30 years. That is the length of time it is estimated celebrated Michigan State University’s Larry Nassar, physician to the women and girls of USA Gymnastics, was able to get away with his misdeeds. 30 years. That we know thanks to the courage of one woman who filed a criminal complaint against him, and who was joined by over 150 women and girls in a sexual abuse case that is shaking USA Gymnastics to its core.
Rachael Denhollander was the first to file a complaint this time around in August 2016. Complaints had been lodged previously with 14 different coaches, trainers, etc., over the years, but none of it went anywhere until Denhollander went public with her story. Now, intimate details that no one has a right to know have been made public all so that she and the other victims could put a stop to the abuse, and be sure others do not suffer the same fate.
The pain and humility of sexual abuse run deep. And Denhollander explained more than she had to in a New York Times piece this week.
But on Aug. 29, 2016, when I filed the first police complaint against Larry Nassar for sexually abusing me when I was a 15-year-old girl and chose to release a very public story detailing what he had done, it felt like a shot in the dark. I came as prepared as possible: I brought medical journals showing what real pelvic floor technique looks like; my medical records showing Larry had never mentioned using techniques; other records from a nurse practitioner documenting my disclosure of abuse in 2004; my journals from that time; and a letter from a neighboring district attorney vouching for my character. I worried that any less meant I would not be believed — a concern I later learned was merited.
My education as a lawyer prepared me for the process and presentation. But absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the pain of being the first to go public with my accusations in The Indianapolis Star.
This GIF of Judge Aquilina throwing away the letter Larry Nassar wrote the court about how hard it is for him to listen to victim testimonies PRETTY MUCH SAYS IT ALL. pic.twitter.com/5HB9WMaPqU
— Ellie Hall (@ellievhall) January 24, 2018
Denhollander goes on to explain the losses in her personal life as a result of her going public. She was accused of “ambulance chasing” even with the number of records she had to offer. But what was most shocking and disappointing was her statements about USA Gymnastics officials both collegiate and not.
As the calls began coming in to the Michigan State University Police Department and the number of reports grew, my horror did as well. Victim after victim came forward. Some were abused when they were as young as 6 years old. Some were victimized nearly three decades ago, others only days before my report was filed. Far worse, victims began to come forward who had already tried to sound the alarm years before I had walked into that M.S.U. clinic to meet the celebrated doctor. Not only were they suffering the devastation of sexual assault; they were suffering deep wounds from having been silenced, blamed and often even sent back for continued abuse.
More than 200 women have now alleged abuse by Larry Nassar. Even more staggering than that number is the revelation that at least 14 coaches, trainers, psychologists or colleagues had been warned of his abuse. What is truly stomach-turning is the realization that a vast majority of those victims were abused after his conduct was first reported by two teenagers to M.S.U.’s head gymnastics coach as far back as 1997….
Unfortunately, the question that comes to mind with the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State’s football program still within memory is why are boys and young men believed about abuse and not young girls. There is no excuse for this even if the man was cunning in his abuse as Denhollander explains. Some of the most resilient young women of our times are counted among the victims.
How many times does the alarm need to be silenced before the ladies are believed?
On a gynecologist’s exam table, all women are vulnerable. How low does a man have to be to take advantage of that?
And how can adults who have the care of young ladies not heed their cries when they know they have been abused or violated, even in the privacy of an exam room?
Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years this week in Michigan. And, as luck would have it, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina put him in his place in open court.
May the healing now begin.