One of the most disappointing aspects of the #MeToo movement has been the tendency for women in the latter half of this lengthy diatribe to sound like whiners frustrated with awkward men. (Like the story of Aziz Ansari and the date from hell, for example.) But it’s not all victims and blame, awkward dates, and bumbling men.
This last week in a Michigan courtroom, the country witnessed the most significant thing to happen not just for #MeToo but women who have experienced sexual assault anywhere, during any time of their lives. Larry Nassar, a doctor formerly with Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of more than 150 young girls and women over the course of decades. Before his official sentencing, the judge allowed the abused women to confront him. That swath of testimonies, which are now all over the Internet in clips, has cumulatively resulted in one of the most powerful moments, not just for #MeToo, but reparative justice for women in modern history.
Before the #MeToo movement officially began, Rachael Denhollander, a gymnast when she was younger, was the first to go public several years ago. Now a lawyer and mother of three, she was the last to give her account in the Michigan courtroom — and give an account she did. With a combination of cool legal prowess and fury for the repeated sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Nassar as a young woman, she gave not only sickening details but a detailed explanation as to what her courage and desire to speak out against him have cost her.
Woman after woman, all week long, gave their accounts of abuse at the hands of a classic, covert abuser, a man who methodically groomed young girls, and their parents, while often being bold enough to abuse them with a guardian in the room (he strategically blocked the view). The now-grown women shared the same pain: covert sexual abuse under the guise of pelvic floor therapy — a real thing in the gymnastics world — but they also demonstrated bravery and grit. Through tears, anger, pointed accusations, and rightful indignation, one by one they tore into him. Not to gain back what they had lost in childhood innocence but to point out that disgusting, wrong behavior reaps consequences. “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into grown women who come back to destroy your world,” said Kyle Stephens.
The women not only repeatedly confronted Nassar but revealed, through research and eyewitness testimony, a perverted underbelly, at least at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, of the world of athletes who later became the best in the world — competitors at the Olympics. From a network of people who systemically hid many of the girls’ reports of sexual assault to even the strict way the girls were coached — such that Nassar was able to play the “nice guy,” who snuck them food when they didn’t want to be seen eating in front of their coaches — the entire process of becoming a professional gymnast now seems as nauseating as it does physically challenging.
Still, the testimonies of these women continued, day after day, with similar accounts, similar pain and fury only matched by their bravery. ESPN broadcast much of the hearing, and countless news stories have described not only the disgusting abuse but the incredible sentence Nassar will now serve due to his crimes. More than any tweet, rally, awards show, or date-gone-wrong hit piece, this last week in that Michigan courtroom shows what #MeToo really means: justice for evil. More than 150 women deserve a collective round of applause for not only enduring the unthinkable but having the courage to confront it head on.
Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist in Washington, D.C., who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota. She was the 2010 recipient of the American Spectator's Young Journalist Award.
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