Taking a stand in a changed landscape

Student takes a stand against sexual harassment following the Larry Nassar sentencing

February 9, 2018

Over 160 young women were finally given the opportunity last week to look their monster in the eye and tell him he did not control them anymore.

For nearly 30 years, Larry Nassar masqueraded as a doctor for female gymnasts, including those on the U.S. Olympic team, such as Aly Raisman and Simone Biles. In reality, he was a manipulative monster who used his title– and all the trust that naturally comes with holding that title– to sexually abuse girls as young as six, preying on their naiveté.

As someone who has seen the effects of sexual abuse, I give great credit to the courageous young women who came forward and are making it their mission to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.

Over the weekend, I happened to be in East Lansing. MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon had just resigned, students had just marched in support of the survivors and in disgust for Nassar.  

A light shinning in the dark of night. The rock outside of Michigan State University glowed with the names of Nassar’s victims. Photograph by Sylvia Hodges ’19

It was dark out, but the painted rock–similar to our rock at South–gleamed a bright white.  The names of all 156 women who had testified against Nassar were painted in black against the white background, with “#TimesUpMSU” written across the bottom.  

The eye was drawn, however, to the big blue “THANK YOU” and heart, meant for the young women who for years were ignored when they complained of Nassar’s “treatments.”

I had been horrified while following the trial, but it was different seeing the physical tribute to the brave young women and the powerful message to all those who enabled Nassar to become what he did.  

I felt connected to the survivors on a personal level as I stood there, sick to my stomach with disgust, reminding myself bad things will happen, but the response to the bad can be so overwhelmingly good.  Although sexual abuse is still prevalent in the world today, cases like these reveal people are becoming increasingly more intolerant of monsters like Nassar and those who stood behind him.

While many people feel hatred and are angry only at Nassar, it must be remembered the people who allowed Nassar to continue to act as a doctor are at an even bigger fault.

Nassar was reported several times, the first incident being noted in 1994, by several different people to various USA Gymnastics and MSU athletic authorities, yet nothing was seriously done to stop the foul actions or remove him from his position. People either didn’t believe the girls or didn’t want to confront Nassar.  

And thus, the man who repeatedly molested young girls was inadvertently told by his superiors what he was doing was okay.

It is not inaccurate to say the people who enabled Nassar to become the monster he is are the even bigger monsters.

Nassar’s actions, and in turn the actions of those who enabled him, caused Kyle Stephens’ father, who had for years convinced himself his daughter was lying and confused, to kill himself in 2016 over the mounting guilt he felt. One of Nassar’s victims, Chelsea Markham, killed herself in 2009 after turning to drugs following Nassar’s abuse.

“Dr.” Larry Nassar is going to spend the remainder of his sorry life behind bars. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said she had just signed Nassar’s “death warrant” when adding 40 to 175 years to a 60-year sentence he already had been given for possession of child pornography.  Judge Aquilina also made her biggest statement using no words at all: she casually dropped a six-page letter from Nassar, that begged her to stop the testimony from his victims as it was not good for his mental health, to the floor.

I can only hope the survivors from this case, and the literally countless other cases, continue to hold their heads high and don’t allow the despicable actions of another to define their lives.

I know I will be doing so with them.  

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