Last month, more than 250 women who accuse former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar of sexual predation faced their abuser in open court during two sentencing hearings. One after another, they delivered powerful victim impact statements that made front-page headlines all around the country.
The judges in Ingham and Eaton counties in Michigan, where Nassar was on trial, listened carefully to each and every word. They sentenced Nassar to 40-175 years and 40-125 years in prison, respectively. He won’t begin serving either of them until he completes the 60 year sentence he is already serving for a federal child pornography conviction. He will never be a free man again.
But the army of “sister survivors” that took him down aren’t done fighting yet. In fact, they’re only getting started.
On Monday, half a dozen Nassar survivors spoke at the Michigan legislature to unveil a package of 10 bills that have been crafted to overhaul Michigan’s laws on childhood sexual abuse.
“When I stood at the Olympic podium, I thought winning a gold medal for my country was the most important thing I could accomplish in my life,” 2012 Olympic champion Jordyn Wieber, a Michigan native who was abused by Nassar and coached by the embattled John Geddert, said at a press conference on Monday.
“I now realize that was just the beginning. Today we will change our laws and our culture so that every child will be valued, respected, and protected.”
The legislative package, which will likely be voted on by lawmakers this week, will, among other things, expand the number of mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse to include coaches, athletic trainers, and volunteers in youth sports; increase the penalties for failing to report sexual abuse to two years of prison time and/or a $1,000 fine; extend the statute of limitations for civil and criminal sexual abuse allegations to 30 years after a person’s 18th birthday for minors, and 30 years after the abuse for adults; and increase the penalties for child pornography possession.
“It is my hope that these bills will prevent someone from offending. But if they don’t, we will throw the law at them,” Michigan state Sen. Margaret O’Brien (R), who spearheaded this bipartisan proposal, told reporters.
These bills were crafted with direct input from the survivors, some of whom planned to be on hand Tuesday to meet directly with other legislators in the state house. In addition to Wieber, outspoken Nassar survivors-turned-advocates Lindsey Lemke, Larissa Boyce, Sterling Riethman, Amanda Thomashow, and Rachael Denhollander, the first Nassar victim to come forward publicly with her allegation, spoke on Monday afternoon.
Like they’ve done over and over again throughout this whole reckoning, they spoke candidly and passionately about the abuse they were subjected to by Nassar, and the failures of the adults and organizations charged with protecting them. This fight isn’t just about putting one man behind bars; it’s about holding all of his enablers accountable, and changing the system so that nothing like this ever happens again.
Because while it’s possible there was no way to exorcise Nassar’s monstrosity, there was absolutely a way to prevent his abuse from lasting for decades. Boyce first reported Nassar’s abuse to Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathy Klages in 1997, but the only person Klages forwarded Boyce’s claims to was Nassar himself. Nassar went on to abuse girls and young women for 19 more years, until Michigan State fired him in 2016 after Denhollander came forward with her story to the Indianapolis Star. Had Klages reported Nassar in 1997, it’s likely that most of the “sister survivors” — including those who stood beside Denhollander on Monday — would never have even met Nassar.
Notably, O’Brien is pushing for this package of bills to be retroactive to 1993, to cover Nassar’s entire career as a licensed doctor.
Jordyn Wieber speaking about need for new laws says, "We are learning that activism can create action that results in change." pic.twitter.com/hEPs5RJy3K
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) February 26, 2018
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) issued a statement encouraging legislators to pass the bills.
“The words of the young women assaulted by Nassar have changed the world, the most important focus must be the survivors, and how to prevent sexual abuse in the future,” Schuette said.
It took decades for Nassar’s survivors to be heard. Now that people are listening, they have no plans to stop talking any time soon. Thanks to their voices, change is coming.
“The legislative package unveiled today will become a blueprint for our country,” Denhollander said. “Two hundred and fifty-six women chose to stand against the tide and speak out against sexual abuse. I hope with everything in me that politicians will have same courage, the same fortitude, the same commitment to do what is right.”