Serial Child Molester Larry Nassar Will Die in Prison but Investigations Continue
Administrative systems and procedural failures enabled a pedophile to become a serial predator. They need to be stopped too.
A year after Larry Nassar was convicted for child pornography and crimes he committed while he was a sports doctor¹ the magnitude of just one man’s deviance is still staggering. At his sentencing hearing last year, 156 women shared their victim impact statements. Unknown to the general public he was repulsively, intimately well known by 156 victims who came forward.
Let me say that again.
One hundred and fifty-six human beings. 156 voices speaking for 156 bodies that he violated. All told, more than 260 girls, young women, and one boy officially reported molestation and abuse.² And as incomprehensible as that number is, the towering cliff face you can’t see the top of, remember that these are just his victims who chose to come forward formally. There are likely more.
That a medical professional whose job it was to help and heal the bodies of young athletes was able to spend the entirety of his career abusing the bodies of those children whose parents and coaches trusted him should knock any decent human being’s world off its axis. When I first read about him I felt like my ability to count had just tumbled down a flight of stairs.
He even abused some of those children with their mothers in the room. He used the cult of celebrity, his office walls papered with famous celebrity athletes he’d treated, and the air of medical superiority to override and silence that little voice and the hairs standing up on the backs of their necks. The reptile doubts of parents who suspected otherwise were overridden by the frontal cortex, the “this man is a world-renowned expert trusted by the entire industry” counterpoint.
Since his conviction, the Michigan State college president Lou Anna Simon and the athletic director Mark Hollis, the leader of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, and all USA Gymnastics board members have resigned.²
An investigation into the systemic failure that left his pedophilia unchecked for decades is being conducted by an independent Chicago-based law firm after the MSU board of trustees voted unanimously to authorize it. It will pick up where a New York-based law firm began an internal investigation two-and-a-half years ago.²
But I still remember the judge at the first hearing.
Pontificating judges in an internet era is not a phenomenon of one. Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina was not the big bang of grandstanding. I assume it existed long before it was televised. But criticisms of her criticisms of defendant Larry Nassar distracted from the original story.
She should’ve let the victims’ words speak the loudest. And while she did them a great service by allocating time for everyone who wanted to speak, she then overshadowed their words with her own editorializing. Whether she intended to or not is not the point. In a case this sensitive with a victim list this inconceivably long, every measure should be taken to protect and foster their integrity.
What I wish she would’ve said: As we seem to be shaping and reshaping our cultural norms by reacting to other people’s reactions it is critical to let victims speak for themselves, lest your advocacy becomes the story.
This is the exact problem with whitesplaining and mansplaining. Let people speak for themselves. Your outrage is appreciated. It is necessary. But it needs to stop before it hits diminishing marginal returns. That is to say, you need to stop speaking when your advocacy and outrage for the victims become louder than their own testimonies.
Nor should she not have invoked prison-rape culture in a vengeful way. Her cavalier attitude about what she hoped would happen to him in prison was as unprofessional as it was inhumane. But nothing more needs to be said about it besides that statement. Judges should not pontificate. They should not sentence from their own soapbox. Her sentencing was indeed performative. And she essentially upstaged the victims she had empowered throughout the hearing. This was also not part of her job. Giving them the floor to read their impact statements gives them the opportunity to empower themselves. Someone in her office should talk to her about professional conduct.
The rest of us need to keep talking about the victims — and the systems that kept them victimized. Larry Nassar will serve consecutive sentences for federal and state convictions and is ineligible for release before 2069.
The rest of us need to revise policies and reporting protocols. We need to hold Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and all organizations with institutionalized sweeping-under-the-rug legacies accountable for enabling. We need to implement administrative, criminal justice and judicial reform so police can prevent and prosecute crime before it becomes a pattern — in Nassar’s case, a decades-long crime spree in the comfort of his own offices.
Our collective attention needs to keep those systemic players in the limelight while the specialists deal with a judge who licked her chops too much. Stanford Law, Brown grad and public defender Rachel Marshall said it best. And she practiced what she preached while writing with a measured tone.
” … judges represent absolute neutrality. We must hold judges to that standard in every case, not just some. That’s the only way we can ensure our system is fair.
That’s not for Larry Nassar’s benefit. It’s to protect everyone else.”
The erosion of impartiality is America’s latest favorite indulgence. We have slid down this slippery slope in journalism for the last many years. And it is no surprise that a judge, intentionally or otherwise, stole the thunder of the plaintiffs she was trying to empower.
Our bloodlust for the suffering of a monster, even the most grotesque among other monsters, cannot supersede the judicial system. If it does we are just as monstrous as they are.
1. Larry Nassar sentenced to at least 40 more years in Michigan prison
CHARLOTTE, Mich. -- The former sports doctor whose serial sexual abuse of girls and young women upended the gymnastics…
Originally published at heathermedwards.com