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Former gymnast at conference to prevent child sex abuse

December 6, 2018

Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly identify herself as a victim of sports doctor Larry Nassar, speaks Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, at a Vermont conference on preventing child sexual abuse in Montpelier, Vt. The conference was organized to make sure Vermont remains vigilant nearly 10 years after a law was passed in response to the sexual assault and murder of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Statutes of limitations need to be addressed in child sexual abuse criminal and civil cases to ensure that survivors have access to the justice system, Rachel Denhollander, the first woman to publicly identify herself as a victim of sports doctor Larry Nassar told a Vermont conference on preventing child sexual abuse on Thursday.

“Most victims of child sexual abuse are too traumatized to report it until much much later in life,” the lawyer and former gymnast said. By the time the abuse survivors are able to speak out “the window to justice civilly and criminally is closed,” she said.

She spoke of the obstacles she and others faced to get justice from tight statutes of limitations to politics to failures by mandated reporters and other adults to report the abuse.

Denhollander contacted the Indianapolis Star in 2016 and filed a criminal complaint with Michigan State University police. Denhollander told the Star, which has just published an article on USA Gymnastics’ failure to act on reports of sexual abuse by coaches, that Nassar began molesting her when she was 15.

Nassar was sentenced to decades in prison after hundreds of girls and women said he sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment, including while he worked for Michigan State and Indiana-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.

Sexual assault has by far the most extensive and longest term impact on survivors compared to all other crimes with surviving victims, according to the best research, she said.

Survivors are three times more likely to suffer from depression; six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder; 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol; 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and four times more likely to contemplate suicide, she said.

The Vermont conference was organized to make sure the state remains vigilant nearly 10 years after a comprehensive law was passed in response to the sexual assault and murder of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett, of Braintree.

“I want you to remember that what you do legislatively will not only impact survivors practically but it will send a message to them and it will send a message to the predators and enablers in your state,” Denhollander said. “It will answer the question: Vermont, how much are your children worth?

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This story has been corrected to show the spelling of the first name is Rachael, not Rachel.

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