If not you, then who?
Rachael Denhollander was the first woman to publicly accuse Larry Nassar — the former USA Gymnastics (USAG) “doctor” and now notorious pedophile — of sexual assault. If she had not bravely and very publicly come forward you might not know his name. And he very well might not have been arrested, convicted and sentenced to 175 years in prison.
In September 2016, after collecting evidence for over a decade, Rachael went to the Indy Star newspaper and told her story of abuse as a young athlete in Nassar’s care. Here’s her initial email to the newspaper:
“I recently read the article titled Out of Balance published by the IndyStar [in March 2016]. My experience may not be relevant to your investigation [Out of Balance revealed that USAG had a policy of not reporting sexual abuse allegations against member coaches], but I am emailing to report an incident that may be. I was not molested by my coach, but I was molested by Dr. Larry Nassar, the team doctor for USAG. I was fifteen years old, and it was under the guise of medical treatment for my back.”
She approached the newspaper with some trepidation. She knew the onslaught that would come if the story was published after the journalists’ due diligence was done: the humiliating interrogation about the details of the sexual abuse, if she was lucky and he was arrested and the case went to trial; the public shaming; the ostracism and loss of support from her community.
This was pre “me too era.” Rachael had no reason to believe anyone would listen to her let alone believe her story. Which was why she had waited so many years and gathered so much supporting evidence to back her claims. There were so many potential negatives. And only one, exceedingly unlikely, positive.
Rachael braced herself. And she did it anyway. Because it mattered.
Nassar had been a force of evil in the world for nearly 30 years at this point. Countless children — including many Team USA and Olympic Team members across the years — had been assaulted by Nassar, though Rachael didn’t know the breadth and scale of his crimes at that time. She suspected there were other victims. She had no idea how many there actually were.
When Rachael spoke with the journalist — Mark Alesia — at Indy Star, she shared journal entries from when she was a teenager, medical records, and attestations to her character. She provided expert doctors’ definitions of “pelvic floor adjustment” to refute Nassar’s own assertions that that was what he was doing to hundreds of patients — some under 10 years old. This was a “procedure” he performed (a sexual assault, in reality) without parental consent, or warning, or explanation. Or gloves.
Under the guise of medical treatment, Nassar abused girls and young women for over 3 decades. Until Rachael came forward and opened the flood gates.
Within hours of the article appearing in the Indy Star, the calls started coming in. For two weeks, the calls verifying her story with claims of similar abuse, came.
A few days after Rachael’s story appeared in the Indy Star, Jamie Dantzscher — a member of the bronze medal winning 2000 Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team — filed a civil suit against Nassar as a Jane Doe. Immediately, the gymnastics community figured out who Jane was and smeared her as “a slut” and a liar, in an attempt to slander her as an unreliable narrator of her own very true story.
There were over 50 credible claims submitted to the Indy Star before the gymnastics community stopped harassing Jamie on-line and stopped to think: maybe it’s true.
And then — over the course of days then months — there were just too many. And the truth could not be denied any longer.
Rachael has said that in coming forward she hoped to give a voice to others.
"My hope [. . .] would be that it would give a voice to others who have also been victims and encourage them to come forward as well."
Mission accomplished. Thanks to other brave and incredibly competent women on the case — people like investigator Andrea Munford and prosecutor Angela Povilaitis — Nassar was proven to be one of the most prolific pedophiles in American history. Certainly in American sports. And he was sent to prison for life. Because of Rachael. And Jamie. And Andrea. And Angela. And the “army of survivors” (as they are often called) who came forward because of the willingness of these brave women to go first and lead the charge.
If you’ve ever wondered, to yourself or aloud: But what can I do? I’m just one person.
Let Rachael and Jamie be your inspiration.
The question Rachael asked in her victim impact statement at Nassar’s sentencing, was: “What is a girl worth?”
And of course, Rachael answers her own question: Everything. She is worth everything.
Yes, Rachael and Jamie’s stories can serve as a warning. Be prepared. When you stand up and say unpopular things — in Rachael’s case she shattered the carefully crafted image of Nassar as a kindly and heroic doctor helping young athletes get back in the gym — you will experience blow back. You will be torn down, insulted, slandered. You might lose your church, as Rachael did. You might lose your community. You might lose friends.
But you will gain something greater. You will be able to stand tall, look yourself in the mirror, and know that you stood up for what was right and good and protected some number of others — maybe just one person, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands — in doing so. And, perhaps, you inspired others to stand up and speak an unpopular truth as well. Because courage begets courage. And one person, leads to another and another and then, you just might have an army of survivors standing with you.
Because truth outs, in the end.
In the days since October 7 — when 1400 Israelis were massacred and more than 200 others were kidnapped — there have been rallies across the globe in major cities and on university campuses calling for the end of Israel and sometimes the end of Jews. There have been protesters shouting that Hitler had the right idea but should have “finished the job.” Like this woman in Miami Beach on November 12:
In the face of this, many who have been quiet in the past about their beliefs and politics are starting to wonder if they can continue doing so in the face of so much evil, so much hatred.
