often repeat offenders) are stopped.

I hope the book helps.

Mark_Smith's picture

Was Rachel ever abused at a church or was it Nasar only? I ask due to the phrase "as someone who had previously been a victim of abuse..."

Somehow she got involved in the Sovereign Grace mess didn't she? How did that happen?

 

 

Mark_Smith's picture

If a child comes to you and says anything that hints at abuse, you call the appropriate reporting agency for your area. No ifs, ands, or buts. Nothing to consider there. No need to worry about if they are poor, connected, white, black, Hispanic, or the deacon's kid. Then, you just might want to follow up on it.

 

Jay's picture

Was Rachel ever abused at a church or was it Nasar only? I ask due to the phrase "as someone who had previously been a victim of abuse..."

Somehow she got involved in the Sovereign Grace mess didn't she? How did that happen?

There was a child predator in the church she grew up in who sexually abused her and several other girls/women; he was eventually asked to leave after complaints were made.  The church tried to hush it up quietly and keep it under the rug so that they wouldn't lose their testimony to the community; it sounds like the church ended up imploding under the weight of the coverups.

Later on, once Rachael got into gymnastics, someone recommended Larry Nassar to her parents for some of the injuries that she was sustaining, where Nassar abused her again.

Finally, several years later, Jacob (her husband) and Rachael were involved in a local church that was working with SGC on a church plant.  The leaders of the church they were in prayed for the accused leader (who is not named) would be able to endure all of the false accusations and lies that were being spread.  When Jacob and Rachael spoke with the elders of their church about the facts of the case, they were overruled and told not to bring "division" by raising these questions.  The elders of their then church told them to stop talking about the particulars of the case and Rachael had to scrub her statements and links on Facebook about the case.  Jacob was stripped of his role as a care group leader and their small group was dissolved by the leadership.  All of this happened around the same time that Rachael sent her personal information to the people at the Indianapolis Star. I believe it took several years, but the leadership of that church went back to the Denhollanders, apologized for how they handled it, and made the situation right.

I have edited this post to make some corrections.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

....is that at least two chapters of her book are available for free via Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, and Time.  Well worth the read!  If you wonder why people don't report, and how things are swept under the rug, read them (or the whole book).  In the same way, if you want to be able to recognize the signs that someone has been abused, and how to be open to when they're ready to talk, read the book.

(yes, authorities ought to be brought in, but for the nth time, the person needs to be ready and feel protected....)

Worth noting as well, with regards to "get it to the police", is that there are two big paths of healing for survivors.  The first, yes, is human justice, but the second path is what Valorie Kondos-Field writes in her book Life is Short; Don't Wait to Dance.  It's well worth the read from the perspective of healing, and also to understand how people can work with victims/survivors and not quite clue into what happened--but yet provide healing.

Also worth noting is that there is a legitimate space for schools (and churches) to take action when the police will not.  Specifically, fornication and persistent violation of best practices for child protection are reasons to separate people from ministries, and most perpetrators show signs that they're testing boundaries/violating best practices long before they get caught in a crime.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

For some reason, I neglected to link to a book preorder page. Yes, you can go through Amazon to get it, but it would be better if you used a different seller, especially local and independent booksellers.  This link will help you find one.  We are hopeful that this will become a NYT Bestseller, so the purchase sourcing really does matter.

Personally, I'd recommend that you don't read the excerpts.  Once you start them, you'll want to finish reading the entire book, and it's my duty (in Christian love) to keep you from making that mistake.  Just go buy it instead. Smile

Finally, there is a companion book for little girls titled "How Much Is A Little Girl Worth" - you can read my review of that on GoodReads.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Joeb's picture

Its my understanding the church where the first  incident occurred bullied Rachel’s parents into not going to the Police.  Correct me if I’m wrong. Sad situation.  

Jay's picture

Its my understanding the church where the first  incident occurred bullied Rachel’s parents into not going to the Police. 

Correct. He was asked to leave and no charges were ever filed (that I know of).  Again, it's a common and very heartbreaking response by churches.

The leadership of the church she grew up in did not want their reputation marred so they banned discussions about it within the congregation.  Unfortunately, the assailant had gone after so many people that it was impossible to keep truly secret, and the net result was that the church polarized into two sides between accuser and accused. Many people left the church as a result; her parents were not the only ones.  

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mark_Smith's picture

or go to grand jury in some cases. Churches do not "file charges." If Rachel's family were intimidated, that is on them. If your pastor asks you to not file charges, or a deacon, or an elder, or the denominational president for that matter, YOU LEAVE. That is her family's quilt for not filing charges. Only they had the power to do so. Tough love, but true.

For those back on the "how to leave a church properly" thread, does your pastor asking you to ignore a felony count as a reason to leave?

Jay's picture

Churches do not "file charges."

