LANSING, Mich. — Over seven full days, victims of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar have approached the podium in a courtroom in Lansing, Michigan, and faced the man they said sexually assaulted and abused them.
In all, 166 victim impact statements were read, many by the victims themselves.
As he listened, Nassar sat on the witness stand, sometimes hiding his head in his hands or wiping tears away with a tissue.
After the last statements are read Wednesday, Nassar is expected to be sentenced to a lengthy prison term by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.
Nassar, once a renowned doctor, pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in Ingham County in Michigan. Once the victims finish, Nassar may choose to speak on his own behalf.
Separately, he has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison for federal child pornography charges. He also has pleaded guilty to three charges of criminal sexual conduct in Eaton County in Michigan and is due to be sentenced on those charges after this case.
Between those three sentences, Nassar, 54, will never get out of prison, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has said in court.
“He’s not coming out between the three sentences that he will get. So you shouldn’t be scared anymore,” Aquilina told a victim last week.
Rather, the focus of the week-long sentencing has been on the victims — or survivors, as they have also been called. One by one, women and their families have come forward to explain how Nassar used his respected position to molest young injured girls under the guise of providing medical treatment.
The women — almost all of whom initially met Nassar for a sports-related injury — said that, because of the abuse, they struggled with anxiety, depression and instances of self-harm. Others said they no longer trust doctors or that they shrink from any physical touch.
“Sexual abuse is so much more than a disturbing physical act,” Kyle Stephens, the first victim to speak, said last week. “It changes the trajectory of a victim’s life, and that is something that nobody has the right to do.”
But the women also showed remarkable resolve and bravery, staring down Nassar in court and calling out the systems of power that protected him for more than two decades.
“We, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force, and you are nothing,” Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman said. “The tables have turned, Larry. We are here. We have our voices, and we are not going anywhere.”
Court officials initially expected 88 victims to speak in court. But that number has nearly doubled over the course of the sentencing hearing as more and more women came forward, inspired to speak out by what Raisman termed an “army of survivors.”
Fallout only beginning
Though the sentencing marks the end of Nassar’s time in the public eye, it has focused critical attention on USA Gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee and Michigan State University, the institutions that employed Nassar for about two decades. A number of women have accused the organizations of turning a blind eye to Nassar’s abuse and even pressuring outspoken victims into silence.
“Michigan State University, the school I loved and trusted, had the audacity to tell me that I did not understand the difference between sexual assault and a medical procedure,” Amanda Thomashow said in court. “That master manipulator took advantage of his title, he abused me, and when I found the strength to talk about what had happened I was ignored and my voice was silenced.”
All three organizations have denied wrongdoing and said they reported the sexual abuse allegations to authorities once they learned about them.
Still, the fallout at those organizations moved slowly and then all at once. In the past week, USA Gymnastics cut ties with the Karolyi Ranch, the training facility where the abuse happened, and three leaders of its board stepped down under pressure.
Michigan State University asked the state attorney general to investigate its response to the abuse, and President Lou Anna Simon has faced calls for her resignation.