Like so many others, I sat and watched more than 150 women get up and read victim impact statements to ex-USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar in court. During his sentencing hearing, I saw so many emotions on the faces of each girl that mirrored my own as an abuse survivor. I saw deep hurt, anger, frustration, and contempt spill out into the shaky voices of each young lady that bravely came forward years after their abuse.
I was glued to the entire sentencing hearing. I, along with the rest of the world and fellow survivors in particular, watched and waited to see how this would all play out. Could an army of survivors really rise together and make big steps towards real change?
It all took place in an environment survivors aren’t used to seeing. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina cleared her docket for seven days to allow each and every survivor that wanted to come forward the opportunity to be heard.
Tears stung my eyes. She saw them, she listened to every single word, she believed them. She personally addressed each survivor, and at the end of Aly Raisman’s powerful statement, Judge Aquilina said, “I’m an adult and I’m listening, and I’m sorry it took this long.”
The judge was fair, acknowledging Nassar’s constitutional right to a defense and his day in court. The defense team expressed concern about getting death threats. She openly called that out, cautioning the public against any wrongdoing towards counsel.
But she also wasn’t here for Larry Nassar’s bullshit. He wrote a letter to the court about how listening to so many impact statements was detrimental to his health. She kept him in check, making it crystal clear that he would sit there and listen to his victims for a few days, because what they experienced for years trumped what he was currently feeling.
Another thing I noticed as I watched the sentencing: People stop and listen when more than 150 Olympic hopefuls stand up and speak out. For once, I saw a serious slowdown in the usual victim-blaming chatter online. People stopped and listened. Their victim impact statements put a national spotlight on what all abuse survivors face, and for that I am grateful.
As an adolescent, I felt powerless to change anything about my world. I had to come forward and report the most important man in my life in a small town. I dealt with extended family and lawyers who felt like I was probably just an angry teenager lashing out. After risking so much to speak up, that reaction hurt.
Individually, many of these girls who came forward were made to feel the same. How dare they speak out against a man who was so admired in the sports community? They were seen as money-hungry opportunists — some of their own parents didn’t believe them.
While I felt sorrow that such an anomaly took place and so many were affected, I felt pride and a knowing satisfaction as I watched an army of survivors collectively fight for themselves after repeated reports to adults and authorities went unanswered.
I was especially moved by the first girl to come forward publicly, Rachael Denhollander. She was completely and utterly alone in her fight. Until she wasn’t.
She reported Nassar multiple times many years before and stuck to what was right. Despite losing so much in the process, her lone voice started the chain reaction of #MeToo and led to the reckoning that abuse survivors have been longing to see.
For the first time in my life, I see a glimmer of hope in the public’s perception of abuse victims coming forward.
For every spiteful, dismissive, and sarcastic comment on the web about abuse victims, another person finally stopped to truly listen.
They didn’t give up, they supported each other, they spoke their painful truths, and they fought for what was right.
They stopped a monster, and permissive heads are starting to roll.
Survivors everywhere watched this play out and it matters. I am eternally grateful for the way Judge Aquilina handled the proceeding — and for every word the women shared.
An army of survivors really can band together and make steps towards real change. Maybe a new day really is on the horizon.