A demon on Earth got justice on Wednesday when serial child molester Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina for seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct after the chilling testimony of 156 women on his abuse of female athletes.
“I just signed your death warrant,” Aquilina told him in a Michigan courtroom where she captured the essence of his despicability: “You played on everyone’s vulnerability. I’m not vulnerable.”
It’s good to see this man held accountable for the nauseating behavior that goes back to at least 1992, according to the Detroit News, and that finally came under scrutiny after the Indianapolis Star published its “Out of Balance” series in March 2016.
And it’s reassuring to know having this sentence added on to the 60 years he is serving in federal prison on child pornography charges will keep him from being able to prey on little girls ever again.
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But now this is about honoring all the survivors by absorbing the astounding courage they found to tell their stories and saying never again — or at least taking as much initiative as possible toward that.
“There has to be a massive investigation into why there was inaction. Why there was silence,” Aquilina said. “Justice requires more than I can do on this bench.”
Now this is about asking the harder questions and sorting through what ultimately was institutional denial that morphed into what can only be called enabling and complicity at Michigan State (which the NCAA finally will investigate, for whatever that’s worth) and USA Gymnastics, whose chairman and several board members resigned Monday.
Not merely because the blind eyes were appalling in themselves, but because of what it says about an abiding skepticism toward voices of victims crying for help.
Especially when it clashes with perceptions of figures trusted by virtue of their mere stature, such as religious leaders, coaches or doctors.
They wouldn’t do anything like that.
They must know what they’re doing.
You must have misunderstood something.
And … what if it gets out?
There is so much that is so devastating about this case.
But maybe nothing speaks to the core of the matter like the revelations by the Detroit News in its brilliant reporting about the complaints and pleas about Nassar and the disdain they were treated with during his time at Michigan State.
“Reports of sexual misconduct by Dr. Larry Nassar reached at least 14 Michigan State University representatives in the two decades before his arrest, with no fewer than eight women reporting his actions,” the investigation found.
The report found that among those aware of alleged abuse were athletic trainers, assistant coaches, a university police detective and an official who is now MSU’s assistant general counsel, according to university records and accounts of victims who spoke to The News.
So the abuse by Nassar was compounded by the breach of trust at the school, where over and over again people parents assume have the best interests of their children in mind betrayed them.
Typifying the pattern: Larrisa Boyce, then a 16-year-old gymnast, in 1997 was treated by Nassar at Michigan State.
After he digitally violated her, The News reported that she told a coach, who told her to tell the Michigan State coach, Kathie Klages.
Klages told Boyce there must have been a misunderstanding, The News reported.
But after Klages got confirmation from another gymnast who had had the same experience, Boyce said she was humiliated to be told, “I can file this, but there are going to be serious consequences for you and Nassar.”
(Through an attorney, Klages declined comment to the Detroit News).
This is just one of many sickening examples reported at Michigan State, as well as those found in the work of the Indy Star and other media outlets. One example that could have been taken seriously and potentially averted the trauma to come for so many — including four of the five members of Team USA that won team gold at the 2012 London Olympics.
But the scoffing, or at least unwillingness to engage what really mattered, went on and on.
That meant infinitely more abuse and such developments as the Karolyi Ranch training center in Texas becoming a place where Simone Biles and other gymnasts say Nassar abused them.
Who knew exactly what, and when, is a matter for law authorities, both there — where they are proceeding to investigate a site that USA Gymnastics last week announced no longer will be the National Training Center — and beyond.
But this is years too late, years after it could have been stopped.
“Both USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee have been very quick to capitalize on and celebrate my success,” gymnast Aly Raisman said last week, according to The New York Times. “But did they reach out when I came forward? No.”
Amid the rising tide of the #MeToo movement, this must be a pivot point:
Blind faith is just that, no one is beyond reproach, listening is critical and there is no excuse to not confront suspicions of evil.
Institutions must be shamed for protecting their own reputations over the well-being of those they are there to serve. They must be reinvented.
And the conspiracy of silence and denial has to end.
Tuesday’s appropriately harsh punishment for Nassar is a step.
“Inaction is an action. Silence is indifference,” Aquilina said. “Justice requires action and a voice — and that is what has happened here in this court.”
But now it needs to become another dividing line, one that helps assure that the survivors didn’t step forward in vain, one that creates more awareness and triggers conscience, one that further defines changes that should have been coming long ago.