What Is A Girl Worth?

September 17, 2019

How does one review a book such as this? Everyone should read it—I wish the need for it did not exist. Beyond the beautiful picture of family the book presents and Rachael Denhollander’s enjoyment of the sport of gymnastics in her youth, I wish none of the things in the book ever happened. But they did happen in the lives of many girls and young women. Repeatedly. 


So I repeat: everyone should read this book.


What Is A Girl Worth? should serve as a bucket of ice cold water to the American public. We in the church should pay special attention. Rachael Denhollander remains one of our own. She could not have a more particular Christian pedigree. She’s a homeschooling mom of 4 married to a working man who studies at one of the premier seminaries in the United States. Her story doesn’t concern ne’er-do-wells in some coastal city the evangelical world has dubbed a scary place. It unfolds in the Midwest and involves regular folks who could be anyone. Rachael Denhollander could be a woman I know. 


Why should everyone read this book? You should read it because it concerns you. It concerns a great evil which existed and was allowed to exist for far too long. 


As a man tasked by a small local church with leading and teaching teenagers, I have had the sad task of reading books and attending training on protecting children and teens from sexual abuse. In her memoir, Mrs. Denhollander verifies absolutely everything I have learned. She relates in a narrative format the things one learns from a good book like On Guard. Where consumption of books on policy and procedure can become perfunctory (even on such grave matters), a memoir such as What Is A Girl Worth? never does. The book contains incredibly clear writing and gripping story-telling. Even so, I found it incredibly difficult to read. Because it happened. Everyone should read this book.


In the pages of her book, Mrs. Denhollander shows the reader exactly how an abuser grooms victims, executes abuse, and covers his tracks with obfuscations and power plays. She explains the confusion and trauma felt by those who suffer sexual abuse. She gives much time, energy, and space to detailing the difficulty of confronting sexual abuse both from the personal side of dealing with the trauma itself as well as the nearly impossible task of receiving a listening ear. I found myself wondering as I read, Would anything have happened if she had not pursued legal studies? I must say, I wonder the answer to the question still. 


Human depravity proves a sad and multi-faceted thing. In my research on sex abuse, I gleaned information on grooming. Mrs. Denhollander’s book shows exactly what grooming looks like. It can be as simple as consistent compliments on one’s boots, the sort of thing which would set most men off as observant. Larry Nassar played such things to his advantage deliberately. Many with an eye on the news scratch their heads over the existence of impenetrable virtual fortresses which guard predators such as the former doctor, Larry Nassar. What Is A Girl Worth? reveals exactly how these virtual fortresses stay strong: through the seemingly small choices of those who do not want involve themselves and explain away the testimonies of those who become sexual prey. 


But wait. Aren’t we overplaying this whole thing? Do things like this happen that often? 


In the span of this very decade, we have seen two high profile sex abuse scandals at major American universities. We know the names of Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky, though only die-hard fans of their respective universities would have had cause to recognize their names previous to the exposure of their appetites for sexual gratification with children. We know Larry Nassar alone possessed over 37,000 images of child pornography on his discarded computer. Who knows how many individual children feature in those images? May God pour out his grace on the authorities who had to catalogue such atrocities.


Christians, Rachael Denhollander is one of our own. She is our dear sister in Christ, precious in the sight of the Almighty. We need to hear her words and pay attention. Proverbs 24:11–12 reads:


Deliver those who are being taken away to death,

And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back.

If you say, “See, we did not know this,”

Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?

And does He not know it who keeps your soul?

And will He not render to man according to his work?  


If we evangelicals are marked by what sociologist Samuel L. Perry calls “sexual exceptionalism,” sexual sin serving as supreme corruption, then we must recognize the world we inhabit and protect our children and young people.[1] We must ensure we do not allow virtual fortresses to arise in our own churches and organizations. We must raze those which exist, or we will be found woefully hypocritical come the Last Day.


No one likes a prophet. Do not forget in The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the heroic wizard receives an uncomplimentary epithet, Stormcrow, due to his arrival to announce troubles to the kingdoms of Rohan and Gondor.[2] I have seen terrible things said about our author online and on social media. Could it be Rachael Denhollander has become the heroic and prophetic voice we do not want, but we most certainly need? I think this is so. No one wants bad news, but we cannot allow our distaste for bad news to allow for worse news. When Mrs. Denhollander first reported Larry Nassar, her voice went willfully unheard. She raises the question: how many girls fell prey to Nassar between her first report and his apprehension by law enforcement? The thought chills the spine. 


Rachael Denhollander should have never had the cause to write this book. She wanted to pursue a passion: gymnastics. She desired to pursue a need: her health. What she received instead was life-altering trauma. We cannot say we did not know. He who sees shall consider our hearts and render to us our due. 


May God help us all, especially those who anxiously await the returning King who shall make all this evil come untrue.


What Is A Girl Worth? is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and ChristianBook.com.


[1] Samuel L. Perry, Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 13. 


[2]J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 200) 513, 750.

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