Most important, we need to encourage and support those brave enough to speak out. Predators rely on community protection to silence victims and keep them in power. Far too often, our commitment to our political party, our religious group, our sport, our college or a prominent member of our community causes us to choose to disbelieve or to turn away from the victim. Far too often, it feels easier and safer to see only what we want to see. Fear of jeopardizing some overarching political, religious, financial or other ideology — or even just losing friends or status — leads to willful ignorance of what is right in front of our own eyes, in the shape and form of innocent and vulnerable children. Ask yourself: How much is a child worth?
On Jan. 16, women and girls from across the country began congregating in a courtroom in Lansing, Mich. Some of us were athletes; some of us were not. Some of us were white; some of us were black. Some of us were married; some of us were still in high school. Many of us had never met.
But we shared one core, unifying experience: sexual assault at the hands of Larry Nassar. And we had one core, unifying goal: facing our abuser and confronting the culture that allowed him to prey on us without fear or punishment.
It felt surreal at first — finally putting names and faces to the numbered “Jane Doe” designations I had wanted for so long to protect. But the pain we shared knit us together instantly. We knew what to do when someone began to weep or shake in court, because each of us had cried those tears before. We knew what to say when a grieving survivor expressed guilt or doubt, because we had experienced that same shame.
Over the course of the trial, we became an army determined to expose the greatest sexual assault scandal in sports history. And we succeeded. After 156 of us gave statements, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced him on Wednesday to 40 to 175 years.
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, which showed that Larry had never mentioned that he used such techniques even though he had penetrated me; the names of three pelvic floor experts ready to testify to police that Larry’s treatment was not medical; 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.
I lost my church. I lost my closest friends as a result of advocating for survivors who had been victimized by similar institutional failures in my own community.
I lost every shred of privacy.