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Christine Blasey Ford Presents Award to First Gymnast to Speak Out Against Nassar

Ford presented Sports Illustrated's Inspiration of the Year award to Rachael Denhollander, who brought the first of more than 160 allegations of sexual abuse against Larry Nassar.

by Marie Solis
Dec 12 2018, 5:09pm

On Tuesday night, Christine Blasey Ford presented Sports Illustrated's Inspiration of the Year award to Rachael Denhollander, the first of more than 160 women to bring sexual abuse allegations against former USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

Ford introduced Denhollander as the award's recipient remotely, in a video where she spoke of her admiration for Denhollander's strength in coming forward—a challenge she herself knows well from having brought sexual assault accusations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh earlier this year.

"Rachael Denhollander, I am in awe of you, and I will always be inspired by you," Ford said. "In stepping forward, you took a huge risk and you galvanized future generations to come forward, even when the odds are seemingly stacked against them. The lasting lesson is that we all have the power to create real change, and we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by the acts of others."

Denhollander went public with her allegations against Nassar in 2016, when she reached out to the Indy Star to go on the record about her experience being repeatedly sexually assaulted by Nassar during treatments she received from him in 2000 for lower-back pain. Over the course of multiple treatments, Denhollander said Nassar escalated his sexual abuse, groping her genitals and breasts and penetrating her vagina and anus.

Denhollander's story opened the floodgates. After she came forward, some 160 women followed suit, including recent Olympic medalists Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, and Gabby Douglas.

Earlier this year, nearly all of them appeared in a Michigan courtroom to provide victim impact statements over the course of what turned into a marathon seven-day hearing.

"Larry's the most dangerous type of abuser," Denhollander said in her 36-minute statement. "One who is capable of manipulating his victims through coldly calculated grooming methodologies, presenting the most wholesome, caring external persona as a deliberate means to insure a steady stream of children to assault.

"So, I ask, how much is a little girl worth?" she continued. "How much priority should be placed on communicating that the fullest weight of the law will be used to protect another innocent child from the soul shattering devastation that sexual assault brings? I submit to you that these children are worth everything. Worth every protection the law can offer. Worth the maximum sentence."

After the victims' statements, Nassar wrote a letter to Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, insisting that he was a "good doctor," and blamed the media for convincing people that his treatments were "wrong and bad." He added: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Aquilina dismissed it, tossing it away from her.

"You are no longer victims, you are survivors," Aquilina told the women who testified against Nassar. "You're very strong and I have addressed you individually."

Aquilina sentenced Nassar to up to 175 years in prison, telling him: "I just signed your death warrant."

Members of Congress continue to call for a full-scale FBI investigation into the US Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics to examine what Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal called a "massive cover-up" of Nassar's abuse.

And it might have never come to light were it not for Denhollander, Ford suggested.

"I am honored to speak with you from afar about a woman I admire so much, a woman who suffered abuse as a vulnerable teenage athlete, who found the courage to talk publicly to stop the abuse of others," Ford said Tuesday. "Her courage inspired other survivors to end their silence and we all know the result."