A Doctor Got Life In Prison, But Gymnasts Are Speaking Out To Change A Culture Of Abuse

"We need to demand real change, and we need to be willing to fight for it."

UPDATE: On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Larry Nassar to 175 years in prison. 

With each passing day, another woman is inspired to speak out.

That's been the theme inside the Ingham County, Mich., courtroom where former Team USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar is on trial for sexually abusing more than 100 athletes. Nassar, who has plead guilty to criminal sexual conduct and has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography charges, is now awaiting his sentencing by hearing victims' statements.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, overseeing the case, has encouraged girls and women who were abused by Nassar to come forward and share their stories in the courtroom. More than 100 women have already spoken or provided statements, including gold medalist Aly Raisman, as well as teammates Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles, and Judge Aquilina said more than 140 women might speak before they move on to sentencing.

"I will not rest until every last trace of your influence on this sport has been destroyed like the cancer it is," Raisman said to Nassar. "I cringe to think that your influence remains in the policies that are supposed to keep athletes safe, that these organizations claim for years are 'state of the art.'"

As more women have come forward, the wave of bravery seems to increase. Some women have spoken anonymously or only been identified by their initials, while others have allowed their testimony to be filmed and shared with the public. But few of the victim statements have been limited to just recounting Nassar's abuse. Instead, many of the athletes have used their time in court to encourage other victims to speak out and to shame the institutions that allowed the abuse to go on. Nassar was employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. 

On Monday, a 15-year-old girl, one of the youngest to speak in court, ripped into Nassar.

"I have never wanted to hate someone in my life, but my hate towards you is uncontrollable," Emma Ann Miller told Nassar. "You will probably never talk to a woman again, except for one holding a gun, a Taser and a billy club. Which is a good thing."

CNN reported that Miller was just 10 years old when Nassar allegedly abused her. Miller explained that her mother is still getting bills for those visits from Michigan State University Sports Medicine. Other victims from the Michigan State University Sports Medicine program have called on the university to explain how they allowed the abuse to take place, and Miller implored Nassar to use his closing testimony to call out his enablers. 

In the fallout of the victim statements and Nassar's trial, USA Gymnastics announced it was cutting ties with Karolyi Ranch. For years, the Texas ranch was pitched to athletes as the place "Olympic and World champions are made." The ranch was one of the places where Nassar has been accused of repeatedly abusing women, and athletes were sickened by the idea of having to return there to train. 

While mostly symbolic, leaving the ranch behind was seen as a major milestone in how seriously the USA Gymnastics organization is taking the testimony of these athletes. For more than a year, it has been criticized for dragging its feet. Days after it announced the end of Karolyi Ranch, three USA Gymnastics board members resigned

"For this sport to go on, we need to demand real change, and we need to be willing to fight for it," Raisman said. "It's clear now that if we leave it up to these organizations, history is likely to repeat itself."

Cover image: Petr Toman / Shutterstock.com

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