Columnist Donna Jenson: Gymnasts, judge help fuel movement

  • Victims react and hug Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis after Larry Nassar was sentenced by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to 40 to 175 years in prison, during a sentencing hearing Jan. 24 in Lansing, Mich. Nassar has admitted sexually assaulting athletes when he was employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which is the sport's national governing organization and trains Olympians. AP FILE PHOTO

Published: 1/29/2018 12:14:42 AM

I pledge my allegiance to over 150 women who stood up in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s courtroom, found their voices, stepped into the national floodlights of attention and gave themselves an experience in courage — a sparkling courage that is rippling out to us all. What grit! What moxie! What lightning bolts of inspiration are each and every one of them.

Another set of accolades I send out to Judge Aquilina. Armed with her judicial power, she fostered an incredibly important act of empowerment in this 21st-century movement for resistance to and elimination of the sexual exploitation that has existed as long as history has been recorded.

Both sides of this equation are absolutely necessary for the eradication of sexual exploitation in all its horrendous forms: Survivors standing tall, with cameras rolling, telling their stories, and a representative of the power base clearing the room, providing unlimited space and time for those stories. Take as long as you need to say all you want to say, she told them.

How can I even express the vast importance of that level of validation? It has ramifications — the yet-to-be-seen results and consequences of these acts of courage and use of power.

How many survivors witnessing these acts are being fed a dose of validation and inspiration? I love that these women are standing — heads held high atop strong spines. Such a grand contradiction to the years my spirit lived well into my 30s crouched in a fetal position doing all she could to hold down my father’s crime because of his oft-repeated threat, “You tell anyone and I’ll kill you.”

I’m certain each time a survivor stands up and proclaims their experience a thousand sister and brother survivors’ spirits unfold, take a deep breath and have a good stretch. I wish I could stand before each and every one of these amazing women, look them right in the eye and say “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

The responses Judge Aquilina offered after the victim statements were a grand about-face to the all-too-often victim-blaming that happens. She underscored statement after statement with praise, gratitude, and support for the women who came forward. Things like, “The military has not yet come up with fiber as strong as you” calling them “heroine” and “superhero” and “Mattel ought to make toys so that little girls can look at you and say, ‘I want to be her.’ Thank you so much for being here, and for your strength.”

What really choked me up was when she said, “Leave your pain here and go out and do your magnificent things.”

Where, dear goddess, did this cowboy-booted judge with a terrific upsweep hairdo come from? No matter — all that matters is she is here, now. Here for these young women who survived childhood sexual abuse, here for the millions of us like them. Here too, as a shining searchlight for all who have power — to follow her stellar example and use that power for the greater good, in the battle to end this epidemic.

One thing about the man Lawrence Nassar: I believe he wasn’t born an abuser. Whatever brought him to commit his crimes — like all abusers — must be purged from our culture for this epidemic to be stopped.

We are living not just a #MeToo/Times Up moment — it is a movement, and the gymnasts and judge are major engines in keeping the momentum going. You can, too.

Join by giving gratitude to the doers, financial support to organizations serving survivors and your voice anywhere and everywhere you can use it. Come on along — this is one hell of a ride!

Donna Jenson, of Leverett, is founder of Time To Tell ( and author of “Healing My Life from Incest to Joy.”

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