By Lindsey Mutz
One by one, they faced him. Woman after woman stood before former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar and recounted their stories of sexual abuse. Over 100 testimonies were given during the last four days. There were so many women there to testify, they had to take a bus from the hotel to the courtroom. Their pain and anger came through in their words. Many were fighting back tears. All of them stood strong.
“Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women who return to destroy your world.”
These were the closing words of Kyle Stephens, the first to give testimony. Others to take the podium included Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, who spoke for thirteen powerful minutes. “The tables have turned, Larry”, she said. “We are here, we have our voices, and we’re not going anywhere.” Another to speak was Donna Markham, who attributes her daughter Chelsea’s suicide to spiraling depression following Nassar’s abuse.
There is no end to the pain these women suffered at the hands of this serial molester. There is no consequence left avoided, no silver lining in the midst of the anguish. There is only sadness, and anger, and suffering. And now, at least, there is justice. Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina this afternoon. “I find that you don’t get it, that you’re a danger”, she said to him. “That you remain a danger.” She cited a letter Nassar wrote to the court as evidence of his lack of understanding. In his letter, Nassar justified his medical treatment and blamed the media for convincing his victims that he was abusing them. In a truly powerful moment, Judge Aquilina then tossed his letter aside and gave Nassar his death sentence. He will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
But why has justice only just now arrived? The first known assault committed by Nassar was in 1992 before he had his medical degree from Michigan State University. The first complaint made against him was in 1997. His abuse would go on to span decades. Complaint after a complaint was filed against him. And nobody listened. Nobody listened.
Michigan State University officials have known of reports of Nassar’s sexual misconduct for over two decades, with one report reaching all the way to MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. Reports show that MSU overlooked multiple warning signs of his behavior, continuing to employ him for decades after the first complaint was made. USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee have also been accused of being complicit in Nassar’s abuse, continuing to employ him despite complaint after complaint after complaint.
The Larry Nassar case dominates the conversation at Michigan State University, both in the classroom and among students. I would know, I go there.
It’s difficult to take pride in my school when it has so clearly failed these women and all victims of sexual abuse. MSU’s willingness to be complicit in Nassar’s abuse has led to a prioritization of university profits over the well-being of the East Lansing community. And the incalculable suffering of hundreds of people.
The State News called on President Simon to resign weeks ago, while the MSU Board of Trustees threw their support behind her, giving indications that she would stay in her current position. Today, the Michigan House of Representatives called on President Simon’s resignation, along with Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow. As of Wednesday night, President Simon has stepped down.
It is hard to see such horrific leadership coming out of my own university. It is hard to write about it right now. But it is nothing compared to the pain and suffering endured at the hands of Larry Nassar. Something I’ve learned over the past few months, as the #MeToo Movement has grown and woman after woman speak out against sexual harassment practically every day, is that making our voices heard is the greatest power we have in laying the foundation for progress. And if we have voices, we must use them to hold powerful people and institutions accountable. And that includes Michigan State University.
At first, I thought it was ironic that I was at the Women’s March holding a #MeToo sign on Sunday when very next day Nassar’s victims would be testifying in Lansing, the same city in which thousands of women had marched the day before. I don’t think it is ironic anymore. The collective banding together of women is a powerful thing, whether marching through the streets or testifying in the courtroom. It is clear that the system failed the women who were hurt by Larry Nassar, but it isn’t always going to be this way. If Michigan State University has to suffer in order for real change to occur, I can live with that. This may define MSU for a long time, but it doesn’t define the students who go here. Though imperfect, we are collectively strong. But let’s be clear: Though a graduate of MSU, Larry Nassar is NOT a Spartan. He never was.
I love being a Spartan. I am still proud to wear green and white. It’s because I love Michigan State, that I hold them to a higher standard than they clearly hold themselves. It’s because I love Michigan State, that I want them to be better.
Featured Image via Getty Images.