Rachael Denhollander recalls that she spent more than half of her life reckoning with guilt, shame, blame, and anger before coming forward as the first to accuse former USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault.
But in a powerful talk at Sanders Theatre Thursday hosted by the Veritas Forum, the former gymnast, who said she was 15 when he began molesting her, explained that her evangelical Christian faith gave her a way forward and a way to reconcile the devastating experience.
“Justice is the foundation for forgiveness. If justice did not exist, forgiveness, true forgiveness, could not exist either,” she said in a speech followed by a conversation with Nancy Hill, Charles Bigelow Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Only because I can trust God to bring that justice on my behalf and bring it perfectly, I can release my desire to retaliate.”
More than 150 women eventually followed Denhollander’s brave lead, and Nassar, who was convicted of seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual contact, was sentenced last fall to up to 175 years in prison.
In court, Denhollander was the final accuser to give an impact statement, telling Nasser: “Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the Gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.”
Her thoughts in Sanders ranged from a Merriam-Webster Dictionary breakdown of the definitions of justice and forgiveness to being encouraged by the #MeToo movement (“It’s not — yet — to the level we need it to be at”) to a questioning of the six-month sentence that California college student Brock Turner received after being convicted of sexual assault in 2016.