I am listening to the testimony of dozens of women -- some as young as 14 and some cereal box heroes like Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney -- as part of Larry Nassar's sentencing hearing. For many years, Nassar was central to USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, where he served as a sports medicine physician. He developed a superstar reputation; victims and parents have described feeling "lucky" and "special" that he had time to provide treatment. Many saved pennies to pay for treatment and many drove hours for the privilege of being sexually abused. No doubt it was this cultivated aura of importance that allowed him to carry out his evil.
Nearly 150 victims have spoken in six days of testimony. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has made it clear that every victim who wants to be heard is welcome, and she will not announce her decision until that process has been exhausted. Whatever Judge Aquilina decides, the defendant will die in jail.
It is important to hear their stories. They are stomach churning and horrific. Each story of assault disrupts my understanding of the normal order of the world and shatters the trust that doctors do no harm. Many of these victims reported sexual abuse, dating to 1997. But in each case, the adults charged with protecting these young girls with stars in their eyes failed them. Police investigated from time to time, and on each occasion Nassar claimed that the girls were "uncomfortable with their own bodies" and "did not understand the medical treatments." Officials at gyms, USA Gymnastics, and Michigan State University appear to have enabled these monstrous acts.
This story should be front and center in our national conversation. The scope of abuse is broader than Jerry Sandusky's crimes at Penn State. Nassar groomed everyone in the system -- parents, law enforcement, and, of course, the girls. He engendered blind trust and appears to have been enabled by leaders in the sport.
I strongly recommend you read Aly Raisman's essay from The Player's Journal and watch her testimony. Watch Kyle Stephens', the first woman to speak. It is hard to do, and it may not be appropriate for everyone. There are hundreds of other eloquent, moving first hand accounts, and the more of these we all witness the better. You can find them on youtube. Listening and processing what this army of women has to say is an education in the devastating impact of sexual abuse, molestation, and betrayal of trust. Hearing their stories gives them power and reminds each of us to be vigilant and to take steps to protect this from happening again.
Ms. Stephens puts it plainly, "Little girls don't stay little for ever. They grow into strong women who return to destroy your world."
The prosecution closed its presentation with the testimony of Rachel Denhollander, the first woman to speak publicly about Nassar and, ultimately, the reason so many women decided to come forward. She points out that specific women had made complaints to specific Michigan State University coaches and administrators years before her abuse. They were all silenced. She asks Judge Aquilina to consider this when determining her sentence, "How much is a young woman worth? How much is a little girl worth." Her statement is exceptional.
What happens to this one defendant is now pretty clear. It remains to be seen how other organizations will deal with the severe and inevitable repercussions as they are held to account.
Judge Aquilina sentenced Nassar to between 40 and 175 years in prison. He will die behind bars. In handing down her sentence, she told the defendant, "I just signed your death warrant."
Rachel Denhollander's testimony:
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