Guest Post: What Is A Girl Worth by Rachel Denhollander: Book Review by Ryan Ashton

 

Today, Rachel Denhollander’s long awaited book was officially published. In the hopes of getting a review of this book out immediately, I accepted this book review from long time reader and friend, Ryan Ashton.

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With her memoir What Is A Girl Worth?and poem-turned-children’s book What Is A Little Girl Worth?, Rachael Denhollander has contributed not only essential reading, but important pieces of literature that would benefit any survivor, advocate, or person unaffected by abuse.

In January of 2018, our nation was transfixed with woman after woman delivering victim impact statements during the sentencing hearing for their abuser. It seemed different this time. #MeToo erupted months before with the voices of millions of women and men galvanized and determined to share how prevalent abuse is—and how complicit our culture’s willful blindness has made us. Predator after predator was exposed and titan after titan fell. Before #MeToo, the precursors were arguably Chanel Miller, whose own victim impact statement gripped our consciousness and fueled our anger when her rapist, Brock Turner, was only sentenced to six months in prison. Before that, Gretchen Carlson sued and held accountable the sexual deviant, Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News, and exposed the cabal of wickedness within Fox News. Bill O’Reilly would soon be toppled, and then other media moguls at NBC, PBS, and elsewhere followed.

In a way, the women in that Michigan courtroom were no surprise. These stories had a painful context of a shameful reality so many were just beginning to comprehend. Predators have entire systems and institutions that coverup and enable them, and whether its USA Gymnastics or Michigan State University or a local church—no one listens until the chorus of victim’s voices becomes so numerous that ignoring reality is no longer an option.

Rachael’s behind-the-scenes look into the circumstances leading up to that fateful courtroom, and the life she lived getting there, plead with the reader: it does not have to be this way. It does not need to take—and should not take—hundreds of people to hold evil accountable. It should not have to be this difficult to be heard. It should not be this difficult to be valued.

Of the many themes from Rachael Denhollander’s newly published memoir What Is A Girl Worth?, the value of one voice takes center stage. Here, we listen to Rachael’s heart, walk with her and the steps she took, participate in her frustrations and agony, see the preparations she made, witness the people she spoke to, and watch the life unfold that made her into the first woman to publicly accuse her abuser, and the last to read an impact statement to him.

The courage that Rachael lived and the words she spoke to her abuser made her famous. But it is the words she writes to all of us in her memoir that make her an essential figure in our collective history. As our society continues convulsing over #MeToo and the abuses that are uncovered, Rachael’s life and example show us a steadiness leading the way to a just equilibrium.

At several points throughout her experiences, it was clear there would be no case, no justice, no world that we know today if the handful of individuals Rachael spoke to did not believe her. The IndyStar reporters believed her. MSU Police detective Andrea Munford believed her. Yet each time Rachael had to explain—over and over—what happened, and we are transported with her through the emotions of digging up the violation and horror and shame, knowing there was no recourse, knowing there was no justice, without being exposed and vulnerable to a world where justice is not guaranteed. Yet her resolve to see justice, and the strength to endure, impacts the reader and sustains us to the end.

While some survivors may find retracing her abuse and her pursuit of justice triggering, Rachael writes with a sensitivity and wisdom that deftly subdues the harm. We experience so much with her, and as her experiences unfold, we are comforted by the comfort Rachael received herself. Though terribly alone through so much, we meet her stalwart husband and friend, Jacob, her loving family, and even strong undercurrents of her faith. We witness her toil, her tears, and her triumphs as she confronts systems and institutions that enable abuse—from secular halls of a university to the sacred ground of a church. We see how little our society values girls, women, and the voices of the vulnerable, and what it takes to change. We see the cultural conditions that make our nations, churches, sports, and media fertile ground for evil.  We learn about abuse dynamics as we watch how abusers and those who support them operate, with Rachael’s words as vital guideposts along the way.

There are few books that both share a life so vulnerably while also teaching about how abuse works. Rachael Denhollander has masterfully done what we all knew she could do—and anyone who reads her memoir will be the better for it.


