On January 24, 2018 Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Larry Nasser, former USA gymnastics doctor, to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing what she stated was an unknown number of victims that were in his care. Among the victims were U.S. Olympic gymnasts Mckayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles. Prior to the sentencing, Judge Aquilina told the victims:”You are no longer victims, you are survivors.”
What is particularly astounding in this case is that the judge allowed over 100 women to tell her their stories without making them a part of the actual case. Thus, they were able to tell what had happened without having to appear on the witness stand and be cross examined. She listened to them, believed them and punished their perpetrator.
Victims of sexual assault have often had to hide their pain for many years when they did nothing wrong. When they did speak out, they often felt like they were the ones on trial and frequently were not believed.
This is just a beginning for many of these brave women. Some may have already been working in therapy to let go of their pain. Others may have many years of treatment ahead of them as they confront the short term and long term effects of sexual abuse.
Short term effects can include, among other things, embarrassment , shame and discomfort that occur when the abuse first happens. If untreated , long term effects include difficulty with trust and intimacy, ongoing shame and guilt, self punishment which can include self-harm, drug abuse and eating disorders. Physical ailments including GI problems are frequently experienced and even increased occurrence of autoimmune disorders is not uncommon.
The really good news from all of this is that the girls told what happened, they were believed and the perpetrator has been sentenced to what is essentially life in prison. These three factors are significant in helping victims heal.
Judge Aquilina is to be applauded for her bold steps in this case. I have had the privilege of working with many survivors of abuse. Some have been members of sports teams. Many have kept their secret for years and years. It takes tremendous courage to tell the secret and it takes courage to listen, gather all the evidence and make this kind of judgment.
I hope this is the beginning of something way beyond the #metoo movement. I hope this is the beginning of a new understanding and a new justice for victims of sexual crimes.