date of testimony: January 23th 2018
location of testimony: Lansing, Michigan
I hesitated in deciding to come today like so many women have because I thought with a hundred people, do you really need to hear one more? And also I feel kind of old looking at some of them. They are young enough to be my daughters, and that’s why I’m here, because it needs to be in the light.
When I first heard the news reports about Larry Nassar at the end of 2016, I didn’t believe them. I thought it must be a misunderstanding. I knew the real Larry. I’ve known him for 30 years and he was my friend. I met him when I was nine when I broke my toe at the gym. He taped my toes together and sent me on my way. I felt safe and unafraid.
Often life in gymnastics was challenging, difficult, even traumatic. That back room at the gym was a safe haven, and he helped me with so many injuries that I lost count years ago. I and others looked for an excuse to go see Larry because it offered some reprieve from the pressures of training.
Usually it was my back pain that took me to him and I began to learn about techniques like muscle energy and myofascial release. I found it fascinating. I thought of him as both a friend and a mentor. He often went out of his way to be helpful.
He always would squeeze you in if you needed him. It almost seemed too good to be true.
I retired from gymnastics while I was still in high school and moved away to college. I saw Larry occasionally but my back stabilized in that time and we didn’t see much of each other. Over the years we stayed friends exchanging the occasional letter. We had lunch at least once on the MSU campus. These were not inappropriate exchanges; simply mentor/mentee and old friends. I attended his wedding in ’96 and we exchanged family Christmas cards.
Occasionally I would have the nagging feeling that the friendship was a bit one-sided but I assumed that was just the nature of his position and status. He was busy with his successful career and his beautiful family. Good for him.
I eventually decided to become a physical therapist because I wanted to be able to help others through osteopathic-style treatments and manual therapy. I made it through high school, undergrad, and doctorate degree with close to a 4.0 GPS. As a physical therapist, Larry and I worked side by side as we co-treated in his office. He sent patients to me for treatment and I sent patients to him. I still thought he was the best out there.
I saw him when I was very pregnant with my first child and my pelvis slipped out of alignment.
My husband brought me to see Larry after hours and off record. He treated me as a professional courtesy and I left feeling better walking on my own two feet.
I even saw him in the summer of 2016 when I broke my wrist in karate. He identified my fracture, recommended a brace, and sent me on my way. Things were fine.
So I defended Larry when people asked me about the stories I was hearing. I couldn’t bear the thought that he was a predator like people were saying. When these stories were emerging my mom asked me if he had done anything to me and I said, no, and I believed it.
When I started seeing a new osteopath for my chronic pain in my neck and my back and my headaches, she said there was an area in my spine that seemed to be bound up in a way she sometimes sees with trauma victims. She asked in different words if I had been abused. I denied it, but, nevertheless, I experienced an emotional release on the table and I couldn’t stop sobbing, and I didn’t understand why I was crying.
It wasn’t until last week when my own trauma that I had buried so deeply finally started rising to the surface. I read an article by ESPN about a woman with a pseudonym name named Jamie and the tears started falling as I read because her story was almost identical to mine. Somehow I needed someone else to point out to me that what happened was abuse because I couldn’t see it for myself until then. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to see.
I don’t want to lay out all the details here, Your Honor. The brave women who have made statements already have painted a clear picture of the types of things that went on, but I need to seek the truth so that things are clear in my own mind regarding Larry’s behavior and intentions.
A professional doesn’t invite minor girls to his apartment alone to take baths and lay naked, or mostly naked, on a treatment table. But he did.
A professional doesn’t ask minors for help with research or learning new techniques, especially without a parent’s permission or presence, without documentation or oversight, but he did, and he even paid me for it in quarters, a container full of his poker winnings.
As a professional I know there are very few instances where there’s any need to treat a patient skin on skin in a sensitive area, but he did.
A professional does research with informed consent and the presence of parents or colleagues. Professionals generally learn new techniques in a lab setting, again, with informed consent and generally in a room with colleagues, not on little girls.
For my work in youth ministry I’ve done training in Virtus, a program designed to help parents and volunteers know how to keep kids safe from sexual predators.
I’m guessing Larry went through Virtus training. That’s ironic.