Comments

Guest Post: What Is A Girl Worth by Rachel Denhollander: Book Review by Ryan Ashton — 59 Comments

  1. I read this review of the book and believes it offers some thoughts for consideration.

    “Despite the strengths listed above, I do have some concerns with her book. First, she does not provide any conclusion to church issues; if anything, they may be tied up too neatly. While she and her husband may have had hopeful conversations with their former church in Kentucky, it is worth noting that both Sovereign Grace and the SBC at large remain slow to act and slow to protect and believe victims.

    I am also concerned that her book portrays a journey of sexual abuse recovery absent of counseling, a question I messaged Mrs. Denhollander to ask more about (I have not received a response). Her book demonstrates legal recovery, but I am concerned that victims and survivors of abuse may use her story to justify not seeking mental health/trauma counseling.”

    https://smile.amazon.com/product-reviews/1496441338/ref=acr_dp_hist_4?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=four_star&reviewerType=all_reviews#reviews-filter-bar

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  2. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts on Rachael’s books Ryan, and thank you dare for hosting this. I highly anticipated both the memoir and children’s book, and while triggering at times to make my way through, they did not disappoint.

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  3. dee, Rachael actually addresses the fact that she didn’t have a counselor, why ahe didn’t have one, and that she *doesn’t* recommend people follow her in that. It’s a long book, though, so I’m not surprised that section may have been overlooked.

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  4. Terrific review, Ryan. I appreciate the points you brought up about Rachael’s journey. You are a gifted writer!

    I also understand the comment Dee made. Seeking professional help to work through the trauma from abuse is of the utmost importance. I hope victims and survivors don’t walk away believing time will heal them. Time does not heal. It is not weakness to seek help. Wise people seek help. Hopefully Rachael took the advice offered to her and found a professional therapist.

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  5. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to read this book. I think I might lose it reading the details.

    That said, I thought it was an interesting coincidence how Rachael Denhollander’s book was published on the same day as the sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I don’t know if I’m going to be able to read that book either.

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  6. dee,

    I could be mistaken, but based on my experience in conservative Calvinist churches, mental or trauma counseling is strongly discouraged and frowned upon, even to the point of being considered anti-Biblical. In my experience they view the only good methisbof counseling is nouthetic/Biblical counseling which from their view is good for ALL issues a person has, including mental or trauma.

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  7. If I’ve learned anything this late in my life about real life, it’s that women Are Not the weaker vessels as claimed by fundagelical Bible exegetes.

    If anything, they (women) are the stronger of our species.

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  8. Off topic for sure but isn’t Harvest Bible Fellowship Calvinist? Just saw where Jarrid Wilson committed suicide. Prayers for his family, and that some will take a harder look at this dooming theology.

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  9. Muff Potter:
    If I’ve learned anything this late in my life about real life, it’s that women Are Not the weaker vessels as claimed by fundagelical Bible exegetes.

    If anything, they (women) are the stronger of our species.

    When rolling up a character in Old School D&D, all characteristics for humans (including Strength and Constitution) are rolled on 3 six-sided dice. (3D6 bell curve with range from 3-18.)

    Local convention was “If the STR is greater than CON, the character’s male. If CON is greater than STR, female”. (What you had if STR = CON in the initial rolls was open to debate, but the usual shtick was it could be either.)

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  10. Rob:
    dee,

    I could be mistaken, but based on my experience in conservative Calvinist churches, mental or trauma counseling is strongly discouraged and frowned upon, even to the point of being considered anti-Biblical. In my experience they view the only good methisbof counseling is nouthetic/Biblical counseling which from their view is good for ALL issues a person has, including mental or trauma.

    One of my writing partners (the burned-out country preacher) has the following definition of Nouthetic Counseling:

    “Make the patient sit and lay his head on the table. Then take the biggest, heaviest Bible you have and beat his head to a pulp with it.”

    He is NOT a fan of Nouthetic Counseling.

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  11. linda:
    Off topic for sure but isn’t Harvest Bible Fellowship Calvinist?Just saw where Jarrid Wilson committed suicide.Prayers for his family, and that some will take a harder look at this dooming theology.

