EDITOR’S NOTE: Reporter John Barr has been covering the Larry Nassar story for nearly two years. This week he has been inside the courtroom listening to the victims give their victim impact statements in front of Nassar. He shares his experience with Front Row.
After more than a year of reporting on the case of disgraced former Team USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, we ran two separate stories this week. On Tuesday’s one-hour special edition of Outside the Lines, we aired a story that brought into sharp focus missed warning signs at Michigan State University that enabled Nassar’s serial sexual assaults on his patients. On the digital side, Dan Murphy and I posted a story about Nassar’s many enablers.
Many of the themes that emerged in our reporting resurfaced this past week inside a Lansing courtroom. Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina – who is presiding over Nassar’s Ingham County, Mich., court case – set aside four days for any woman, who has accused Nassar of sexual assault, to speak in open court and address Nassar. What has followed has been a week of gut-wrenching testimony. Women from their teens to their late thirties chronicled more than a quarter century of abuse. And the statements will continue into next week.
I was struck by the strength of the women who spoke. Kyle Stephens’ parents were friends with the Nassars. They cooked Sunday dinners together. When Nassar started abusing Stephens, she was six-years-old. Not a gymnast. Not a famous Olympic athlete. Just a kid, who ate dinner at his house and went on to babysit his children. Stephens says Nassar sexually abused her for years before she even understood she was being abused. At age 12, when Stephens finally told her parents, her father wouldn’t believe her and it became a source of on-going tension between the two. At 18, when Kyle finally convinced her father she wasn’t lying, he was wracked with guilt, she told Dan Murphy. Her dad later committed suicide.
“Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world,” Stephens told Nassar. And that was just the beginning of the testimony.
Many of the survivors who followed Stephens spoke of having suicidal thoughts, struggles with eating disorders, depression, trouble with relationships, a loss of any sense of personal security. It was a master class in the impact of sexual assault. But there was also a clear sense of resolve and a will to go on.
By the third day of testimony, women were greeted with applause after reading their statements, not something I’ve ever seen in a court proceeding, where judges often discourage such displays. The hearing took on the feel of a therapy session for survivors. An emotional and inspiring week I won’t ever forget.