Turning the tables - Shawn Loughlin editorial
In my years as a journalist for The Citizen, one of the most difficult of my tasks has been court reporting. The most difficult aspect of that difficult task is the ever-powerful victim impact statement.
These, perhaps (at least in my mind), are one of the most important aspects of a court case. What exactly happened to the victim as a result of the crime? If a loved one is murdered, the victim’s family members have very literally lost that person forever. However, when it comes to crimes like sexual assault or break and enter, effects can be harder to see.
When someone’s house is burgled, the law views that crime as damage caused (a broken window or door to gain entry to the dwelling) and the goods stolen (putting a dollar value on items taken from the person’s home). However, I have heard judges also discuss a third effect from such a crime, which is the loss of a feeling of safety. Once someone who is unwelcome in the home has shown they can come and go (and do) as they please, will those who live there ever feel safe again?
These are as powerful as statements get. As a reporter, it has been hard for me to hear these kinds of statements. They are often deeply emotional and highly personal.
Larry Nassar, a former physician with the U.S. national gymnastics team and faculty member at Michigan State University, has been accused of sexual assault by nearly 150 women, some of whom were underage at the time of the alleged assault. He has since pled guilty to charges associated with child pornography and sexual assault and, last week, underwent sentencing for his crimes.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has been conducting Nassar’s sentencing hearing, which has spanned several days and has heard from over 100 of Nassar’s victims, many of whom have shared very personal and powerful accounts of what they endured at the hands of Nassar and how they have coped with it in the years following the abuse.
Nassar, however, reached his breaking point and penned a letter to the judge, suggesting that she was carrying out a “media circus” for her own benefit, saying that hearing from this parade of his victims was trying his mental health. “I’m very concerned about my ability to be able to face witnesses this next four days mentally,” Nassar wrote to the judge.
It is a scumbag in the purest sense of the word who could attempt to flip the script and look at himself as a victim, simply as a result of hearing from the women he abused. Had he not abused these women, you’d have to think he wouldn’t be sitting in court and they wouldn’t have anything to say. Surely, he only has himself to blame for what he’s hearing.
Lost in the shuffle as well is just how difficult it must be for Nassar’s victims to speak publically about the abuse they’ve suffered. Of course, that doesn’t matter to him, he can only think of himself.
Don’t do the crime, they have always said, if you can’t do the time. Nassar will most certainly do the time (he has already been sentenced to 60 years in jail for his child pornography crimes) but part of that time is sitting in court and hearing the pain he has caused and the lives he’s affected.
In addition, perhaps in the post-Harvey Weinstein era – very much like our increasing numbness to mass shootings – it’s easy to shrug off nearly 150 victims, but when over 100 women speak, one after the other, the sheer volume of lives affected by Nassar cannot be ignored. And for that volume, he has no one to blame but himself.