EDITORIAL: Victim impact statements from Larry Nassar trial give power to those, others who have been sexually assaulted

Victim Rachael Denhollander speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, in Lansing, Michigan, U.S., January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

In 2015, no one believed her.

In 2018, she is being called the voice that brought down a monster.

It started with Rachael Denhollander. 

She was 15 when she was sexually assaulted by the now-disgraced sports medicine doctor, Larry Nassar, under the guise of medical treatment. It wasn’t until Denhollander was an adult that she realized the severity of what Nassar had done to her.

“The conclusion was, ‘Well, this must be medical treatment, because he’d never be allowed near us (gymnasts) if it wasn’t’,” Denhollander said in a Jan. 20 interview with NPR. “And as a 15-year-old, that was my thought process.”

Denhollander’s search for justice ended last week after 156 women confronted Nassar offering their victim impact statements. Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in prison for decades of sexual abuse. 

We stand in awe of the strength and courage showed by these women. 

The national attention the Nassar case received showed those following it what victims often face – intense scrutiny, doubt, scorn and encouragement to be silent. We know now that this kind of silence aids predators like Nassar. That silence allows abusers to keep their power and continue hurting others.

Nassar is going to jail for the rest of his life. Being able to join together with other survivors and confront him was a healing moment for these women. For others victimized by sexual assault, however, there might not be a conclusion to their stories. Their attackers might never see a day in court. Some will never rest because they know the person who molested them is still out there, capable of hurting others.

Yes, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. But if we want to be a society committed to justice for those violated by abusers, we must always take victims’ stories seriously. We do this with every other crime, but sometimes with sexual assault cases investigators are too quick to claim it’s a “he said/she said” situation that can never be proven.  

If you are the victim of sexual assault, you are not alone. We encourage you to seek help and tell your story. 

In Mount Pleasant, there are numerous ways to report this type of crime. If you are on-campus, call the Central Michigan University Police Department at (989) 774-3081. If you are in town,the Mount Pleasant Police Department can be reached at (989) 779-5100.

If you’re battling with the aftermath of a sexual assault, there are also many counseling options available to you as well: Sexual Assault Peer Advocates ((989) 774-2255), Listening Ear ((989) 772-2918) or the Counseling Center ((989) 774-3381).

As we move forward, we cannot forget the heinous actions of Nassar and the people who tried to protect him and cover up his crimes.

It’s time to do better. For everyone.