The Story Of 156 "Sister Survivors:" Female Gymnasts Celebrate Disgraced Doctor Larry Nassar's Guilty Sentence
"I wouldn't send my dogs to you, sir."
This was how Judge Rosemarie Aquilina expressed her sentiments towards Larry Nassar in a Lansing, Michigan courtroom where she presided over sexual abuse cases filed against him by 156 female gymnasts.
They came forward with their accounts of sexual assault carried out by Nassar who, for two decades, was a trusted athletes' doctor employed by the Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, and was backed up by the US Olympic Committee. It was in these supposedly safe work environments where he carried out most of his abuse in secret until a major exposé caused an investigation of his actions in 2016.
Nassar's January 25 sentence came after a grueling 16-month period that lent attention to these gymnasts—some of whom were Olympians who brought home gold medals for the United States—who shared a common thread: they were made to believe they were incapable of differentiating a routine medical examination from inappropriate touching; therefore, their claims of abuse were invalidated.
For years, different girls had approached teachers, coaches, members of the board, and even their parents who turned a deaf ear. Their youth and naiveté were used to justify the glossing over of their complaints, resulting in their feelings of confusion about what had transpired, and for some, self-blame. They knew that something was wrong; they just needed someone who would listen and take them seriously.
Nassar's 2016 exposé revealed that the doctor did stomach-churning things under the guise of physically examining these girls. Often, he fondled their chests and intimate areas, and in some cases, probed them with ungloved hands without explanation—or need—for doing so. Many of his victims were minors and had their parents in the room when the abuse occurred, but Nassar simply put a sheet over them or strategically position himself in order to block their guardian's view.
Each of Nassar's 156 victims (with 156 being the number of girls that chose to spoke out; Nassar may have victimized more girls than that) spoke at length and in detail about the effects of Nassar's abuse on their lives in that Michigan courtroom. They bravely spoke of long-term issues with trust, intimacy problems, suicide attempts, eating disorders, broken dreams, and self-loathing. The hearing that was expected to end swiftly lasted for seven days as each one of his victims was given time to tell her story, with Judge Aquilina responding to them with personalized words of support and encouragement—a chance all of them were deprived of at the height of their traumatizing experiences.
The 54-year-old Nassar occasionally wept and buried his face in his hands, while offering apologies and words of regret to some of the girls and others present. He was not offered sympathy.
Nassar proceeded to plead guilty for his crimes.
Wasting no time and wishing to serve justice, Judge Aquilina proclaimed Nassar's sentence: 40 to 175 years in prison. The female judge said that it was her honor and privilege to give Nassar his sentence as he did not deserve to walk the streets freely. This came on top of another 60-year prison sentence previously given to Nassar for possession of child pornography.
While many were expecting the gymnasts involved in this case to erupt in applause, many of them simply shed tears of relief and satisfaction, offering embraces of support to each other. They refused to be labeled as victims, aptly calling themselves "sister survivors" instead. Collectively, they acknowledge that this was only half the battle.
Their next move is to seek out punishment for Nassar's enablers: the adults at the time who dismissed their claims for being fabricated, imagined, and exaggerated, the school authorities who did not investigate Nassar after multiple girls complained about him, the concerned Olympic committees for defending Nassar without paying them the least bit of attention.
The fast-tracking of Nassar's case was in part caused by revelations of Hollywood's sexual abusers and by the courageous statements from famous gymnasts like Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, and Jamie Dantzscher.
Much work needs to be done to ensure that this never happens again, but without a doubt, January 25 marks yet another historic day for women, especially for women in sports.
For abusers in every industry, this proves that their time is truly up.