Larry Nassar's Survivors Speak, And Finally The World Listens — And Believes : Believed The world watches as more than 200 women and girls confront Larry Nassar at his sentencing hearings. "Little girls don't stay little forever," says one survivor. "They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world."
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Larry Nassar's Survivors Speak, And Finally The World Listens — And Believes

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Larry Nassar's Survivors Speak, And Finally The World Listens — And Believes

Larry Nassar's Survivors Speak, And Finally The World Listens — And Believes

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It's Kate.

SMITH: And this is Lindsey.

WELLS: We need a little bit of your help. It would be great if you could take a quick survey about the show. Go to That'll help NPR learn more about you and the kind of stuff you like to listen to. That again is

SMITH: This is our final episode. And so one more time, we have the same warning. You're going to get a lot more out of this if you go back and start with the first episode. We use adult language, and we are going to talk about sexual assault and other tough subjects.


ROSEMARIE AQUILINA: This is Docket 17-425FY, people of the State of Michigan versus Lawrence Gerard Nassar. Counsel, your appearances, for the record...

WELLS: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - the first day of Larry Nassar's sentencing hearing, the first day survivors get to face him in person. This place is packed. It is crazy how young some of the faces in this courtroom are. It is one thing to know that Larry Nassar's victims are young. It is another to actually see 15-year-olds sitting here with their moms. Larry is brought in. His hands are uncuffed. He sits up at the front next to his lawyer in the witness stand. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina wants him here so victims can look at him directly while they make their statements.


AQUILINA: And you understand that you are here for sentencing today?

LARRY NASSAR: Yes, your honor.

WELLS: Larry is hunched over in a faded blue jail jumpsuit and orange Crocs. The lawyers run through some last-minute logistics. And then it starts. A young woman in a black dress, hair twisted back off her face, is the first to approach the podium.


AQUILINA: Please state and spell your name for the record.

KYLE STEPHENS: Kyle Stephens, K-Y-L-E S-T-E-P-H-E-N-S.

WELLS: Thank you, the judge tells her. What would you like me to know? Does that mean I should start, Kyle asks. The judge nods. Kyle takes a breath.


STEPHENS: Good morning. My name is Kyle Stephens. Up until this point, I've been known as Victim ZA or family friend. I was the first to testify in this case. And worried of the attention that could come with that, I asked for complete anonymity. This process has been horrific but surprisingly therapeutic. I'm addressing you publicly today as a final step in statement to myself that I have nothing to be ashamed of.


WELLS: We told you about Kyle Stephens in Episode 3. Her parents were close friends with the Nassars. Larry abused Kyle in his basement starting when she was 6 years old. She's the girl who told her parents, the girl who wasn't believed until she was.

SMITH: And there is something beautiful about this part of Kyle's story. And I'm not trying to paint a silver lining, but I do want to acknowledge something that we've heard over and over from survivors of Larry Nassar's abuse. It is beautiful when you're finally believed.

WELLS: I'm Kate Wells.

SMITH: And I'm Lindsey Smith. This is BELIEVED.


SMITH: A year and a half before Kyle Stephens set foot in that courtroom to face the man who abused her, Kyle found out she was not Larry's only victim. In the fall of 2016, she's in her 20s, living in Chicago, and she sees Rachael Denhollander's story, sees that others are accusing Larry of abuse, too, publicly. And Kyle knows this is her second chance. No one believed her when she was a kid. Her parents didn't take her to police, just a child psychologist. But now, with Rachael's story out there, Kyle doesn't hesitate. She calls the police.

WELLS: And Kyle's police report is critical because what police realize when they hear Kyle's story is that her abuse doesn't have anything to do with so-called medical techniques. What Larry did to her, it is so clearly just straightforward child abuse. And that means police can use Kyle's story to get a search warrant for Larry's house because that's where the abuse took place. Then police get a warrant for Larry's arrest.

SMITH: Three days before Thanksgiving 2016, Larry Nassar stops at a tire shop, starts filling up the tires of his SUV. A team of undercover police officers moves in. For the first time ever, Larry is arrested. Police take him back to the station. Larry's quiet and cooperative. A young officer takes his fingerprints.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Stand up against - would you back up to that gray wall there? Would you look at the camera here? We're just going to take a few pictures, and then we're going to be all done, OK?

SMITH: Larry looks, to use a detective's word, mopey. He's still got that mopey face when police have him take off his glasses for a mug shot.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Ready? One, two, three.