    I don’t believ it’s the church you’re thinking of. His church was in Riverside California. Here is a link. I can’t determine the theology from their website.

    https://harvest.church/

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  12. I’d have to read the book to make a determination as to weather or not I’d suggest it to an abuse survivor. As someone who helped care for a family member who experienced sexual abuse, the last blurb above from the book really set off triggers for me. I disagree with it and believe it is wrong to request this from an abuse survivor. Here is the quote again.

    “You always have a right to defend yourself and others from abuse, but never ever lash out in anger. Don’t become what you are fighting.”

    The first part is okay, but the “never ever lash out in anger” part is just wrong. There is such a thing as righteous anger which Jesus displayed on certain occasions. Anger is also an emotion that can be displayed when a victim is dealing with PTSD. The anger is often misapplied, especially when the victim has not dealt with, or hidden, the abuse they have experienced.

    The last sentence, “Don’t become what you are fighting” is a straw man. Just because a victim is angry does not mean they will become an abuser. To make this link, as Denhollander does, will only cause victims to feel guilty if they are angry, and unable to deal with emotions that are real and need to be dealt with.

    I strongly believe that the second half of this blurb should not be said to an abuse survivor. It can cause much more harm than good.

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  13. Jacob Denhollander:
    dee, Rachael actually addresses the fact that she didn’t have a counselor, why ahe didn’t have one, and that she *doesn’t* recommend people follow her in that. It’s a long book, though, so I’m not surprised that section may have been overlooked.

    Thank you f or your gracious response!

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  14. Bridget: The last sentence, “Don’t become what you are fighting” is a straw man. Just because a victim is angry does not mean they will become an abuser. To make this link, as Denhollander does, will only cause victims to feel guilty if they are angry, and unable to deal with emotions that are real and need to be dealt with.
    I strongly believe that the second half of this blurb should not be said to an abuse survivor. It can cause much more harm than good.

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree with you. People have different innate emotional responses. Some find it easy to express their anger. Others tend to stuff it. Sometimes, those who stuff it might wrongly believe that they are more spiritual in their response. “See, I’m not angry like that person because I’m an obedient Christian.” Instead, they have a different temperament or have been trained to stuff this emotions. They are not in anyway stronger or better than those who express just emotions. Even Jesus turned over tables and called abusive men *snakes.* Yet, we know He was responding in a biblical manner.

    I think many people have trouble accepting emotions that are strong because they seem *unbiblical.* when they are merely normal, understandable and even righteous.

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  15. linda: Off topic for sure but isn’t Harvest Bible Fellowship Calvinist? Just saw where Jarrid Wilson committed suicide. Prayers for his family, and that some will take a harder look at this dooming theology.

    No, Greg Laurie’s mega-church is Not Calvinist.

    Laurie was schooled at the feet of Papa Chuck (founder of Calvary Chapel) back during the hippie-jesus-people-socal-beach-culture era.

    It should be noted however, that Laurie’s church polity is just as authoritarian and autocratic (Moses Model as taught by Papa Chuck) as any of the strictest neo-cal outfits.

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  16. Bridget: I’d have to read the book to make a determination as to weather or not I’d suggest it to an abuse survivor.

    I haven’t been seeing the purpose of the book as to provide counseling/advice/etc. It seems like it’s more of a memoir (but I would have to read it to comment fully), and as such I would see it more as insight into her thoughts and feelings about it all. I’m glad Jacob popped in to correct a point, but I have not been looking at this as a how to book or a counseling book so I’m not inclined to judge it on those merits?

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  17. Muff,

    I know nothing about Wilson’s theology, but this ‘anti counseling, fix mh through happy thoughts’ philosophy is mixed up in a variety of churches. I very much respect that Wilson seems to have been making a huge effort to get people to understand that this isn’t helpful for major depression and this is all very sad. I was reading one of the links and he says that although he got medical help eventually he didn’t get the help *when he needed it*.

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  18. dee: Even Jesus turned over tables and called abusive men *snakes.*

    Flipping tables was unusual for Jesus, and therefore so effective that we are still talking about it. What would the Gospels be like if Jesus had stomped around the Holy Land all day every day, breaking stuff and calling everybody a bad name?

