Image © 2018 ABC News
Last week, the trial of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, accused of sexual misconduct, came to a dramatic close. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina allowed impact statements of Nassar's victims to be read in open court during the trial. Those statements totaled more than 150, and it is known that more than those who appeared in court were abused by Nassar over the course of more than twenty years. The above picture is from a television interview for ABC News of nineteen of his victims, a mere fraction of all those abused.
Two of the most profound statements came from Aly Raisman, a 2012 ('Fierce Five') and 2016 gold medal Olympian, and the first woman to speak out publicly and the first to be believed, Rachael Denhollander. (Denhollander was the last woman to speak.)
After all of the evidence and overwhelming number of victim impact statements, which Nassar tried to get out of hearing, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina passed down her sentence. Saying she "just signed [his] death warrant," Judge Aquilina sentenced Nassar, who is already serving a sixty-year sentence for possession of child pornography, to 40 to 175 years in prison.
Nassar would, under the guise of medical treatments, commit his abuse in private, or with parents in the room, or in an examination room, or in his hotel room (if on the road for various competitions or at the Olympics). Nassar's abuse included fondling breasts and inserting his finger into the vaginas and anuses of these prepubescent and underage girls ... some as young as six years of age.
It was known as Nassar's "special treatments".
How did this happen in the first place? How did it happen under the noses of parents and others? How did this go on for so long? It was the perfect storm of heightened passion (achieving a goal), high stakes, and high pressure providing the perfect opportunity for a predator. (We now know that the pressure on these girls was both to compete and to be silent.) Pursuing excellence at any cost is to blame here, too. Certainly coerced ignorance played a part. One example of that coerced ignorance is Amanda Thomashow, a Michigan State University student who had filed a Title IX report about the abuse back in 2014, and who was told she "did not understand the difference between sexual assault and a medical procedure". Far too many were told that and summarily dismissed.
The vast majority of Nassar's victims were in gymnastics, but he also abused girls in figure skating, swimming, softball, volleyball, sculling, track and field, and even dancing. It was yet another example of abuse of power and abuse of trust.
In light of the trial, a lot has happened. The U.S. Olympic Committee demanded that the entire Board of Directors of USA Gymnastics resign; they are. Aly Raisman and others have said similar attention must be paid to the USOC as well. Lou Ann Simon, President of Michigan State University, who received much criticism, and who even attended the final day of the trial, has resigned her position. MSU's Athletic Director Mark Hollis has also resigned. Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette said a special prosecutor will be appointed to investigate MSU. Karolyi Ranch, located in Texas, where many of the abuses took place, closed and is now under investigation. More than 100 victims have several lawsuits in motion against the university and USA Gymnastics. Even the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is conducting its own investigation. Rest assured, even more than this is in the future.
What these women endured as children at the hands of Larry Nassar was thoroughly unacceptable and utterly disgusting. What these women endured as children and as young women at the hands of the various powers that be by being dismissed and contradicted is equally unacceptable. That enabling culture must be changed and this is a huge first step in that direction. Many more steps are needed. Many more steps will follow.
A sustained, two-prong approach is required. This needs to be a lesson for women and girls and for men and boys. It should be taught that being abused (and what abuse is) is never acceptable. It should also be taught that abusing is never acceptable as well. Stopping what is going on is as equally vital as beginning a cycle of getting away from that cycle existing.
These women were victims. Now, however, they are survivors; they are vocal; they are warriors. In short, they were brave. Very brave. I applaud that bravery and support its continuation.
*** UPDATE: Larry Nassar was sentenced on February 5, 2018, to 40 to 125 years after being found guilty of more counts of child sexual abuse. It was the conclusion of his third and final criminal trial.