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Survivors of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse respond to 175-year prison sentence

"All of these girls grew up to be strong women who destroyed his world."
Larry Nassar
Photo: Getty Images

After a long and emotional seven-day hearing, former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar sat through 156 impact statements from survivors of sexual abuse — abuse that is on his hands. And today, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced him to up to 175 years in prison for seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual misconduct in Ingham County.

This came on top of the 60 years he was sentenced to back in December for charges of child pornography. Nassar still faces sentencing later this month for three more counts of sexual misconduct in Eaton County, MLive.com reports.

"Your words these past several days…your words…have had a significant emotional effect on myself and they shake me to my core," Nassar said on Wednesday, repeatedly turning to address the women who sat behind him. "...I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days."

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"I want you to know that as much as it was my honor and privilege to hear the sister survivors, it is my honor and privilege to sentence you," Judge Aquilina told Nassar. "I just signed your death warrant."

"Justice requires an action and a voice," Judge Aquilina said, stating that there "has to be a massive investigation as to why there was inaction, why there was silence" from organizations like USA Gymnastics (USAG) and MSU, where Nassar was employed full-time.

USAG issued a statement after the hearing attributed to President Kerry Perry: "I am profoundly saddened that a single woman, a single girl, a single athlete was hurt. USA Gymnastics applauds Judge Rosemarie Aquilina for handing Nassar the maximum sentence of up to 175 years, in an effort to bring justice to those he abused and punish him for his horrific behavior." You can read the full statement here.

In an open letter released right after the hearing, U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) CEO Scott Blackmun called on all current USAG directors to resign and has promised an independent investigation "to examine how an abuse of this proportion could have gone undetected for so long." It stated, "The purpose of this message is to tell all of Nassar’s victims and survivors, directly, how incredibly sorry we are." You can view the full letter here.

MSU said they will conduct an internal review of the handling of Nassar's case. Spokesperson Jason Cody wrote on the university’s website that Wednesday’s sentencing "represents another important step toward justice," and said that Nassar will "rightfully spend the rest of his life in prison. … The thoughts and prayers of the entire MSU community are with these women." You can read the full statement here.

Survivors respond

Rachael Denhollander

Denhollander, the first person to file a criminal complaint against Nassar when she was 15 and the last to give her impact statement Wednesday, told CNN after the verdict that 175 years was "absolutely" right.

"You made this happen," Judge Aquilina said to Denhollander of her public accusation back in 2016 that started it all. "You are the bravest person I've ever had in my courtroom."

When asked if she thought the case against Nassar would ever turn into what it did, Denhollander responded, "The number of sexual assault victims Larry had was plain to me. Whether or not anyone would feel safe enough to come forward — that was the wild card."

Denhollander also said that she always knew she wasn’t the only one abused by Nassar because "that’s how pedophiles operate."

Lindsey Lemke

Lemke, whose impact statement read by her mother declared, "you’ve pissed off the wrong army of women," posted to Twitter after the hearing, "One down, hope the rest of you are ready…"

"Larry is sentenced, but there's still so much more work to to do," Lemke said at a news conference afterwards. "We're not going to heal all the way until we know exactly who knew what, when, and how they're going to fix it."

Kaylee Lorincz

Lorincz told Nassar in her impact statement that he "underestimated the mind, power, and will" of these survivors. She said after his sentencing, "I can’t believe how fast it went, and how much I went through in this 18-month process. But I want answers, I want accountability. These people need to step up. I will fight for the answers. I won’t stop until I get the answers that I want."

Jordyn Wieber

Wieber gave her impact statement last Friday and took to Twitter early Wednesday evening to thank Judge Aquilina and those who came forward with their stories: "Thank you to Judge Aquilina. Thank you to EVERY SINGLE person that came forward and shared their story, both in and out of the courtroom. And thank you to everyone who has reached out in support. justice was served today and now it’s time for CHANGE #timesup."

Attached to the tweet was a prose verse from Nikita Gill's "People Survive in Different Ways."

Olivia Cowan 

Cowan, who testified last week, could not make it to Nassar's sentencing Wednesday, but she told NBC 5 that the distance didn't change its impact. "It was just the best feeling," she said. "It was closure for me and for a lot of families around the world."

Cowan acknowledged, though, that there's a long road ahead, as NBC 5 reports she's also part of a civil case involving MSU, USAG and Nassar.

Simone Biles

Biles, who revealed earlier this month that she too fell victim to Nassar’s abuse but did not give a statement at his hearing, also posted a thank-you to Judge Aquilina and her sister survivors on Twitter and Instagram.

"Shout out to all of the survivors for being so brave & speaking like the queens that you are while looking at that monster," she wrote. "He will no longer have the power to steal our happiness or joy. I stand with every one of you."

Larissa Boyce

Boyce said that each survivor who came forward, it was a snowball effect. 

"In that courtroom, seeing women start to take back their power, there was really a sense of a shift ... of women saying, 'wait a minute, I'm not a number. I am a name. I am a real person,'" Boyce said. "Because we were backed by such a wonderful army who we knew experienced the same things, we just started gaining confidence."

Aly Raisman 

Raisman, who made her statement to the court last Friday, told The Washington Post in an interview before Wednesday's verdict, "I don’t think people understand just how bad this was. I don’t think they have all the pieces, and understand how USA Gymnastics and the USOC created the perfect environment for this monster."

After the verdict, she responded in many ways. Like others before her, she tweeted out a letter thanking Judge Aquilina and the survivors of Nassar's abuse, and she reiterated what she's said in the past — that there's still work to be done. 

Raisman also shared a list of survivors to her Twitter and Instagram accounts (the graphic tweeted out by Detroit Free Press at the top of this article). 

She appeared on the TODAY Show Thursday morning. When asked if she felt in her heart that justice was served, the Olympian said a hesitant, "No," then continued, "I mean it's not something where you just instantly feel better. You know, we need to hold these organizations accountable — USA Gymnastics, United States Olympic Committee, MSU ― they need an independent investigation. This is bigger than Larry Nassar."

Kyle Stephens

According to TIME, Stephens, the first survivor to read her impact statement last Tuesday and the only one of Nassar's known victims who wasn't an athlete, said, "He’s going away for a really long time, he’s not practicing medicine any more, and he’s not fooling anyone any more."

During her statement last week, Stephens confronted Nassar directly, saying, "Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever." And she concluded her response to the verdict by declaring, "All of these girls grew up to be strong women who destroyed his world."