My kids have taken the Safe Sheep training about what to watch out for. I’ve had trainings with them. I know the warning signs. Tricky people befriend you and make you feel comfortable and safe. Tricky people ask kids for help and then often give them gifts to gain their trust. Tricky people look for opportunities to be alone with children, sometimes taking pictures without permission. They think the rules don’t apply to them. Tricky people often seem too good to be true.
There were plenty of red flags. As a parent and medical professional I can see that now.
I think the problem all this time was that I still saw Larry with a child’s eyes, a child who looked at him with love and admiration, who was grateful to have his attention and affection. I was blind to what happened because I trusted him implicitly like a child, but now I can see the truth.
After a few years of martial arts training under my belt I feel fairly certain if someone tried to attack me or take advantage of me now I could take them down, or at least get away — so could my bigger kids, they’re learning self defense, too — but when I had been groomed so well and trained to trust so completely and abused so slyly, I didn’t know I needed to defend myself.
I struggled with making this statement feeling embarrassed that my colleagues and other professionals would know what had happened and see it as a weakness or wonder how I could have been blind to what happened, but I am not weak and I will not accept those feelings of embarrassment or shame. I’m leaving those here with him.
Your Honor, I trust that Larry will never have another opportunity to hurt another child. I know you’ve had plenty of statements to ensure that.
And I’m not here to watch Larry suffer. I take no pleasure in that. I’m here because I and every woman who says me too needs to know that the shame we feel rests on our abusers and not on us. I’m here for my sisters and friends that have also been hurt but are not ready to tell their story, because there are more.
I am here so that my three sons and my precious daughter never have to say, me too. I stand here today so that my children and my children’s children and these women surrounding me and I can help create a world where no person of power will have the opportunity to prey on young, innocent women ever again. We have to find a way to transform our society.
I’m here today because of all of these events that have been sitting in darkness need to be brought into the light, because when these painful things are brought to the light and we speak the truth about them, they lose power over us. I am here so that I can recognize the truth and what happened to me and let it go.
I’m here because predators like him need to know that their days of hiding in the shadows are done. For too long powerful men have felt it was their prerogative to take what they wanted, do what they wanted, and touch who they wanted. That has to end now. We are not your possessions or play things to be used and discarded, and we do not consent.
And if I may address Larry now, Your Honor?
You could have made the right choice anywhere along the way. You could have chosen light instead of darkness. You could have gotten help, but you didn’t. And while you can’t go back and undo the harm you’ve done and the pain you’ve caused, I know there is no sin outside the reach of God’s mercy. And Lamentations 3 says, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies are new every morning.
I forgive you, Larry. I will never hate you, and I will be praying for you and for all the people that have been hurt by your actions.
And to my sisters, even though this physician and his supporting institutions failed us, I know a divine physician who sees our secret pain, catches every tear, binds up our wounds, and holds our heart. He loves us and longs to make us whole. Jesus said, I make all things new. He can make something beautiful with our brokenness if we let him.
We know that a single candle can light a darkroom. Imagine what all these flames can do. We will not live in darkness. We will burn brightly.
And to all the abusers and predators and harassers and enablers there, we will burn your pedestals and hiding places to the ground. All your darkest secrets will be brought to the light. We are strong, and we will not let you snuff out our light.
Yes, we will burn brightly, and not with hate but with hope, with new fury and passion to make changes in our gyms and schools and churches and communities that will protect those around us and those who will come after us. That starts now.
THE COURT: Thank you. You started out by wondering if I needed to hear another story. I do.
I do need to hear. I did need to hear what you had to say because it’s not just me listening, at this point the world is listening. I need to hear it for sentencing, but there are — there is such strength in numbers, but there’s also healing in numbers.
There’s sentencing considerations that I have heard from all of you collectively, individually. Each voice is important. Each voice sends a message. Each story, although similar, is very special and there are some facets that are different, so it really helps put all the pieces in perspective, and you are brave. Your words are vital. They are as strong as your martial arts, and those words will take him down quicker and cleaner than any kick you’ve got, I promise. This predator is not going to be protected by his lies and his methods anymore. The methodology of your voices, your stories, each sister survivor is taking him down and, like you said, all predators, so I thank you for coming forward. I know you were hesitant, but you’re important and your voice matters.
MS. BARBA: Thank you, ma’am.