Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar was a renowned, respected and trusted doctor. He was the physician to visit if you struggled as an athlete with your body and performance. But Dr. Nassar abused his position of trust and sexually abused hundreds of women. However, news of the magnitude of his abuse didn’t strike until quite late in his trial. And it was an unprecedented move by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina that made this possible.
But before she did, she gave any remaining accusers the opportunity speak out. Over the course of seven days, more than 150 women came forward to speak out against the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Dr. Nassar.
Some of these women were abused at the young age of seven. One survivor spoke of graphic nightmares. Another of how his crimes altered her life forever. One former gymnast, Makayla Thrush, said that for over 10 years, she thought these “hours of nonstop sexual abuse were “normal medical treatment.”
And while it is appalling to hear young women retell such painful stories, these testimonies also created an unprecedented moment of healing in a US courtroom.
In this episode of The Daily podcast, Emily Bazelon, an expert in legal issues for the New York Times Magazine, shared that for decades, victim testimonies were kept out of the courtroom leading up to the final sentencing.
The reasoning for this was the belief that the testimonies could have too strong of an emotional impact on both the judge and jury, which could lead to a biased and prejudiced sentence.
But by allowed the survivors to come forward in the case of Dr. Nassar, Judge Aquilina brought about a long-awaited catharsis for victims as they gave voice to their suffering. As Judge Acquilina said of the testifiers, “There is magic in the power of your voice.”
And perhaps their testimonies can be seen not so much as a strike against Dr. Nassar, but as a powerful moment of healing and victory. Judge Aquilina said as much to these women by saying, “You are all victorious and your words are of victory” and that they were “strong and wonderful.”