Last week, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. This comes on the heels of him pleading guilty in July 2017 to child pornography charges. This sentence is but a small victory in an era of widespread sexual assault and harassment.
Nassar faced impact statements from over 150 victims, many of whom were underage girls, that say he sexually abused them under the pretense that he provide them with medical treatment.
Prior to his sentencing and after a brief apology to the 156 women and girls he molested, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina read a letter that Nassar had sent her aloud. In this letter he described his sentencing as “not proper, appropriate, [or] fair” and said that he only pled guilty to avoid a trial “to save the stress to this community, my family and the victim.”
After reading the letter, she tossed it aside in disgust.
“I’ve just signed your death warrant,” Aquilina said. “I find that you don’t get it, that you’re a danger. That you remain a danger.”
Aquilina also said that it was her “honor and privilege” to sentence him.
Nassar was a doctor of osteopathic medicine and performed osteopathic manipulation, in which a doctor uses his or her hands to move a patients and muscles with stretching, gentle pressure and resistance. He defended his actions as “medical not sexual,” and blamed the media for turning patients who “came back over and over” against him, convincing them of his misconduct.
“They feel I broke their trust. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” he said. “It is just a complete nightmare. The stories that are being fabricated to sensationalize this.”
Nassar insisted his innocence in over a year of allegations until Nov. 22 when he pleaded guilty for seven counts of first-degree criminal and sexual conduct in connection with two Michigan counties. Under Michigan law, a person is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree if he or she engages in sexual penetration with another person under several conditions, including when the victim is a minor and the perpetrator uses a position of authority in order to coerce the victim to submit.
By pleading guilty, Nassar admits that he used his position as a doctor to his patients to coerce them to submit to sexual penetration.
What is perhaps the most jarring about Nassar’s vile actions are that, over his decades of abuse, he did not get access to these young girls alone. Nassar was surrounded by colleagues and professionals who allowed his behavior to continue for decades. On the list are coaches of club, collegiate and elite-level gymnasts, the USA Gymnastics organization, medical professionals, administrators and coaches at Michigan State University and gymnasts’ parents, whom he coerced just as effectively as their children.
Although many of these individuals were not directly involved with Nassar’s crimes, many tried to downplay or push aside altogether the issue that was at stake.
“There’s MSU trustee Joel Ferguson, who thinks the sex abuse scandal is just a pesky impediment to fundraising. There’s MSU football coach Mark Dantonio, who called the allegations that his football program mishandled reports of sexual assault by football players ‘completely false, and MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo, who called the scandals swirling around his own team a ‘distraction,’” according to Laura Wagner of Deadspin. “And there’s Fox Sports, who struck a 15-year, $150 million TV rights deal with MSU last March and then completely ignored the Nassar sex abuse scandal. Nassar will spend the rest of his life in prison; no one can enable him anymore. But the power structures that created an environment in which Nassar was able to prey on young girls are as entrenched as ever.”
We at The New Paltz Oracle are disgusted by Nassar and those whose silence enabled his actions. This sentencing is but a small justice for the mental, physical and emotional torture that he put hundreds of women through in his years upon years of abuse.
Gymnast and six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman called out these organizations in her testimony at Nassar’s sentencing. She said that in order to believe in a future for her sport, she must believe in the possibility of change.
“But how are we to believe in change when these organizations aren’t even willing to acknowledge the problem?” she said. “It’s easy to put out statements talking about how athlete care is the highest priority. But they’ve been saying that for years, and all the while, this nightmare was happening. False assurances from organizations are dangerous, especially when people want so badly to believe them. They make it easier to move away from the problem and enable bad things to continue to happen.”
While this is by far the biggest known sexual abuse scandal in sports history, unfortunately, it’s part of a much larger societal problem. In early October, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was fired after multiple women came forward to accuse him of sexual assault. Since then, the list of musicians, actors and many prominent celebrities also accused of sexual assault continues to grow.
Although the condemnation of Weinstein has emboldened victims to speak up, inspiring an entire #MeToo movement, perpetrators of such acts cannot continue committing these heinous acts. Bystanders are not innocent. Colleges, such as Michigan State, need to take more frequent and effective measures in consent and sex education, and apply the proper punishments to those that exhibit this type of misconduct, directly or indirectly.
“Inaction is an action,” Aquilina said before announcing Nassar’s sentence. “Silence is indifference. Justice requires action and a voice — and that is what has happened here in this court.”
There needs to be a conscious effort taken from the bottom up for us as a society to not sweep sexual misconduct and abuse under the rug when we witness it or hear about it. We all need to speak out like the brave 156 women at Nassar’s sentencing. If dozens and dozens of people had not allowed Nassar to conduct himself in such a despicable manner, he would have been behind bars a long time ago and his decades of abuse prevented.
“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. The tables have turned, Larry,” Raisman said in her 13-minute statement. “We have our voices, and we are not going anywhere.”