Lead Editor’s Introduction: We’re delighted to introduce our very first book review here at the Kingdom Outpost! Laura Sporre reviews a book about a topic very close to our hearts – pursuing Christ-centred justice and righteousness in the area of abuse. We hope to dive more into resources and writings in this area in upcoming months.
I hope you are as blessed by this review as we have been! If you would like to write a book review, contact firstname.lastname@example.org!
Rachael Denhollander didn’t set out to be a spokesperson for sexual abuse survivors. Instead, she kept the story of her own abuses a secret, preferring not to talk about them. When she was abused at age 7 by a young adult at church, she saw how dealing with sexual abuse drove the church apart. Later, as a teen, she found herself violated again – this time by a nationally renowned physician who treated her gymnastics injuries, Dr. Larry Nasser. He was a medical professional – the doctor of USA Gymnastic Olympians, well-liked by everyone, and esteemed by his peers. Unfortunately, he was also a master manipulator. She was a teenage girl. Who would believe her? Rachael already knew the answer.
“It feels safer to believe abuse happens only to people who ‘let it’,” Rachael says, “…This myth needs to be abandoned, and we need to make an effort to better understand why survivors don’t speak up during, or even after, abuse. The truth is, I had the tools I needed, and I knew how to use them at an early age. Yet when the time came, they were not enough to help me be heard and believed.”
With humor and candor, Rachael walks us through her childhood, giving us a glimpse of her personality, her family life, and her love for gymnastics. She openly tells the story of her abuse, helping us to understand not only what happened to her, but why it was so difficult to tell anyone; why she had such little hope of being believed. She shares the devastating effects of the abuse as her life goes on, her struggle to just “get over it”, and her slow and painful journey to healing.
When an article is published that uncovers sexual abuse by US Gymnastic Coaches, Rachael sees her chance to be heard. If it helps even one other girl who was abused, and lets her know that she wasn’t alone, Rachael decides that publicly going forward to report Dr. Nasser will be worth it. While she knows it’s going to be a fight, she has no idea what an uphill battle she has just engaged in, or the way it will change her life. Nor does she realize the overwhelming number of victims – literally hundreds of women – who are waiting in silence. Waiting for someone to listen; for someone to speak for them; for someone to fight for them. Waiting for someone like her.
“I cried for them and with every tear that fell, I wondered, ‘who is going to find these little girls? Who is going to tell them how much they are worth? How valuable they are, how deserving of justice and protection? Who is going to tell these little girls that what was done to them matters? . . . To everyone who is watching, I ask that same question. How much is a little girl worth?”
The book goes on to cover Rachael’s interviews, the legal processes that had to be completed, and the final results of Dr. Nasser’s trial. While some of the legal details might get tedious to read, it is also compelling enough to keep you wanting to read more.
I recommend this book for multiple reasons. The heartbreaking story of abuse and survival should make us all more empathetic to the suffering around us, and more willing to listen to the voices of those who have also experienced abuse. Through her personal experiences, Rachael also helps to uncover and unpack some of the reasons that survivors are far too often not heard or believed. Finally, she gives real life examples of different responses to abuse, showing the damaging effects of minimizing or ignoring reports of sexual abuse, while challenging us to find a way forward, and a starting place to be better equipped.
Rachael says in her epilogue,
“With a heavy heart, I saw again that everyone appreciates advocacy when it’s directed to those ‘outside the camp,’ but when it demands that we evaluate our own faith communities, political parties, favorite sports team, candidates, or beloved leaders, we scramble for reasons why things are ‘different’ in that space. This is the blind spot that keeps abusers protected and convinces victims that it’s never safe to speak up.”
As difficult as it can be to hear, this important message is one that the church should not ignore. We too, need to ask Rachael’s soul-searching question: how much is a little girl worth?
Then the King will answer, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’ (Matthew 25:45)