Like most women around the country, I’ve been riveted these past 10 days or so by the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar, for child sexual abuse. At his sentencing, 156 strong, brave women and teens testified against Nassar, whose abuse of children goes back twenty years. His victims include well-known Olympic champions like Aly Raisman, McKayla Moroney, Simone Biles, and Jordyn Wieber, and scores of other gymnasts and athletes from other sports that he treated at the Michigan State University. While most of Larry Nassar’s abuse was perpetrated under the guise of “medical treatment,” there is also one non-medical victim of note: Nassar family friend Kyle Stephens.
Stephens’ testimony was beyond powerful; her family and the Nassar family had dinner together EVERY Sunday, and he used these occasions to molest her from age six to twelve. Her story proves that Nassar wasn’t just a doctor whose treatment of patients was misunderstood, because he abused Stephens in a completely non-medical setting. In her testimony, Stephens tells how when she told her parents, at age 12, what Larry Nassar had done, that they did not believe her. They sided with Nassar, who convinced them that she was lying. Her family was “fractured” she says, and she was estranged from her parents for years. When she was around 18, they finally believed her…and she says, her father later killed himself over the guilt of not having believed his daughter.
I tell Stephens’ story in detail because she is not a famous athlete, so her story may be less familiar to all of us who have read the news this week. But she is a hero, I want her to be HEARD and KNOWN.
Kyle Stephens, screen shot YouTube/PBS
It’s hard to choose a “most powerful” quote from Stephens, but this one was especially blistering:
“Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”
How true, as Nassar faced a literal army of women in the courtroom, over 150 strong. The leader of this army is former gymnast Rachel Denhollander, now 33. Denhollander can take much credit for the events of this week. She was the last to testify, and the New York Times said she “had the first word and the last one,” saying her “single voice eventually raised an army.” Denhollander went to the Indianapolis Star in 2016 to accuse Nassar. Her story was told in the paper, along with another accuser who chose to stay anonymous. Denhollander didn’t want anonymity — she wanted justice. Her powerful statement offered Nassar forgiveness and pity, yet was not devoid of wrath. She said,
Rachel Denhollander, screen shot YouTube/PBS
“Larry is the most dangerous type of abuser. One who is capable of manipulating his victims through coldly calculated grooming methodologies, presenting the most wholesome and caring external persona as a deliberate means to ensure a steady stream of young children to assault. And while Larry is unlikely to live past his federal sentence, he is not the only predator out there and this sentence will send a message about how seriously abuse will be taken.
So, I ask, how much is a little girl worth? How much priority should be placed on communicating that the fullest weight of the law will be used to protect another innocent child from the soul shattering devastation that sexual assault brings? I submit to you that these children are worth everything. Worth every protection the law can offer. Worth the maximum sentence.”
Here are some more amazing quotes from that army of powerful women in the courtroom about their abuser, Larry Nassar: