Criminal Justice

Gymnast-turned-lawyer who helped expose Nassar is honored, Christine Blasey Ford makes video tribute

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Rachael Denhollander

Rachael Denhollander. Marie DuPlantz, via Wikimedia Commons.

A lawyer who was the first woman to publicly accuse gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault has been selected as Sports Illustrated’s Inspiration of the Year.

Rachael Denhollander received the award on Tuesday after being introduced in a video statement by Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school. Sports Illustrated has stories here and here.

Denhollander was a 15-year-old gymnast seeking treatment for back pain in 2000 when Nassar sexually assaulted her. She contacted the Indianapolis Star in August 2016 to go on the record with her story after seeing the newspaper’s report on sexual abuse in U.S. gymnastics. She contacted police the next week.

Nassar was convicted in two courts for molesting young gymnasts during medical treatments. In January, he was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in one of the cases. The next month he was sentenced in the other case to up to 125 years in prison. He is also serving a federal prison sentence for possession of child pornography.

It was Ford’s first public statement since she testified about her allegation against Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, according to Sports Illustrated. Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court and is currently hearing cases.

Ford said Denhollander “found the courage to talk publicly to stop the abuse of others. Her courage inspired other survivors to end their silence, and we all know the result.”

In addition, Ford said Denhollander took a huge risk by coming forward. “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,” Ford said.

See also: Lawsuits, leads and old-fashioned legwork helped expose Larry Nassar

Ford had testified in September that she was pushed onto a bed during a high school party, and Kavanaugh tried to take off her swimsuit as he grinded into her. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation, calling it “an orchestrated political hit.”

Denhollander received the award a day after the release of a report by Ropes & Gray that found two top officials with the U.S. Olympic Committee failed to protect athletes after they learned of sexual abuse allegations against Nassar in July 2015. One of the officials was fired on Monday; the other had resigned in February. The American Lawyer, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have coverage.

The report said executives at USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University and the U.S. Olympic Committee “ignored red flags, failed to recognize textbook grooming behaviors, or in some egregious instances, dismissed clear calls for help” from Nassar’s victims.

USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy last week.

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