The power came in the simplicity of the words.
“Criminal sexual conduct, first degree,” Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said as Larry Nassar stood before her. “How do you plead?”
After months of silence or outright denials, Nassar finally acknowledged Wednesday what girls and young women have bravely been saying for more than two years now: The longtime USA Gymnastics and Michigan State physician was a sexual predator.
Using his position of authority and the influence it carried, Nassar molested and abused dozens and dozens of women. Young girls and teenagers. Neighbors and friends. Recreational gymnasts and Olympic champions.
“(Nassar’s guilty pleas) will strengthen and heal them. I agree and I’m glad you recognize that,” Aquilina told Nassar. “But it does fall very short. But they are strong in numbers and I am proud of them.
“They’re superheroes for all of America because this is an epidemic.”
It’s become almost overwhelming, this avalanche of sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints the last few weeks. Every day, it seems, brings new allegations against someone in politics or entertainment or journalism.
On the day before Nassar’s court appearance, in fact, London Olympic champion Gabby Douglas said she, too, was one of his victims, making her the third member of the Fierce Five to say publicly that she’d been abused.
The initial stories were met with shock and horror, followed by heartfelt vows to do better. Now, though, we’ve settled into a kind of fatigue that comes dangerously close to resignation.
When even some of the staunchest allies are revealed as abusers, it’s easy to wonder whether things will ever change. When there are still many — too many — whose first reaction is to doubt or blame the victim, it’s easy to ask why we should even bother.
And then Nassar shuffles into a Michigan courtroom in an orange jumpsuit, looking gaunt and downcast. The power he had over his victims has been stripped away, the arrogance that made him believe he was above both the laws of the land and human decency was soon to follow.
“It was not for any medical purpose, is that correct? It was for your own purpose, is that correct?” Aquilina asked, referring to Nassar’s claim that the assaults were legitimate medical treatments.
“Yes,” Nassar said, his voice barely audible.
It’s disheartening to see how widespread and ingrained the disregard for women continues to be. It’s horrifying to realize there are people out there so monstrous they would prey on teenaged girls and then have the audacity to say it was for their own good.
That’s why days like Wednesday are so important. To see that evil cut down and held accountable.
“You used your position of trust in the most vile way — to abuse children,” Aquilina said. “You violated an oath that you took, which was to do no harm. And you harmed them. Selfishly.”
In that respect, Nassar has much in common with the Harvey Weinsteins, Charlie Roses and Roy Moores of the world. His only concern was self-gratification, and he had no regard for whom he hurt or how badly. Even Wednesday, he had the audacity to tell Aquilina that he held no animosity toward anyone.
As if benevolence is a luxury he’s still allowed to have.
There’s a measure of satisfaction in seeing someone like Larry Nassar finally get what’s coming to him — a minimum of 25 years when he’s sentenced Jan. 12. He still faces criminal charges in another county and federal charges. But he is far from alone.
As the allegations of sexual abuse and harassment pile up, fight the emotional fatigue. Each case is important. Each woman — and man — who has the courage to speak up deserves to see their story met with the same kind of outrage directed at Nassar.
Nassar’s victims made their voices heard. We must, too.