INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — What is a girl worth?
“Everything,” said Rachael Denhollander with confidence.
Denhollander sat on her chair in her living room with near perfect posture. The television cameras, microphones and lights didn’t seem to bother her.
There was a time however, when she struggled to answer that question. When she wasn’t sure if she would ever speak up.
Denhollander is the woman known for breaking the silence in the most shocking scandal in USA Gymnastics history. She was the first woman to publicly accuse then team doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse.
Now three years later, she has book called “What is a Girl Worth?” It tells her story in its entirety. It takes readers through her emotional journey and decision to come forward.
News 8 went to Denhollander’s home in Louisville to ask her about the book, her decision to write it and who it’s for.
“I wrote it for survivors. I wrote it for those who are walking alongside survivors, I wrote it for anyone who struggles with ‘where is my identity?’ ‘What is my value?’ ‘What are my gifts for?’ ‘What am I worth?’ And that’s a struggle we all face, if we’re honest,” said Denhollander.
Report reveals texts between IMPD, USA Gymnastics
It didn’t take long for Denhollander to open up about the long road that eventually led her to writing the book. It’s been just three years after the sexual abuse allegations were first made public in an IndyStar article.
“There needs to be an investigation into what the heck is going on at IMPD too,” said Denhollander.
Denhollander pointed to the relationship between USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny, and Bruce Smith, then a supervisor in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s child abuse unit.
A report commissioned by USA Gymnastics revealed text messages between the two that focused on “protecting USAG’s public reputation.” Other messages show the pair discussed trying to “kill the story” that USAG ignored sexual abuse claims, and that they needed to “body slam” other sources complaining about the group.
Denhollander also faults the FBI, including agents in Indianapolis, who received the first abuse allegations against Nassar in July of 2015.
“There were FBI agents that actually investigated him? Because I don’t think they did. They didn’t. The FBI didn’t investigate Larry, what the FBI did was let him continue sexually assaulting children for 16 months and I want to know why,” said Denhollander.
She also questioned multiple discussions between Steve Penny and Jay Abbott, the then head of the FBI’s Indianapolis office, about a position with the US Olympic Committee.
“Jay Abbott was recommended for a job at USOC that Penny recommended him for that he found, quote, very tantalizing, after he and Penny had drinks,” Denhollander explained.
She said she wasn’t taken seriously until she went to the Michigan State University Police Department.
“Everything Larry was charged for it was all found by MSUPD. Detective Andrea Munford was the one led the team that found the child porn and did the investigation. They only transferred it to federal authorities to make sure he got the largest sentence possible for that porn collection. Everything that went right went right because of that one detective at Michigan State University,” Denhollander said.
“Victims don’t speak up because they’re not taken seriously”
Denhollander also believes USA Gymnastics needs to be disbanded because she said there is still abuse happening and people who need to be held accountable. She added because of that, she won’t let her own children participate in the sport.
“That’s tough too because my daughter has been asking for lessons for a year now. But I can’t in good conscience let her participate when the organization she would be under doesn’t care about her safety,” said Denhollander.
Even though Nassar will now spend the rest of his life behind bars, Denhollander said the journey led to an infuriating realization.
“It put me and these other women in a position where we had to relinquish every shred of privacy,” Denhollander said. “There’s a reason victims don’t speak up because they’re not taken seriously even by the people who are supposed to be pursuing justice for them.”
That realization is a major reason she also chose to write a children’s book called “How Much is a Little Girl Worth?” Denhollander said she hopes both books shed light on abuse culture. But she wants the children’s book to remind young girls they always have a choice and that their life and well-being should always be a top priority. Denhollander said she wrote it after a Glamour Women of the Year photo shoot.