Former Olympic gymnast Rachael Denhollander gave a riveting victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, the disgraced former physician who has pleaded guilty to multiple accounts of sexually abusing underage girls.
During her statement, Denhollander said that one consequence of being abused by Nassar — and her subsequent advocacy of other sexual abuse victims — was that she “lost her church.” In a new an interview with Christianity Today, she elaborates about what she meant by that remark.
In particular, Denhollander, who considers herself to be a conservative evangelical Christian, says that evangelical churches have been failing in their duties to stand up for victims of abuse.
“Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim,” she says. “There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help.”
She then goes on to explain how her own advocacy on behalf of abuse victims made her into a pariah within her own church.
“The reason I lost my church was not specifically because I spoke up,” she says. “It was because we were advocating for other victims of sexual assault within the evangelical community, crimes which had been perpetrated by people in the church and whose abuse had been enabled, very clearly, by prominent leaders in the evangelical community.”
Denhollander also says that the situation she was dealing with in the church was “one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse.”