Rachael Denhollander’s Victim Impact Statement: Why We Need to Read the Whole Thing


Many people are sharing excerpts of Rachael Denhollander’s impact statement and praising her for how powerfully she shared the gospel in court on January 24th. For example, in the Gospel Coalition post that has been widely shared, the writer embeds the last 11 minutes or so of Rachael’s video testimony and writes, “If the video begins at the beginning, you can fast forward to the 25:40 mark for the most powerful part, where she addresses him directly and speaks the gospel into his life.” And while he links to the full transcript, it’s really only a brief excerpt from the end of Rachael’s statement that is the star of the post. While it’s better than screenshots of a sentence or a one-paragraph quote, the impact is the same. Her full statement is treated as optional rather than mandatory reading. But, everyone needs to read or listen to her full statement to appreciate its true power. Because the most powerful part is not a part at all; it’s her entire, holistic act of searing, prophetic truth-telling.

We need to read and digest everything, including parts like this:

Even my status as a sexual assault victim has impacted or did impact my ability to advocate for sexual assault victims because once it became known that I too had experienced sexual assault, people close to me used it as an excuse to brush off my concerns when I advocated for others who had been abused, saying I was just obsessed because of what I had gone through, that I was imposing my own experience upon other institutions who had massive failures and much worse. My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church and our closest friends three weeks before I filed my police report. I was left alone and isolated. And far worse, it was impacted because when I came out, my sexual assault was wielded like a weapon against me.

Her close friends and faith community used her own history of abuse to discredit her efforts to secure justice for other victims. She was despised for exercising the very courage that today we’re eager to associate ourselves with. But do we deserve to? It’s easy to cheer for little David on the day after he (in this case SHE) has slain Goliath. Everyone loves a victor. But when Rachael was holding her slingshot and selecting her five smooth stones from the stream, the voices that came at her were more like the voices of a skeptical king and David’s contemptuous brothers. Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be doing something else? I know how conceited you are. You have a wicked heart. Your motives are wrong. You can’t possibly win. (1 Samuel 17:28-33) Let that sink in.

In 2008, my husband and I came alongside a mother and her young son after the woman’s ex-husband (and son’s father) molested him. It’s a complex story with many parts to it, but the bottom line is that the church we were all a part of turned on the mother and the child, then turned on us when we attempted to advocate for them. The senior pastor told my husband over the phone that the mother was histrionic and attention-seeking. The leaders questioned the reliability of the son’s description of what happened to him, even though we shared with them that he exhibited obvious signs of trauma. He woke up with nightmares almost every night during the three weeks that he and his mom stayed with us, repeatedly describing the way he had been touched. After the senior pastor refused to meet with us, we sent an email to him and challenged the church’s failure to shepherd and show compassion. In response, he dispatched his assistant pastor and an elder to confront my husband and me for being adversarial toward the church and to get us back in line. They did offer a weak apology for not assigning a deacon to the case sooner. Utterly stunned, we ended up leaving the church and losing all the friends we had made there.

If you think what happened is unusual, let me assure you that it is not. If you think there must have been something obviously pathological about the church, there was not. The expository preaching was solid, the community groups were warm and welcoming, the worship was excellent, and the stated mission was outreach-oriented.

So when Rachael says to Larry Nassar, “The cost, emotional and physical, to see this through has been greater than many would ever know,” I feel the weight of it. It requires no effort for us to borrow and appropriate our favorite excerpts from her statement, but she paid for the ability to say what she said at the end with blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice, rejection, exposure, humiliation, profound loss, and more. Read her own summary about it here. The power of the final part of her address rests fully in a sober reckoning with everything that preceded it. If we listen, it’s obvious that it’s not just Larry Nassar who needs to repent; it’s not just Larry Nassar who requires forgiveness. It’s also her friends and her faith community who abandoned, rejected, and maligned her. It’s the secular and religious institutions that covered things up, refused to listen, gaslighted her and hundreds of victims, and continue to do so. It’s regular people like us who think we’re above it all and who often have too little appreciation for the catastrophic impact of our collective depravity and our ability to maim and destroy when we get swept up in groupthink.

When I was in college, the Christian fellowship I was a part of often sang a song called “Lamentations 3.” But the only lyrics in the song were, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, oh Lord. Great is thy faithfulness.” Yet Lamentations 3 is filled with the language of misery, physical and mental anguish, and injustice. Much like the first two-thirds of Rachael’s impact statement. Only when we take in all of that do verses 22-23 move beyond religious sentimentality to gospel power. Anything less than that is a weak, watered-down, even truncated gospel. Bravo to Rachael for getting it right. Let those of us who have ears hear and learn.

[Update 1/27/18: The Gospel Coalition post by Justin Taylor that I quoted from has been edited, and there is some discrepancy between what I quoted and the latest version. The original version of the post is now cached and can be viewed here.]

[Update 1/29/18: It appears the cached page has been changed now too. Here’s a screenshot of the original post.]


Categories: Church/Ecclesiology, Culture/Social issues, Uncategorized

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1 reply

  1. Wow. This is so true when it comes to the church and sexual assault/abuse. I’ve seen it first hand and it is so disheartening. The saddest part is that people don’t realize how it weakens the reputation and persona of the Body of Christ.
    Yes, while her willingness to share the gospel was brave, just as brave was her willingness to come forward about her experience. Yes, knowing Christ is a testimony, but our experience, all of our experiences are a part of that testimony as well.
    P.S. I also loved your assessment of Lamentations 3. People ignore a lot in that passage. I actually talk about the effects that passage had on my life in an old blog post here. https://ruthennaporterfield.com/2016/04/12/love-in-lamentations/
    Lamentations is a tough book to read, by the definition of its very title. But it is a beautiful picture of the realities of a relationship with God.

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