Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has handed down a prison sentence that aims to put Larry Nassar in jail for the rest of his life.
"I just signed your death warrant," Aquilina told Nassar on Jan. 24 as she read his sentence for charges of abusing at least 150 girls to whom he gave medical treatment in his role as a physician for the USA Gymnastics national team and Michigan State University. Nassar, 54, was given a sentence of 40 to 175 years for his conviction on top of the 60-year-sentence he already received on earlier federal child pornography charges.
"As much as it was my honor and privilege to hear the sister survivors, it is my honor and privilege to sentence you. Because, sir, you do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again," Aquilina said to Nassar.
The trial has made headlines for being one of the largest sexual abuse cases in sports history. But also noteworthy — and significantly more encouraging — has been the way Aquilina has been an advocate for victims of sexual assault while presiding over the case.
Aquilina looks at Nassar during a victim’s impact statement. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.
Throughout the trial, Aquilina has been strict about holding Nassar to task for all of his crimes.
Every. Single. One.
She allowed all of victim impact statements — more than 160 of them — to be read in court by survivors and their families, making sure they each had the time to stand up to their abuser. She also had Nassar sit in the witness box rather than at the defense table so that testifiers would not have to turn backward to make eye contact with him during their statements.
When Nassar complained about these decisions, claiming he wasn't "mentally able" to endure listening to his victims' testimonies, Aquilina became an overnight sensation by tossing aside Nassar's request to block the women's statements.
"I have to say this isn't worth the paper it's written on," Aquilina said as she held up Nassar's statement. "You may find it harsh that you are here listening, but nothing is as harsh as what your victims endured for thousands of hours at your hands."
Aquilina has also set an amazing example of how to treat survivors of abuse with dignity and respect.
As empathetic as she is harsh, her statements to the survivors have been heartfelt and encouraging, without a shred of shame or doubt.
"I’m an adult, and I’m listening, and I’m sorry it took this long," Aquilina said after Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman read a powerful statement condemning not just Nassar, but the organizations and individuals who allowed him to maintain his position even as girls complained about his behavior.
To another woman, she said, "Leave your pain here, and go out and do your magnificent things."
Her approach — candidly disgusted by the abuser and empathetic toward the abused — has prompted a tide of reactions from others on social media who have longed for a voice like Aquilina's in the American judicial system.
And it wasn't just Aquilina who was on hand to offer support to survivors.
Those who gave statements against Nassar got an assist from Preston, a therapy dog who was on hand to greet and comfort each person after they finished giving their statements.
The black lab wore an adorable blue bandana throughout the sentencing hearing that signaled to him that he was "on the clock" and responsible for providing comfort to the testifiers, his handler explained.
Image courtesy of Small Talk Children's Assessment Center.
Preston's presence is just another of the ways in which Nassar's victims have been supported throughout the trial — by being given the respect and resources that they need.
It's a tragedy that Nassar's crimes went unpunished and ignored for so many years, but this trial proves the world is moving in the right direction.
Many victims of sexual assault refuse to testify due to the often harsh and emotionally difficult treatment they receive at the hands of the legal system. The treatment that these testifiers have received in Aquilina's courtroom proves that the tide is turning.
Aquilina is showing the sports world, and everyone really, a way forward on how to both honor the survivors of abuse and hold the next abuser accountable — before they become the next Nassar.