Raw emotion as abused gymnasts speak out

Something extraordinary is unfolding in courtroom five on the third floor of the Veterans Memorial Courthouse in Lansing, Michigan.

Woman after woman, girl after girl, all coming forward to speak at the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, the disgraced former US Olympics doctor for the gymnastics team who has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing girls from 1998 to 2015.

They are giving victim impact statements, and by the time it is finished, more than 150 will have spoken.

Image:Former Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman gave evidence

It is hard to overstate the courage it takes to do this, and it is hard to overstate the raw emotion in this room.

Fathers accompany daughters to the stand, choking back tears as they listen to their child recount graphic details of abuse.

Young women still training as gymnasts describe ruined lives, thoughts of suicide, self-harm and shame.

Others detail years of depression, eating disorders and unhealthy relationships.

Victim Emily Morales speaks at the sentencing hearing
Image:Emily Morales, one of the many victims speaking at the sentencing hearing

Some face Nassar, shoulders square and chin lifted, insisting on their strength and his demise, requesting that he be given the maximum possible sentence and that his influence on their world will eventually disappear altogether.

In the audience, victims nod as they recognise the chilling details of a serial predator's manipulation – the nicknames, the kind gentle manner, the gifts.

And then the horrors: the isolated "treatment rooms", Nassar's basement, the lotion, the ungloved hands, the trusting parents, the betrayal, the confusion, the denial and the silence.

As I write, a young woman is sitting not far from me, her eyes closed, face sheet white, hands twisted and shaking in her lap.

Nassar returns to court after a break in victim statements
Image:A cuffed Nassar returns to court after a break in victim statements

What these women and girls say this man did is truly shocking.

But more shocking is what one survivor described as decades of "unsupervised, uninterrupted and unprecedented access" to young girls who were desperate to heal their injured bodies and completely reliant on the adults around them not to exploit their vulnerability.

Now many of the children who were so horribly let down are women.

They have become part of a furious army of survivors, intent not just on destroying Larry Nassar, but on the wholesale change of a sport they sacrificed everything for.

(L to R) Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney are among Nassar's accusers
Image:(L to R) Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney are among Nassar's accusers

Their message is ringing loud and crystal clear as the cameras click and the tears fall.

Who else knew about this? Which people and organisations looked the other way? Was Nassar enabled? Protected even?

How could such an abject failure of care have happened over such a prolonged period? How? Why?

Thanks to the women who are facing Nassar with a dignity and a bravery that is hard to imagine, the world of gymnastics may soon be forced to answer those questions and do something dramatic about it, whether by choice or not.

More from United States

It is a sport that will never be the same again.

Sentencing is expected on Wednesday.

Original Article

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