But they ask themselves: What can I do? Will I be safe? Does my voice matter?
My unequivocal answer is: Yes. It does. If not you, then who?
I’ve been asked hundreds of times in the last year and a half: “Why was this [closed schools during covid] the hill you were willing to die on?”
And I answer the same way every time: “Why weren’t you? If children and free speech aren’t hills you are willing to die on, do you even have a hill? What’s yours?”
For some people, the blatant antisemitism revealed in the past month is that hill.
I had a brief conversation with a Jewish neighbor who was in Tel Aviv when the attacks happened. She told me: I am not very religious, and I usually don’t announce my Jewishness to the world. But I feel like I need to now.
Do it. Stand up. Don’t hide.
As my friend Sarah Beth Burwick says: “Don’t take off your Star of David, get a bigger one.”
Others are finding a different hill.
Elliot Kaminetzky is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in OCD in children and adults. On October 8, in an informal professional group on Facebook for Therapists in Private Practice (TIPP), he shared his concerns about youth gender medicine and the rush to transition children.
He began as follows:
“I’d like to discuss a topic that is deeply important to me. I have long been hesitant to voice my mounting concerns about the state of gender medicine for children and adolescents in the US, both out of fear of being labeled a transphobe or worse, being motivated by this prejudice. I have spent a considerable amount of time researching my concerns and then felt comfortable approaching my most trusted, brilliant, LGBTQIA+ allied colleagues, including my transgender friends and colleagues. To my surprise, I was not alone in my concerns and they uniformly shared by them to various extents.
However, my concern grew when they expressed hesitation to speak about the matter publicly due to the potential for professional repercussions. I firmly believe this issue needs to be spoken about openly and without fear within the mental health community with the same sensitivity and critical thinking we apply to any other treatments we provide. I believe the mental and physical health of vulnerable children and adolescents, who are genuinely suffering with gender related issues, is too important to go undiscussed. I also know of no better group of mental health professionals who are more compassionate and evidence based in their approach to mental healthcare as this one. I trust you will engage with the content of this post in good faith.”
He then proceeded to list his concerns. They ranged from low quality evidence, to inability for minors to consent to treatments with lifelong implications including possible infertility, and the over representation of people on the autism spectrum who are identifying as trans and seeking to medically transition. He reposted on X.
The Facebook post to TIPP has now been deleted and Elliot has been blocked from the group.
He reached out to me for support and advice. I told him to keep going. Because it matters. Our own comfort matters far less than speaking up when real harm is being done. Even if we face a reputational dragging.
I told him about Aristides De Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat in France who saved tens of thousands of refugees during the Holocaust, including 10,000 Jews. During the German occupation of France, thousands of refugees fled southward, in the hope of leaving the country to go to Spain and then set sail for America. So De Sousa Mendes wrote transit visas to those in need, despite his government’s orders to do no such thing.
News of De Sousa Mendes’ endeavor reached Lisbon, at which time he was ordered to return to Portugal. It is said that on the train back home, he threw blank visas out the window hoping to save as many people as possible. When he returned home, he was immediately dismissed from his position in the Foreign Ministry, which left him destitute and unable to support his family. And even though he died penniless, when he was asked about whether or not he regretted his actions, he replied: “If thousands of Jews are suffering because of one Christian [Hitler], surely one Christian may suffer for so many Jews.”
Elliot’s own father is a Holocaust survivor. I didn’t know this when I told him about De Sousa Mendes. But the story hit home.
Then I said: “You can do this.”
He responded: “This is what I needed to hear.”
I told him this won’t be the end of it. But you have to imagine what will happen in ten years. When it is established that rushing to medically transition pre-pubescent children is universally recognized as a medical scandal. Keep your eyes fixed there. Because it will happen, as it is happening right now, in European countries like Denmark and Finland and the U.K., where they are rolling back protocols that medicalized children with puberty blockers and cross sex hormones over the last decade. Why? Because they have assessed (finally) the lack of evidence and seen the harms done from this course of treatment. Keep your eyes fixed on that point in the future. Because the days ahead will challenge your resolve.
“I will,” he said.
If you ask yourself what will happen to me if I say something, you’re asking the wrong question.
What will happen to others if you don’t? What is a little girl worth? What is your hill? Who might you inspire to stop whispering and join you? When and how does momentum start? Why won’t it be you that starts it, like Rachael did?
When Siva Raj and his partner Amber Looijen decided to lead the school board recall in San Francisco in late 2020, they had no idea how they’d do it, let alone if they’d be successful. But they were.
Three members of the San Francisco Board of Education were recalled in February 2022 for failing to open public schools during covid (and a host of other derelictions).
Siva and Amber did that. Two regular people. They didn’t know how they were going to do it when they started, but they knew it needed to be done. And rather than say to themselves I’m just one person or what if everyone gets mad at me and calls me names, they asked themselves: If not me, then who?
Ask yourself that question.
What’s your hill?
Then start climbing. Like Siva. And Rachael. And Jamie. And Elliot.
If not you, then who?