LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In a courtroom in Michigan, there have been weeks of harrowing testimony in the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar. He's the disgraced former doctor for the U.S. gymnastics team who stands accused of sexually abusing more than 140 women and girls - among them, Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, Gabby Douglas and Ali Raisman. On Tuesday, a family friend of Nassar's testified that he sexually abused her for six years as a child. Her powerful words have become a national news story on their own.
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KYLE STEPHENS: Perhaps you have figured it out by now. The little girls don't stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The woman who spoke those words, Kyle Stephens, joins us now from Chicago. Welcome to the program.
STEPHENS: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How did you come up with those words that resonated so powerfully?
STEPHENS: I spent a lot of time working on my statement. It was really just whenever I had a feeling or a line pop into my head, I wrote it down for the nearly two years that we were kind of going through that whole emotional process. Federal sentencing - we'd been through police investigations. We had been through testimony and preliminary hearings. So then I just kind of tied them all together.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: For those who may not know your story - and I know it's difficult to talk about it. But Nassar's abuse started when you were in kindergarten. And it destroyed your family in many ways.
STEPHENS: It did. Yeah. My parents were good friends with Larry Nassar and his wife Stephanie. So when I accused him - those details are super uncomfortable, as you can imagine. So I didn't divulge all of them. And so my parents ended up choosing to believe him. And then kind of conversely, them believing that I was a liar and that I would lie about something so horrific really created a huge rift in my family.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then years later, when it was apparent that, in fact, it was true what you were saying, it caused your parents some real difficulty.
STEPHENS: Yeah. My mom - it's so, so incredibly hard for her now. My mom's just trying to do the best she can by me. And I think my dad did the same thing before he passed.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was going through your mind as you heard the testimonies of the other women in court? Did you realize that there were so many, many others?
STEPHENS: I knew that there were so many others. The prosecutors and the detective had kind of kept me updated on the numbers whenever we spoke. But I think once you get in there and all these numbers - now they have faces, and they have moms, and they have dads. And then they get up behind that podium, and now they have a story. You feel sadness because they're so bravely standing up there and talking about their raw pain.
And then you feel so proud of them that they're able to do that - not only to him but in front of the whole world because so many of them have chosen to be publicly identified. And then you feel - I think you also feel a little bit of relief because you're listening to them detail their pain. And as much as you don't want them to be going through it, now you're not the only one. And you know you're not crazy. Now all those feelings and those emotions aren't really a part of your personality, like you believed. But they're a symptom of what Larry Nassar did to you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's been clear throughout this trial that seeing women speaking out has encouraged others to do so. You know, originally, I think 80 women were going to speak at the trial. And now it's 120. Some said they decided to speak after hearing testimony like yours.
STEPHENS: Yeah. One of the most incredible things is to see the prosecutor walk up and say, our next victim is going to be anonymous. Please turn off the cameras. And then the person gets up in the courtroom and says, you know, I've changed my mind. I'm going to speak now. That is one of the most incredible things I've ever seen.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Administrators at Michigan State are currently facing a lot of scrutiny after reports surfaced that they were told about Larry Nassar's behavior, and they didn't act. USA gymnastics, as well, has been called out in court. Do these institutions need to face repercussions in your view for the failure to protect young girls in their care?
STEPHENS: Absolutely. I mean, we need to translate all of this into processes and policies that support reporting and prevent this from happening. And the fact that Michigan State and USA Gymnastics are on the first step where they don't want to admit that they have a problem or that they're a part of the problem - they're just holding all these women back from healing. They are a roadblock on our path to change.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you hope comes from this trial?
STEPHENS: Obviously, I want Larry Nassar to be put behind bars. And that's going to happen.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's already been convicted for child pornography.
STEPHENS: Yes. But as horrific as this has been for all of the victims, it's a moment of light. It's a moment of clarity for us as a society to say, wake up. We can't let this happen again.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Kyle Stephens, who testified at the trial of Larry Nassar. Thank you very much for speaking with us today.
STEPHENS: Thank you.
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