“I’ve just signed your death warrant.”
These resonating words came from Judge Rosemarie Aquilina after a long week of testimony, as young women stood up on the podium and recounted chilling experiences of sexual assault from USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University sports physician Larry Nassar. Two weeks ago, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty guilty pleas to sexual assault over the past two decades (CNN, “Larry Nassar sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for decades of sexual abuse,” 1.24.2018). This week, Nassar was sentenced to another 40 to 125 years by a Michigan judge in a second trial (NBC News, “Larry Nassar gets another 40 to 125 years in sex abuse case,” 2.5.2018).
Over the course of seven days in Nassar’s first trial, 156 young women lined up to deliver their victim impact statements. Their testimonies explained how they would go to Nassar to receive treatment for injuries. Nassar then sexually assaulted victims under the guise of a form of “treatment,” through fondling and digital penetration (Reuters, “Ex-USA Gymnastics doctor gets up to 125 more years in prison for abuse,” 2.6.2018). The court only expected to hear from 88 victims, but as the women began giving their statements, more women started to come forward (CNN, 2.5.2018).
The 156 testimonies do not even cover all of the women Nassar abused. In total, Nassar has been convicted of sexually assaulting 265 women and young girls, and there could be countless more who have yet to come forward (NBC, 2.5.2018).
One of the women who has stepped forward is Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles. Weeks ago, Biles gave statements to media explaining Nassar’s abuse towards her and fellow teammates. However, Biles was not ready to attend Nassar’s sentencing, adding that it would be stressful for her, especially since she is still in Olympic training at this time. “If I went there I think it would take me back, and I’m trying to move forward,” said Biles (CNN, “Simone Biles: I wasn’t emotionally ready to face Larry Nassar again,” 2.1.2018).
The first woman to speak at the trial, Kyle Stephens, explained the overwhelming impact sexual abuse can have on a person. “Sexual abuse is so much more than a disturbing physical act,” Stephens said. “It changes the trajectory of a victim’s life, and that is something that nobody has the right to do” (CNN, “Victims confront Larry Nassar in court: ‘Little girls don’t stay little forever,’ ” 1.16.2018).
After hearing the victims, Nassar issued a statement of regret. “There are no words that can describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred,” Nassar stated. “An acceptable apology to all of you is impossible to write and convey. I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days” (Fox, “Former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar gets 40 to 175 years in prison,” 1.24.2018).
However, this statement came after a letter that Nassar wrote to the court, in which he defended his methods of medical care. He explained that he felt,“manipulated” into pleading guilty. He went on to express that he felt the women were lying (Vox, “The sex abuse scandal surrounding USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, explained, 2.6.2018).
Judge Aquilina read this letter to the court before she delivered her sentence. Speaking to Nassar after reading the letter, Aquilia said “You still don’t get it…I wouldn’t send my dogs to you” (The New York Times, “Larry Nassar Sentencing: ‘I Just Signed Your Death Warrant,’ ” 1.24.2018).
A major issue that came out of this investigation was the fact the concerns of many women about Nassar’s treatment were ignored or not taken seriously by USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University and the US Olympic committee.
In one of the victim impact statements, Amanda Thomashow expressed how Michigan State University turned a blind eye to her complaints.
“Michigan State University, the school I loved and trusted, had the audacity to tell me that I did not understand the difference between sexual assault and a medical procedure,” Thomashow stated. “When I found the strength to talk about what had happened I was ignored and my voice was silenced” (CBS News, “Did Michigan State ignore sexual abuse claims against Larry Nassar?,” 1.18.2018).
In the wake of the Nassar trial, many have called for the removal of Michigan State’s highest ranking officials, along with all those at the university who been complacent with allegations of abuse.
On January 25, Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon resigned. Monday was the first day for interim President John Engler, who called for the school to preserve all documents related to Nassar that could used against the institution in investigations (Deadspin, “MSU Interim President John Engler To School Employees: Don’t Destroy Documents Related to Investigations”, 2.6.2018).
At USA Gymnastics, the organization has stopped using Karolyi Ranch as the women’s teams national training camp since reports of abuse at that location have come out. Three members of the board have stepped down as well.
The US Olympic Committee expressed their desire for the rest of the USA Gymnastics Board to resign. According to a statement from USOC CEO Scott Blackmun, the USOC has, “strongly considered decertifying USAG as a National Governing Body.” In the same statement, Blackmun also explained the necessary launch of an investigation to find out how the abuse went on unnoticed for so long (CNN, “USA Gymnastics cuts ties with Karolyi Ranch and its memories of abuse”, 1.19.2018).
Outside of this trial, Nassar already has another sentence of 60 years in prison for federal child pornography charges. Additionally, he has pleaded guilty to three charges of criminal sexual misconduct in Eaton County in Michigan (The Detroit News, “Nassar faces reckoning at federal child porn sentencing”, 12.6.2018).
Between his three sentences, Aquilina said that Nassar will never get out of prison.
One of the many people who commented on the importance of this case was attorney John Manley.
“I think what we’ve seen over the past week may have been a watershed moment in our country,” Manley said. “(This happened) because these women had the courage to get up and speak” (CNN, 1.24.2018).
One of the women who stood up to speak against Nassar was two-time Olympic gold medalist, Aly Raisman. She stood strong in her testimony against Nassar and explained the shift of power that was taking place.
“Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force and you are nothing. The tables have turned, Larry. We are here. We have our voices, and we are not going anywhere. And now, Larry, it’s your turn to listen to me,” Raisman said in her statement (Time, “Read Aly Raisman’s Testimony at Larry Nassar’s Sentencing”, 1.19.2018).
Raisman also criticized the lack of attention on behalf of USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to keep its gymnasts’ safe from abuse.
“Neither USA Gymnastics nor the USOC have reached out to express sympathy or even offer support,” Raisman noted (Time, 1.19.2018).
She went on in her statement to explain that there had been women who spoke out against Nassar, but their complaints were ignored and investigations were refused.
In her statement, Raisman made it clear that the women who suffered years of abuse, did not suffer in vain.
Raisman’s testimony, and the 155 other testimonies, prove that these women are not victims, but a band of survivors that have shown they are stronger than Nassar and the systems that allowed this abuse to take place for so many years.
“All these brave women have power and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve – a life of suffering spent relaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors,” concluded Raisman(Time, 1.19.2018).
With the support of one another, these women finally saw justice handed down. After over two decades of abuse, and its systemic cover-up, Nassar has finally been silenced.