An Army Of Survivors and A Ferocious Judge Say "It Stops Now"

An Army Of Survivors and A Ferocious Judge Say "It Stops Now"

 

This week saw the just, long-overdue eradication of Larry Nassar, former Olympic gymnastics doctor and serial sexual assaulter of women and girls, who was sentenced to 175 years in prison after a rare week of searing impact statements from 156 of his accusers. Despite the damage he inflicted on them, many said, "We are no longer victims - we are survivors." The sentence in the case, which has sparked a wave of firings and resignations by top athletics officials, was handed down by a fiery Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, but only after she cited our appalling sexual abuse statistics, ripped Nassar's moral and professional perfidy - “I wouldn’t send my dogs to you, sir” - and declared, "Sir, you do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again...Anywhere you walk, destruction will occur to those most vulnerable." With the sentence, she noted, "I have just signed your death warrant."

Nassar's dramatic sentencing in a Lansing, Michigan courtroom came after decades of abusing women and girls, some as young as six or seven, while pretending to "treat" them. Finally arrested in November 2016, he pleaded guilty to molesting females at his home, at a gymnastics club and in his office at Michigan State University (MSU), where he previously worked. Wednesday's sentence is in addition to a 60-year federal sentence for three counts of possession of child pornography. Many of his superiors have gone down with him: MSU's athletic director retired under pressure Friday; two days before, the university's president stepped down after admitting she knew about the abuse allegations for two years before firing Nassar; and all 21 board directors at USA Gymnastics resigned under threat of being stripped of their power by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Nassar might never have been brought to justice if not for the courage of Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was repeatedly abused as a young girl by Nassar, a family friend; when she came forward in 2016 to tell her story to the Indianapolis Star, noted Aquilina, she "started a tidal wave." At the hearing, she and other victims tearfully described Nassar groping and digitally penetrating them during "examinations," even with their mothers in the room. Among those testifying were Olympic gold-medal winners Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman, who has slammed the belated response of Olympic officials who "put medals, reputation and money over the safety of athletes." In court, Raisman fearlessly ripped Nassar: “Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force, and you are nothing...We are here and we are not going anywhere.”

Throughout the wrenching testimony, Aquilina often explicitly empathized with the abused women before her. The daughter of immigrant parents, the first female Judge Advocate General in Michigan's Army National Guard - nickname: "Barracuda Aquilina" - and a former law professor focused on domestic violence, she addressed the athletes as "sister survivors" and often praised their courage in stepping and speaking up. “The military has not yet come up with fiber as strong as you,” she told one, and to another, "Leave your pain here. Then go out and do your magnificent things." She also reminded them of their enduring impact on their abuser. "Your words will haunt him," she said. "I doubt he’ll have many visitors except the nightmares that you all bring him."

Turning to Nassar during her lengthy sentencing statement, Aquilina was pitiless, especially after reading aloud a toxic letter he'd written to the court whining that he was "a good doctor" and "the victim of a media frenzy" whose punishment was "wrong" - this, despite 156 pained accounts of abuse and having already pleaded guilty. Aquilina's withering, truly-no-fucks-left-to-give tossing away of the letter swiftly went viral. Then, charging his "decision to assault was precise, calculated, manipulated, devious, despicable," she declared, "It is my honor and privilege to sentence you." She ended her statement with a word of warning to the press. "Please, media, do not contact me on this story without a survivor," she said. "It is their story."

 Still, some online critics tried to make it hers, complaining that in her truth-telling vehemence she went too far, indulged in "judicial grandstanding," confused vengeance with justice. "Where Nassar’s Judge Went Wrong,” wrote The Atlantic. "There has to be some semblance of fairness, no matter how much you hate the person,” a judge told USA Today, evidently forgetting it was a sentencing hearing after a guilty plea had already been entered. “It is not a judge’s function to get people healed." Many others hailed Aquilina as heroic, iconic, a compelling public face of the current conversation about sexual abuse. Others furiously the supreme, sexist irony of the criticism: "Sexual predator Larry Nassar assaults over 150 girls over the course of 30 yrs, sentenced to 175 yrs in prison & men are CRITICIZING THE FEMALE JUDGE WHO TRIED THE CASE for being 'mean.' If this isn't the entire fucking problem wrapped up in a shit bow I don't know what is."
 
 
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Reuters photo

 For those who missed it. This is the look Judge Aquilina gave Larry Nassar after she finished reading that six page letter, where at one point he said "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn." pic.twitter.com/W8qIKJmTTm

— Rhiannon Walker (@InstantRHIplay) January 24, 2018

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