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More than 150 young women sent Larry Nassar to prison for life

Kyle Stephens was the first person to testify last week during Larry Nassar's sentencing hearing in Michigan. The former USA Gymnastics team doctor has admitted to having sexual contact with minors.
“Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.” – Kyle Stephens (Photo credit Geoff Robins/AP/Getty)

[Trigger warning for child sexual abuse, in this post and at all links]

Larry Nassar, a former doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, has been sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing seven girls under the age of 15, with more charges to be addressed in coming weeks. (He was already in prison on a 60-year sentence for child pornography when this trial started.) But before sentencing, the judge heard victim impact statements from every accuser who chose to speak out. Originally, 88 women were expected to speak over four days. At final count, 156 women — empowered by what gymnast Aly Raisman called an “army of survivors” — gave statements over seven days, condemning Nassar and the systems at Michigan State, USA Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee that failed to protect them.

Almost universally, the women — most of them just girls, one as young as six years old, when the abuse started — came to him for sports injuries, and he took advantage of that trust by molesting them and calling it treatment. And then the adults they went to for help victimized them again, saying that he wasn’t the type of person to do things like that or that it was probably a legitimate treatment and they just didn’t understand, or acknowledging that it was a violation and then just not doing anything about it.

(The NCAA is currently investigating Michigan State over its mishandling of Nassar’s abuse. USA Gymnastics has cut ties with the training center where much of the abuse took place and suspended a coach with ties to Nassar, and the top three board members have resigned. The USOC has said it will launch a third-party investigation to figure out how the abuse was allowed to go on for so long.)

For his part, Nassar spent his time whining about how hard and unfair it all was, complaining in a letter to the judge that four days of statements would be emotionally taxing for him. The judge later read another letter of his from earlier in the trial in which he insisted, “I was a good doctor,” but “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Rachael Denhollander, who was the first woman to come forward about Nassar’s abuse, gave the final impact statement.

This is what it looks like when institutions create a culture where a predator can flourish unafraid and unabated and this is what it looks like when people in authority refuse to listen, put friendships in front of the truth, fail to create or enforce proper policy and fail to hold enablers accountable

This is what it looks like. It looks like a courtroom full of survivors who carry deep wounds. Women and girls who have banded together to fight for themselves because no one else would do it. Women and girls who carry scars that will never fully heal but who have made the choice to place the guilt and shame on the only person to whom it belongs, the abuser. But may the horror expressed in this courtroom over the last seven days be motivation for anyone and everyone no matter the context to take responsibility if they have failed in protecting a child, to understand the incredible failures that led to this week and to do it better the next time.

Judge Aquilina, I plead with you as you deliberate the sentence to give Larry, send a message that these victims are worth everything. In order to meet both the goals of this court. I plead with you to impose the maximum sentence under the plea agreement because everything is what these survivors are worth.

In the words of survivor Brooke Hylek, “I’m happy you will be spending the rest of your life in prison. Enjoy hell, by the way.”

ESPN has videos of and excerpts from some of their statements: Gwen Anderson, Jamie Dantzscher; Rachael Denhollander, Mattie Larson, Tiffany Thomas Lopez, McKayla Maroney (in a written statement), Emma Ann Miller, Maggie Nichols (in a statement read by her mother), Aly Raisman, Jessica Smith, Kyle Stephens, Amanda Thomashow, and Jordyn Wieber.