Video: Denhollander seeks 'maximum sentence' for Nassar

The Detroit News

Rachael Denhollander, a victim of disgraced Dr. Larry Nassar, was the last victim to speak Wednesday at Nassar's sentencing hearing. She used the opportunity to request that Nassar be given the maximum sentence.

"This sentence will send a message about how serious abuse is to be taken," Denhollander said. "How much is a little girl worth? I submit to you that these children are worth everything, worth every protection the law can offer, worth the maximum sentence."

More than 150 other survivors have spoken out at Nassar's sentencing hearing. 

In her statement, Denhollander directed her remarks to Nassar and Michigan State University.

"Larry meticulously groomed me for the purpose of exploiting me for his sexual gain," Denhollander said. "He penetrated me, he fondled me, and then he whispered questions in my ear about how it felt. And he enjoyed it. He asked how it felt because he wanted to know."

Denhollander said she was "barely 15" when she was first treated by Nassar. 

"At 15, I believed that the adults at MSU, surrounding Larry, would do the right thing if they were aware what Larry was doing, and I was terribly wrong," Denhollander said. 

Directing her remarks then at MSU, she said the school's response further traumatized victims.

"We have been telling our story for 18 months, and you have yet to answer a single question I have asked," Denhollander said. "You play word games, saying you 'didn't know' because no one believed. The reason (MSU officials) did not believe it, is because they didn't listen."

Speaking again to MSU, Denhollander said: "You greatly compound the damage done to these victims with the way you're responding."

After leaving gymnastics as a competitor, Denhollander transitioned into coaching.

"When one of my little girls was finally referred to him, I took the chance and I spoke up," Denhollander said.

But the girl had already seen Nassar by then. Denhollander hoped that the girl, just 7, would be outside the age-range Nassar preferred. Then a victim came forward who had been assaulted when she was 6. Soon after the girl saw Nassar, her family moved away.

"I don't know yet that that little girl walked out the same way she walked in," Denhollander said. 

Denhollander then moved from coaching into public policy, but couldn't shake the impact of having been abused. She fought fear when forced to commute or work in close quarters with male colleagues. 

She still watches gymnastics but said she looks away when cameras pan to the audience, fearing they would capture Nassar. 

Intimacy was a struggle in the early days of meeting the man who would become her husband. 

"I couldn't hold his hand...because closeness wasn't safe, and trust wasn't safe," Denhollander said. 

Now a mother of three, including two daughters, Denhollander said her Nasser-induced anxiety about being treated in a medical setting "cast a horrific shadow" over what should have been a joyous occasion — the birth of her three children.

Denhollander recalled a time when Nassar brought his daughter in during a visit to his office.

"You knew how much I loved children, and you used your own daughter to manipulate me," Denhollander said. "I prayed that you would leave your abuse in the exam room, and not bring it home to that little girl."

Denhollander said her advocacy for sexual assault victims "cost me my church and my closest friends," just three weeks before she filed the police report that opened the investigation. 

"When I came out, my sexual assault was wielded against me like a weapon, often by those who should've been the first to support and help," she said. 

Denhollander spoke then about forgiveness and guilt. 

"Forgiveness does not come from doing good things," she said, "it comes from repentance, which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done. You have been a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires."

Denhollander didn't go so far as to say she forgave Nassar, whose acts she called "evil and wicked," but did say "I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt, so you can experience true repentance."

Nassar, she said, once had hundreds of little girls who loved and looked up to him — girls who are now victims.

"You have shut yourself off from every good thing in this world that could have and should have brought you fulfillment," Denhollander said. "I pity you for it. You have fashioned for yourself a prison that's far, far worse than any I could ever put you in."

After her statement, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said told Denhollander: "You didn't just build a file, you built an army of survivors."

Aquilina on Wednesday sentenced Nassar to 40-175 years in prison.