Justice was finally served this morning when the week-long trial of Larry Nassar, a now-disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor accused of sexual assault and abuse by over 160 girls and women, came to a close with a hefty sentence. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina of the 30th Circuit court for Ingham County sentenced Nassar to up to 175 years in prison, telling the self-admitted sexual predator she had “just signed [his] death warrant.”
Over the past week, Aquilina made time for Nassar’s victims to individually come forward and testify if they chose to. Ultimately, over 160 victim impact statements were read in the court, with 156 read by victims themselves. Many of them described the enduring trauma of his abuse, as well as the degree to which they suffered in silence as he successfully convinced parents and other authority figures that they were lying and exaggerating. A recurring theme of the testimonies was the depiction of Nassar manipulating and exploiting his young victims—taking advantage of not only his access to them but also their trust in him.
Nassar’s abusive behavior dates back to at least 1992. One of his victims was six. Another took her life. In an impassioned speech, Aquilina told the young women who had come forward—ranging from Olympic medalists who had suffered through years of his abuse to dozens of young women whose careers had effectively been ended by it—that they were “no longer victims, but survivors.”
“You took advantage of our passions and our dreams,” six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman said in court Friday. “I am here to face you, Larry, so you can see I have regained my strength. That I am no longer a victim, I am a survivor. I am no longer that little girl you met in Australia, where you first began grooming and manipulating.”
Raisman, whose fellow teammates Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles have also accused Nassar, then gave a nod to the changing tide around sexual assault and abuse of power. “This group of women you heartlessly abused over a long period of time are now a force,” she said, “and you are nothing. The tables have turned. And now Larry, it is your turn to listen to me.”
Kyle Stephens, the first survivor to testify, had originally requested to remain anonymous. Instead, she projected two images of her as a child on a screen while she addressed Nassar, who had abused her beginning when she was in kindergarten, in court. “Little girls don’t stay little forever,” she told him. “They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”
After testimonies concluded, Aquilina read a letter Nassar had submitted to the court in which he dismissed the claims against him, blamed the victims and declared that being forced to listen to their stories was tantamount to “mental cruelty.” Aquilina then immediately tossed the letter aside—a symbolic dismissal of the voices of sexual abusers and those who defend them.
This GIF of Judge Aquilina throwing away the letter Larry Nassar wrote the court about how hard it is for him to listen to victim testimonies PRETTY MUCH SAYS IT ALL. pic.twitter.com/5HB9WMaPqU
— Ellie Hall (@ellievhall) January 24, 2018
Nassar, 54, pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with minors. In another federal case decided last year, he was sentenced to 60 years in prison on charges related to child pornography. In many ways, it appears justice has, at long last, been served: Nassar will inevitably die in prison, and his victims have finally been heard and believed. But the story of how an Olympic doctor was able to abuse and traumatize nearly 200 girls and women for over two decades is not yet over. It can’t be.
On Friday, Raisman called on Aquilina to “stress the need to investigate how this happened so that we can hold accountable those who empowered and enabled Larry Nassar.” Despite complaints from numerous young women about his behavior over the years, Nassar was never held accountable—and the teen athletes he was supposed to be caring for were never provided with the resources or accommodations they needed. Not only Nassar, but also all of the individuals and institutions who looked away for decades, must be held accountable for the trauma of dozens upon dozens of young women. As the #MeToo moment continues to build, the Nassar case speaks to the notion that only cultural change can bring about true justice for survivors, even if and when perpetrators are held accountable.
“One in 10 children will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday,” Aquilina said in her sentencing speech. “One in seven girls, one in 25 boys by their 18th birthday. That means that in the United States… 400,000 babies born in the U.S. will become victims of child sexual abuse.”
She ended her speech with a triumphant declaration: “It stops now.”