    Jesus had the full range of human emotions, along with great self-restraint. He displayed anger in only a few of the countless instances when it was richly deserved. Thus, his anger built his credibility instead of undermining it.

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  19. Slight tangent, but within the spirit of Wartburg, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had one of those days, Dee. Hope tonight is restorative. (“Tonight” is about 5 hours nearer for us here in Scotland…)

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  20. dee: I think many people have trouble accepting emotions that are strong because they seem *unbiblical.* when they are merely normal, understandable and even righteous.

    Which is another factor in why Christanese fiction (writing, comics, movies, TV) is such insipid drek.

    I have found from experience that it is often the Strong Emotions that put POWER behind a story. Three times in my life I have had “stories write themselves”; all three have been more-or-less dark and/or tragic. One gave me my comment handle and another (the most autobiographical) was a full-honk Lament.

    The balance point is letting the power of the strong emotions energize your work without them taking you over.

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  21. Lea: but I have not been looking at this as a how to book or a counseling book so I’m not inclined to judge it on those merits?

    I haven’t read it either as I mentioned. I imagine other abuse survivors might be inclined to read it though. That is why I voiced my concern about the blurb.

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  22. Friend: What would the Gospels be like if Jesus had stomped around the Holy Land all day every day, breaking stuff and calling everybody a bad name?

    I don’t believe anyone was advocating this extreme. There are many in between levels of anger. Abuse survivors often have some level of anger to deal with, which would be totally acceptable. This anger may well appear as “lashing out” to people who have no idea what the person is processing. Heck the survivor may not know why they are lashing out especially if they have not dealt with the trauma yet.

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  23. dee: Even Jesus turned over tables and called abusive men *snakes.* Yet, we know He was responding in a biblical manner.

    Whenever some Uber-Christian scolds you with wagging finger “What Would Jesus Do?”, remind him/her that flipping out and turning over tables is always an option.

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  24. dee: Others tend to stuff it. Sometimes, those who stuff it might wrongly believe that they are more spiritual in their response. “See, I’m not angry like that person because I’m an obedient Christian.”

    What I referred to in another thread as “God’s Special Pets”, utterly totally serene in their Great FAITH FAITH FAITH. Never a bad thought, never a hardship, always as serene and polite as a sociopath’s Angel of Light mask; why God sends His Angels to carry them everywhere 24/7 so they never ever dash their foot against a stone!

    Again, Real PITAs, ain’t they?

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  25. Hmm. When I google Greg Laurie it takes me to Harvest Christian Fellowship. When I go to the church’s beliefs about salvation I find hard line predestination. Sounds pretty calvie to me regardless of who they used to be.

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  26. linda: Hmm. When I google Greg Laurie it takes me to Harvest Christian Fellowship. When I go to the church’s beliefs about salvation I find hard line predestination. Sounds pretty calvie to me regardless of who they used to be.

    Does it really matter which is Reformed and which is not, when the extreme variants of both religions are autocratic dictatorships?

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  27. Brian:
    Lea,

    Is this through Christian counselors who are also licensed with their respective state?

    The article i read said Wilson only eventually got real help through a hospital situation, which i’m guessing is proper mental health licensed professionals. But I haven’t looked any more deeply into it.

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  28. __

    “Does it really matter which is Reformed and which is not, when the ‘extreme variants’ of both religions are ‘autocratic dictatorships’?” -Muff Potter on TWW, Thu Sep 12, 2019 at 10:24 PM

    Muff,

    Greetings!

    IMHO Tyranny in all of its heinous forms is/are extreamily unbecoming of the character of true Christianity.

    Loving God with all, and loving one’s neighbor as themselves, and abiding by the greatest among you shall be your servant, is the proviso Jesus has forever established for the conduct, character, and the nature of His church bride.
    All others providing ‘other prescriptions’, are considered by the Master as simply thieves and robbers.

    So therefore, let us take opportunity to wash one another’s feet, and wait in devout expectancy for the One called Faithful, whom bears the mark upon His side. Soon shall all eyes see Him, expressly the eyes of His brethren.

    Peace!

    ATB

    Sòpy

    ;~)

    – –

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  29. Friend: Jesus had the full range of human emotions, along with great self-restraint.