Nobody has said it was the church's obligation to file charges.   It IS the church's obligation to help their members get justice by reporting him to the police, not covering it up and then passing the buck.  The church failed in that duty, and it destroyed the church.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

So we have a church that bands together to persuade an assault victim and her family not to go to the police, and therefore....the blame for that is on the family?  Seriously?

Mark, have you been sleeping every time a pastor or other church leader/member emphasizes how a church can be a family?  Are you unaware of how difficult it is to leave such a family--or at least should be?  Brother, what we are talking about here is crimes that are well known to induce mental illness (e.g. depression, PTSD), and you're basically assuming is that those same people are going to be ready to jettison their biggest social network at the drop of a hat.  Don't you know that the police work with victims' advocates for a reason?  To get at what "should be", sometimes God's people need to lend a hand.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Pretty much with Bert on this one. 

People shouldn't allow the church to push them around, but the church has a far more serious responsibility to do right than mere human law requires. For a church to discourage right instead is especially heinous. 

Joeb's picture

Bert I overall agree with you but Mark has a point.  Bottom line is the victim has to stand up for himself or herself.  No victim no charges.  The Police and the church can play Dutch Uncle with the victim and the victim’s family to encourage the victim to follow through on the charges.

 I discussed this with an Assistant US Attorney(AUSA)  I dealt with in my past career and was friendly with to provide information for the newer ABWE Victims.  This AUSA concurred with Mark.  The victim has to file a complaint and be willing to go all the way with it. Otherwise per the cases regarding Missionaries overseas. Homeland Security and the US Attorney’s Office won’t pursue it.    

I would think a District Attorney would take the same position. 

However with the above noted if a Pastor and other leaders in the church discourage threaten and bully a victim and their family into not going to the Police then that’s criminal activity on their part.  

Bert your point of the church being ones family and should be well taken. This makes it that much more complex for the victim just to call the Police.  This is where certain church members can do the right thing and we must admit in any church your going to have people who will do that.  Case in point the Elder that reported Jack Schapp versus covering it up.   

Bert Perry's picture

No doubt that at a certain point, we do have some responsibility to do what's right.  Where I balk is at assuming that people who are severely injured by life experiences will be able to uniformly do so, especially in the face of church structures (cultural structures in general) which tend to push conformity rather than independent thinking.  

One might assume that, in a church with no current known disasters of the type that befell Mrs. Denhollander, the first task of the church is to modify the church culture to allow and encourage people to stand up to pastors and deacons in disputable matters.  Task #2 is to train church leadership and members to understand that the church's overall reputation is best served by dealing with allegations instead of hiding them.  

One thing that we don't instinctively understand, I think, is how great the pressure is to hide things.  One case with which I'm familiar involves a mother telling her own daughter not to report--because the perpetrator was the son of mom's boyfriend.  These things get messy in a way we'd never suspect.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

LGCarpenter's picture

So we have a church that bands together to persuade an assault victim and her family not to go to the police, and therefore....the blame for that is on the family?  Seriously?

Mark did not say this and obviously did not mean any such thing.

 

Mr. LaVern G. Carpenter

Proverbs 3:1-12

Bert Perry's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

or go to grand jury in some cases. Churches do not "file charges." If Rachel's family were intimidated, that is on them. If your pastor asks you to not file charges, or a deacon, or an elder, or the denominational president for that matter, YOU LEAVE. That is her family's quilt for not filing charges. Only they had the power to do so. Tough love, but true.

For those back on the "how to leave a church properly" thread, does your pastor asking you to ignore a felony count as a reason to leave?

Vern, and I quote, Mark did indeed say "This is her family's guilt for not filing charges."  Brothers, this is a great deal of why so many people don't come forward.  On one hand, you've got one group of misguided people telling people not to report because it would "embarrass the church", and when they are successfully shouted down, another group of people tell them they're horrible because they took the advice of people who should have been their spiritual peers and leaders.  

And as Mrs. Denhollander has often noted, there are countless girls out there quietly watching and suffering in silence because they don't want to sign up for that blanket party.  Let's get a clue here.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

the only person who can testify against a perpetrator is the victim (unless you are also a eyewitness). Period.

Are people who tell someone to not testify bad? YYYYYEEEESSSS.

Are they criminal? No.

Is it wise to be influenced by someone to not press charges, not do so, then a decade later sue them? NO.

All of my argumentation in these cases is against the constant desire to sue churches and schools year later, claiming they caused you to not testify. Stand up for yourself and your family. My goodness, if some pastor/deacon/elder tells me to ignore the fact that some perp raped my daughter..... well, not flying here bro.

