The disgraced former Michigan State University doctor, Larry Nassar, is already serving 60 years in federal prison for child pornography convictions. In addition to that 60 years, the Michigan prosecutor requested 40 to 125 years in prison for decades of sexual abuse. The honorable Judge Aquilina went beyond that, sentencing the 54 year old to 40 to 175 years in prison.
This case has been all over the news. Perhaps you, like me, have been following the stories and have had a difficult time processing it all. I have learned that the most important thing to do is to listen to the voices who have persevered.
Over the course of seven days one hundred and fifty-six young women, mothers, sisters and daughters, one by one, had the opportunity to confront the abuser – something few survivors get the chance to do. To see a link to every one of their statements, you can read MLive’s article here, which shares the summaries of every single one of their stories.
The final person to share their story was Rachael Denhollander. Rachael was the first woman to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse - and she has undergone some incredible scrutiny and criticism because of it. After everything she has been through she delivered a powerful and moving 36 ½ minute victim impact statement. Every minute is worth our time as she continually asks, “How much is a girl worth?”
Let’s listen, empathize and respond with sacrificial actions in our communities.
Her full speech can be found here (compliments of MLive), or you can read the full manuscript from CNN. I have also shared excerpts of her speech below that struck me as necessary for us, as the church, to hear and to respond to in our communities.
EDIT: After a week of this blog being published, Christianity Today did an interview with Rachael. We also encourage you to read that as well. It is titled: "My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness." So many good things to learn as we, as the church of Jesus, struggle to (as Rachael says) "pursue justice... stand up for the oppressed... victimized... and tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.
Isolated by her church and closest friends:
My advocacy for sexual assault victims, something I cherished, cost me my church and our closest friends three weeks before I filed my police report. I was left alone and isolated. And far worse, it was impacted because when I came out, my sexual assault was wielded like a weapon against me.
Often by those who should have been the first to support and help, and I couldn't even do what I loved best, which was to reach out to others.
Empowered by grace, justice and forgiveness:
In our early hearings, you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.
You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.
If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God's wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me -- though I extend that to you as well.
Throughout this process, I have clung to a quote by C.S. Lewis, where he says, my argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But how did I get this idea of just, unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight. What was I comparing the universe to when I called it unjust?
Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else's perception, and this means I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good.
When a person can harm another human being, especially a child, without true guilt, they have lost the ability to truly love. Larry, you have shut yourself off from every truly beautiful and good thing in this world that could have and should have brought you joy and fulfillment, and I pity yve ou for it. You could have had everything you pretended to be. Every woman who stood up here truly loved you as an innocent child, real genuine love for you, and it did not satisfy.
I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from ever experiencing, and I pity you for it.
A message to us all: worth, honor and dignity:
And to everyone who is watching, I ask that same question, how much is a little girl worth? Larry said in court that he hoped education and learning would happen from this tragedy, and I share that hope, and this is what we need to learn.
Look around the courtroom, remember what you have witnessed these past seven days. This is what it looks like when someone chooses to put their selfish desires above the safety and love for those around them and let it be a warning to us all and moving forward as a society, This is what it looks like when the adults in authority do not respond properly to disclosures of sexual assault.
This is what it looks like when institutions create a culture where a predator can flourish unafraid and unabated and this is what it looks like when people in authority refuse to listen, put friendships in front of the truth, fail to create or enforce proper policy and fail to hold enablers accountable.
This is what it looks like. It looks like a courtroom full of survivors who carry deep wounds. Women and girls who have banded together to fight for themselves because no one else would do it. Women and girls who carry scars that will never fully heal but who have made the choice to place the guilt and shame on the only person to whom it belongs, the abuser. But may the horror expressed in this courtroom over the last seven days be motivation for anyone and everyone no matter the context to take responsibility if they have failed in protecting a child, to understand the incredible failures that led to this week and to do it better the next time.
Judge Aquilina, I plead with you as you deliberate the sentence to give Larry, send a message that these victims are worth everything. In order to meet both the goals of this court. I plead with you to impose the maximum sentence under the plea agreement because everything is what these survivors are worth. Thank you.