    Looking at Jesus’ frustrations during the public ministry period with His twelve “key men” (this seems to continue right up to the last conversation, in Acts 1, prior to His ascension), I find it hard to see why, taking current leadership models as normative, the apostles were not placed under discipline and shunned.

    Current-day leaders who demand comprehensive submission of the flock in the name of “good order in the church” would seem to not be leading with Jesus’ methods.

    We really have come a long way from Jerusalem. And I rather doubt that we will find our way back any time soon.

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  30. Samuel Conner: I find it hard to see why, taking current leadership models as normative, the apostles were not placed under discipline and shunned.

    It’s disturbing to read about the disciples jockeying for position, not unlike leaders in many churches today. The church where I grew up generally taught that the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ mission until after his death and resurrection. Yet they keep on arguing through Acts and various epistles.

    Maybe the message is that the church has always been made up of badly flawed humans who can slowly grow in wisdom. All of us need to be vigilant—and make sure we grow in wisdom too.

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  31. Friend: Maybe the message is that the church has always been made up of badly flawed humans who can slowly grow in wisdom. All of us need to be vigilant—and make sure we grow in wisdom too.

    But what if You Already Know Everything and Can Do No Wrong?

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  32. “If I offered a reasoned opinion on abuse, I was immediately categorized…as ’emotional,’ ‘wounded,’ or ‘projecting her own experiences.’ Knowing that this was the predominant way people – even the most well-intentioned – thought about me was one of the most painful parts of this experience…” (“What Is A Girl Worth”, p. 306) – Rachel Denhollander

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  33. “This is not just a story of sexual assault, or taking a predator to court, it is an insightful guide to identifying and exposing abusive behavior, and an incisive reminder of how to love those who are suffering… “ – Violet Marie

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  34. “As our society continues convulsing over #MeToo and the abuses that are uncovered, Rachael’s life and example show us a steadiness leading of the way to a just equilibrium.” -Ryan Ashton

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  35. Rachael Denhollander “has appeared on CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX News, BBC, NPR and regularly appears in national and international print media, including the Washington Post, Der Spiegel, Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine, and the Associated Press, and is a New York Times and Vox op-ed contributor.”

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  36. Jacob Denhollander,

    For victims of abuse – caution is highly recommended when it comes to counseling! Sadly, apparently this is particularly true in the church. Some years ago, I went to multiple counselors regarding ongoing covert emotional abuse perpetrated by a relative. I even had by abuser’s emails printed out for my counselors to see. My feelings were dismissed by some, and one counselor even rolled his eyes at me.

    In defense of these counselors, and others, they had no way of knowing my history with this individual, or knowing how her abuse mirrored the abuse I had grown up with.
    In an effort to resolve my pain, I went to good Christian books on the subject – books by Les Carter, Lewis Smede, Karla Downing, Paul Coughlin… to name a few. And importantly, I went to the Scriptures and dug out meanings and Trugh for myself – apparently this is where Rachel found her strength and healing.
    All of my research resulted in writing my own book, since it was through books on the subject that my healing came.
    This is not to impugn counselors across the board, however, when vulnerable people go to counselors who give them bad advice it can be very very costly to the victim of abuse!

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  37. I have written a series of posts on the poo training that is given to ACBC counselors. I’m glad you resolved it without a counselor. However, since you are not a counselor by training, I think it should point out that what worked for you is not a template for others. I don’t know you. You have your own strengths and weaknesses, be very careful in recommending that others follow you.

    For example, some people need psychotropic drugs. Those who use that treatment modality, something that I availed myself of, are not less together than you who did not. You cannot self prescribe unless you go the local treat corner.

    You have no training in working with the medical issues surrounding psychiatric intervention.The Bible is helpful at times. But just like the Bible did not teach people to make penicillin to cure diseases, the Bible should not be treated as a medical/psychiatric textbook.

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  38. dee,

    You misunderstood me; I recommended “caution” when it come to counseling, and I said that I did not “impugn counseling across the board.” (Not only was I not helped by counseling, I was damaged by it.) I was in no way recommended that all abuse victims follow me. I was simply sharing my story. JT

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