It’s been 16 years since former Team USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar allegedly sexually assaulted Rachael Denhollander at his Michigan State University clinic — with her mother in the room.
Those haunting memories will never fade, but with support from her husband, Jacob Denhollander, and their three children, the former gymnast, now 32, says healing and happiness after abuse is possible.
“I lost my ability to trust,” Denhollander, who was 15 when she was treated by Nassar, tells PEOPLE. “But if we can use my story to focus more on healing and protecting our kids, advocating and supporting victims, I’d love to see that happen.”
Last year, she filed a criminal complaint against Nassar and is now preparing to face him in court in May. Dozens of victims have since followed suit claiming similar stories of abuse — including allegations that Nassar inserted his fingers into their vaginas and rectums without gloves.
Those five, hour-long sessions with Nassar replayed in Denhollander’s mind “like a movie, over and over again” for years, she says.
“It’s so real, like experiencing it over again,” she says. “Things that would remind me of him or that situation or just an overall feeling of vulnerability could instantly bring me back to that moment.”
Denhollander avoided visiting physicians at all costs and seeing older men in proximity to young girls triggered memories of the alleged abuse.
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But in 2006, Denhollander met her husband, Jacob, who was “loving and comforting and safe.”
The couple, who live in Louisville, Kentucky, have three children together: Jonathan, 5, Annaliese, 2, and Ellianna, 21 months.
“They are my safe place,” says Denhollander. “My family has been so supportive throughout this entire process.”
Denhollander says she would consider enrolling her children in gymnastics if they show a proclivity towards the sport.
“But I will be extremely careful with what kind of gym we pick and how things are handled,” she says.
As Denhollander prepares to see Nassar in court next month, she relies on her family for strength and courage.
“It’s difficult to see how many other women are coming forward,” she says of the more than 80 women or girls who are suing MSU, Nassar or USA Gymnastics. “While this process has been extremely painful, it’s worth it. There is hope and there is healing in the near future.”