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“In stepping forward, you took a huge risk”: Christine Blasey Ford honors Rachael Denhollander, who spoke up about Larry Nassar

Denhollander and Ford has similar experiences — and different results — in coming forward.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2018. Her lawyer, Debra Katz, sits beside her.
Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2018. Her lawyer, Debra Katz, sits beside her.
Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covered business and economics for Vox and wrote the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Christine Blasey Ford, the Palo Alto University professor who accused now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while they were in high school, has made her first public appearance since the Senate hearing in which she described her allegations in September.

The context: honoring Rachael Denhollander, the lawyer and former gymnast who was the first woman to publicly come forward with allegations against former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar.

Sports Illustrated named Denhollander, 34, as its “Inspiration of the Year” this month. In a video released on Tuesday, Ford praised Denhollander for her bravery in coming forward and filing a federal lawsuit against Nassar in August 2016, which prompted some 300 other women to come forward.

”I am honored to speak with you from afar about a woman I admire so much — a woman who suffered abuse as a vulnerable teenage athlete, who found the courage to talk publicly to stop the abuse of others,” Ford says in the video. “Her courage inspired other survivors to end their silence, and we all know the result.”

Ford’s praise of Denhollander for coming forward could just as easily have come from another woman speaking to Ford about her own decision to discuss her allegations against Kavanaugh.

“Rachael Denhollander, I am in awe of you, and I will always be inspired by you,” Ford says. “In stepping forward, you took a huge risk, and you galvanized future generations to come forward, even when the odds are seemingly stacked against them. 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.”

ESPN this year also gave the survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2018 ESPY Awards. And it named gymnast Simone Biles, who says Nassar also abused her, as one of its most dominant athletes of the year.

Denhollander and Ford had similar experiences — and different results — in coming forward

Nassar was sentenced for up to 175 years in prison for his crimes in January and had already been sentenced to 60 years on federal child pornography charges.

Kavanaugh, who Ford says drunkenly pinned her down, tried to take her clothes off, and covered her mouth as she screamed during a high school party, is on the Supreme Court.

The Senate confirmed his nomination to the bench after both testified about her allegations, which he denies, in September. Ford received death threats and was forced from her home after speaking out. In a statement to donors to her GoFundMe page in November, she said funds had been used to pay for security service to keep her family safe, because even after the hearing, threats were ongoing. She has since stopped taking contributions and plans to donate unused funds to “organizations that support trauma survivors.”

Including Ford in its award to Denhollander is an interesting choice for ESPN. The outlet’s audience is largely men, and in August, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said he wanted ESPN to focus less on politics and more on sports. Ford was at the center of one of the most politically fraught battles of the year.

Ford’s video message to Denhollander isn’t the first show of public support between the pair. After Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Denhollander, who is a conservative, wrote for Vox about her reaction to the ordeal as a survivor, calling the Senate hearing “excruciating”:

In our rush to get a conservative nominee, we have forgotten that there are hundreds of other survivors out there who are now the teenage survivor I once was. Who have heard, “It doesn’t matter what someone did years ago.” Who have seen a woman vilified, attacked, and even subjected to death threats after making an allegation of abuse. The impact of sending that message across our country is greater and more devastating than we will ever know, because we have silenced the voices that would otherwise tell us.

Denhollander and Ford appear determined to keep the conversation going.

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