 

 

Bert Perry's picture

In cases like the Nassar case, it's not true that the only person who can testify against a perpetrator is the victim or an eyewitness.  It's also very significant when people describe how the accuser responded to the situation at the time, whether they mentioned it, whether details were given, and the like.  We saw that in the brouhaha over Brett Kavanaugh, really, and it's one big reason for mandatory reporting laws.  No, you didn't see it--for obvious reasons rape happens usually in private--but what you have to say can be good for at least a subpoena, even if it's not admissible in trial.

Regarding people suing churches, schools, and other institutions for telling them not to report or otherwise mishandling the issue, absolutely, and see above.  It does great harm when a person is told, in effect, that they can either have justice, or they can have their social circle and/or spiritual home, and it does great harm when a person does not get justice that they otherwise would have had.  

It's good when a person has what it takes to tell authority figures to take a flying leap when they make idiotic demands.  However, I think it's a bit much to demand that, and those who harm people by demanding they keep things quiet are fair game for civil lawsuits.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

LGCarpenter's picture

With all kindness, my observation stands.

So we have a church that bands together to persuade an assault victim and her family not to go to the police, and therefore....the blame for that is on the family?  Seriously?

This statement implies that it is the fault of the victim's family's for the church's mishandling of the situation.  That is not what was said or implied.

 

 

Mr. LaVern G. Carpenter

Proverbs 3:1-12

Jay's picture

Mark initially said this:

Churches do not "file charges." If Rachel's family were intimidated, that is on them...

It's extremely callous (at a minimum) to reference the victim's failure to report their sexual abuse immediately after I explained that the church deliberately covered up repeated sexual assaults by a member.  t's no different from hearing a woman admitting to her own rape and then immediately following that up with "well, what kind of clothes were you wearing?" or "well, you were in the wrong part of town" or something like it.  Would you tell someone whose husband had been murdered that it's not the church's responsibility to report a murder, and that if they didn't, it was on them?  What about if the pastor's 401(k) / 403(b) had been embezzled by the treasurer?

We are commanded to speak the truth in love.  What Mark said may be true, but it was not loving to Rachael. I'm also a little nonplussed that at least two people saw fit to agree with that, although I'm not necessarily shocked by that anymore.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mark_Smith's picture

To be clear, apparently her church did wrong. I have no idea. I am just going on what Jay says Rachel said. Churches should be open about abuse that occurred on their premisis.

That being said, part of the reason the abuse was covered up was Rachel's parents apparently did not pursue justice. NO ONE can cover up if the victim themselves reports the crime (unless the police and DA are in on it...).

I am completely loving Rachel with the truth. Her parents failed to seek justice for her. Again by her own testimony as relayed by Jay. Its that simple.

Did you ever tell your parents "but all the kids are doing it..." And they said "if someone told you to jump off a cliff, would you?" Same thing with church leadership telling you to cover up a felony! You immediately know those people do not care for you! They do not love you nor do they  love Christ. Move on immediately. On the way, stop by the police station...

Let me say it another way. If you as a pastor are supposed to report abuse in your church (not in my state, but most), and fail to, you have committed a crime. If a church goes along and tries to cover up, that is evil. Plain and simple. BUT NO ONE can keep the victim and their family from reporting the crime themselves. So, what I am saying is, the buck stops with the family. If they fail... don't write a book 20 years later blaming the church without blaming your parents.

Jay's picture

The ERLC released a new episode of "The Way Home" podcast yesterday with Rachael.  It's a very powerful interview that touches on abuse from a variety of angles and is some of the best discussion that I've heard on the topic to date.  I'd recommend that to all of you.

If anyone else is interested in reading more, I'd recommend this special report by the Courier-Journal on the personal toll this has taken on her and her family for decades now.  The media interviews are also cropping up online as well, such as this one from CBS This Morning.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mark_Smith's picture

LGCarpenter wrote:

So we have a church that bands together to persuade an assault victim and her family not to go to the police, and therefore....the blame for that is on the family?  Seriously?

Mark did not say this and obviously did not mean any such thing.

 

Yes, if a group of people convince you to ignore your child being raped.. you bet the blame is on you. ALSO, the church is full of scum bags who need to be punished for covering a felony. That church has totally failed. But I am not giving a pass to the family that many of you seem to want to do. You child was abused man... step up! Protect your child! Seek justice. And if your "friend" or "pastor" tells you to "turn the cheek", do so by leaving, and then report the crime.

 

Bert Perry's picture

And I quote:

This is her family's guilt for not filing charges.

Guilt and blame are synonymns.  Stop dodging what you said, Mark, and stop covering for this, LaVern.  If you say the family is guilty, you have blamed them.  It is that simple.  Mark is moreover doubling and tripling down on this by ignoring how difficult it is to stand up to authorities and leave social structures, and instead simply demands that victims "flip the bird" at people they've loved.

Sorry, LaVern, this is not that complicated.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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