How Larry Nassar’s victims are healing thanks to cathartic statements

Elise Solé
Yahoo Lifestyle
Larry Nassar, the former Olympic gymnastics doctor, heard hundreds of victim impact statements from the women he abused. (Photo: Getty Images)
Larry Nassar, the former Olympic gymnastics doctor, heard hundreds of victim impact statements from the women he abused. (Photo: Getty Images)

By the time former Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar is sentenced on state charges for seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, nearly 150 of his sexual assault victims will have addressed him in court, giving victim impact statements aimed at helping them heal from their trauma.

On Monday, the fifth day of the trial, Emma Ann Miller, 15, told Nassar, “I have never wanted to hate someone in my life, but my hate towards you is uncontrollable.” Nasser began abusing her when she was 10. “You will probably never talk to a woman again, except for one holding a gun, a Taser and a billy club. Which is a good thing,” she added.

According to CNN, the doctor admitted he was guilty of seven counts of criminal sexual conduct and to sexually abusing girls under the guise of providing medical treatment. He also pleaded guilty to three charges of criminal sexual conduct and has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who’s presiding over the case in Lansing, Mich., will hear statements from many of the women, given either by the women standing before Nasser or through letters read aloud in court.

Over the past week, a number of women have stepped forward, such as Aly Raisman, who earned a round of applause for her 13 minutes of remarks.  “I didn’t think I would be here today,” she said in court. “I was scared and nervous. It wasn’t until I started watching the impact statements from the other brave survivors that I realized I, too, needed to be here. Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force, and you are nothing.”

Raisman continued, “The tables have turned, Larry. We are here, we have our voices, and we are not going anywhere. And now, Larry, it’s your turn to listen to me. There is no map that shows you the pathway to healing. Realizing that you are a survivor of sexual abuse is really hard to put into words. I cannot adequately capture the level of disgust I feel when I think about how this happened.

The 23-year-old Olympian added, “Larry, you abused the power and trust I and so many others placed in you, and I am not sure I will ever come to terms with how horribly you manipulated and violated me.”

She also asked the judge to give Nassar “the strongest possible sentence, which his actions deserve, for by doing so you will send a message to him and to other abusers that they cannot get away with their horrible crimes. They will be exposed for the evil they are, and they will be punished to the maximum extent of the law.”

A letter from McKayla Maroney, 22, was also read. She wrote, “As it turns out, much to my demise, Dr. Nassar was not a doctor, he in fact is, was, and forever shall be, a child molester, and a monster of a human being. End of story!” She added, “He abused my trust, he abused my body and he left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”

Gymnast McKayla Maroney’s victim impact statement about abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar was read during the former doctor’s trial. (Photo: Getty Images)
Gymnast McKayla Maroney’s victim impact statement about abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar was read during the former doctor’s trial. (Photo: Getty Images)

And Kyle Stephens, who is not a gymnast, confronted former family friend Nassar about abuse she says took place when she was 6 years old. “I have been coming for you for a long time,” said Kyle. “I’ve told counselors your name in hopes they would report you. I’ve told your name to Child Protective Services twice. I gave a testament to get your medical license revoked. You were first arrested on my charges. And now, as the only non-medical victim to come forward, I testify to let the world know you are a repulsive liar.”

Kyle continued, “Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, victim impact statements, allowed in all 50 states, provide the court with a well-rounded account of the crime, including details that may have been omitted in court. They’re also often the only chance a victim has to face his or her accuser.

Kyle Stephens, one of Larry Nassar’s victims, addressed her abuser in court. (Photo: Getty Images)
Kyle Stephens, one of Larry Nassar’s victims, addressed her abuser in court. (Photo: Getty Images)

“For some, but not all people, victim impact statements are an opportunity to stand up for themselves, look their accuser in the eye, and reclaim the power that’s been taken from them as a result of the crime,” Sandra Shullman, a psychologist who specializes in sexual harassment, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They can also be validating and build a community of support for others who can’t step forward.”

One high-profile example is from June 2016, when a Stanford University freshmen, who had been found unconscious and half-naked by a dumpster after being sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, gutted the internet with her powerful letter at his sentencing.

However, victim impact statements have also created controversy due to their ability to create bias, according to a story published in The Atlantic. Research published in the Federal Sentencing Reporter suggested they could lead to “irrational decision making” by the jurors and, as reported in The Atlantic, “can make jurors so eager to punish that they search for evidence to validate their anger and ignore evidence in the defendant’s favor.” Other studies show the statements can cause racial bias, victim stereotyping — and, depending on how angry victims appear as they give their statements, can cause judges to lose sympathy for them.

Shullman says there’s also a valid reason to decline to address one’s abuser. “It could force victims to relive an experience and be exposed to repeated traumatization,” she says. “That’s very difficult, especially for people without a support system. These people should never be judged for not speaking up.”

She adds, “For others, there’s a symbolism in finding one’s voice in a system that’s used silence to protect the abusers. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to speak up. If victims are ready to do that, it can be a very good thing.”

But not for Nassar. He recently begged the judge to stop the victim impact statements from being read in court, writing in a letter, ”I’m very concerned about my ability to be able to face witnesses this next four days mentally.”

The judge called his request “mumbo-jumbo.”

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