Why Women Need to Be Believed

On January 24th, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s words echoed throughout a quiet courtroom: “It is my privilege to sentence you to 40 years… If you survive the 60 years in Federal Court first, and then you start on my 40 years… Sir, I’m giving you 175 years, which is 2,100 months. I just signed your death warrant.”

 

Lawrence Nassar was the ex-team coach for the United State’s Gymnastics Team. He was convicted for his sex crimes against young women prior to and during his time working with them. During his trial, more than 150 women came forward to tell their stories about the abuse they endured at the hands of Nassar, and their haunting accounts were finally heard in a very public manner. But on January 24th, more than just those 150 women experienced justice.

 

When I first heard Nassar’s sentencing, I was elated. Not only was this a victory for every single one of the women Nassar assaulted, but it was a victory for every victim of sexual assault out there. Not only were all of these women heard, but they were understood and believed, with each one of their stories adding their name to the list of women Nassar did wrong against. People were outraged that this had happened for so long without realization or action. There was an outcry of support for these women and the abuse they had endured for years. But was it enough?

 

Why is it that over 150 girls and women have to come forward with their stories? Why is it that when one girl comes forward with her story she is met with skepticism and doubt, but when 150 come forward there is an absolute outcry of anger towards their assaulter? Why do we need a small army of women to speak out against someone to believe that he is a rapist? Why is it that men like Brock Turner, Austin James Wilkerson, and David Becker walk down the street, still given the benefit of the doubt? Why is it that Kyle Stevens, one of the women assaulted by Larry Nassar, tried to tell her parents about the abuse, they didn’t believe her?

 

While this trial was a monumental win, it shouldn’t have had to come to this. It should never have to come to this amount of women harmed for this man to finally be labeled as what he is: A rapist. People were outraged over 150 women, by why are they willing to look the other way when it happens to one woman? One in five women are assaulted during their lifetime, but less than 35 percent report their rape or sexual assault. Only 9 percent of rapists will be prosecuted and only 3 percent of rapists will go to prison. The other 97 percent walk free.

 

I believe this trial, along with the #MeToo movement will help more victims come forward, but will it be enough? Will it be enough to get the justice that survivors deserve? Not until everyone stops seeing men like Larry Nassar as the exception, and see them instead as the rule. See every person accused of sexual assault as someone who could go out and do it again. See every victim as someone who lived through a trauma. See girls like Kyle Stevens and listen, not dismiss.