SMITH: While he's getting booked, Kyle Stephens gets a phone call. It's Detective Andrea Munford. She tells Kyle, we got him.

STEPHENS: Yeah. She just called me, and she goes, hey, I just want to let you know that we just arrested Larry. He was pumping up his tires. It was hilarious (laughter). And I was like, yay, this is awesome.

SMITH: Do you go have a beer (laughter)?

STEPHENS: Yeah. And I was like, and we're having wine tonight (laughter).


SMITH: That night, Kyle celebrates, and Larry Nassar spends his first night in jail.

WELLS: After a childhood of holidays spent with the Nassar family, Kyle was pretty sure she's ruined Larry Nassar's Thanksgiving.

SMITH: You heard some of Kyle's story in Episode 3 but not all of it. You might recall Kyle first told her parents about Larry in 2004, when she was 12.

WELLS: Larry of course denied he abused Kyle. And Kyle's parents believed him. After about a year of insisting she was telling the truth about Larry, Kyle gave in, told her parents she had made it all up. She hadn't made it up of course, but it seemed like the easier thing to do to survive. She and her dad fought about it all the time.

SMITH: But then after that admission, Kyle says her dad insisted she apologize to Larry for falsely accusing him. Kyle refused. And over the years, she distanced herself from her family. But in 2008, something shifts. Kyle is 18 years old. She's getting ready to go off to college. She and her dad are at it again.

STEPHENS: I got in a fight with my dad, and he pulled the same card. He said, you need to - you never apologized to Larry. And I realized I'm leaving for college in a month. This guy has no more power over me. He can't do anything to my life anymore.

SMITH: So for the first time since she was a kid, Kyle tells her dad the truth. I wasn't lying about Larry. Kyle says her dad gets right up in her face.

STEPHENS: And said, what did you say? And I said, I wasn't lying. He just crumpled onto the couch and just stared into space. I think - and just the weight of everything was just crashing over him. And he said, what did he do? And I said, I'm not ready to talk about that, not with you. And he respected that. And I went off to college. And we didn't talk.


SMITH: They didn't talk at first. If you don't remember, Kyle's dad suffers from chronic pain. And on top of that, Kyle says, when she went away to college, her dad had a stroke. You know who actually called Kyle to tell her that?

STEPHENS: Fun fact - I get a call from Larry Nassar while I'm at school. And he says, hey, your dad had a stroke. And I was like, good to know, thanks. I didn't even have - I was like, fuck the whole situation. I don't care. Thanks. Good to know. I don't think I even called my dad.

SMITH: But when Kyle comes home that summer, she notices her dad is different. He's recovering from the stroke. He's less irritable. He's voluntarily taking himself off all the pain medications. And that's when slowly, Kyle's relationship with her dad begins to change. This was all years before Larry was publicly accused. Kyle and her dad - they start talking again. She tells him more about what Larry did to her.

STEPHENS: And the best thing that he did for me was allow me to be mad. And he made no excuses. He just took it. And he told me to say whatever I needed to say to him. I was able to be like, you did this; you said this; that's fucked up; you're fucked up. And he would just be like, you're right; I'm sorry.

And I think the biggest thing about that that a lot of people don't understand and want to - the biggest thing that my mom and I struggle with is that my dad didn't just do that once. He did it all the time. Every time we got into a conversation where it could be brought up, he would say, is there anything you need to say to me? And he would just - continually gave me the opportunity to get it out.

And those were very therapeutic for me, being able to - I think one of the best questions I ever got to ask him was, where is your anger? Why haven't you gone and killed this dude? Because I think that's what I'd be thinking about doing, you know? And being able to ask questions like that and be very thorough - and that takes a lot of time and a lot of humility on the part of my father.

SMITH: Kyle says this is the best thing that's ever happened to her.

STEPHENS: Because my dad was, like, someone I hated for so long. And he came around to - by 2016 was probably one of the closest people to me. He was my rock.


SMITH: Kyle remembers her dad becomes entirely focused on her and her healing. But Kyle's dad is still really sick. Kyle says he's lost a lot of weight. He hardly leaves the house. He confides in Kyle. He's considering suicide.

STEPHENS: He was in a ton of pain, and his quality of life had decayed to the point where no one should have to live that way. But on top of that, he had lost his not only will to live but his own feeling that he mattered in this world. And I think that was directly correlated to his failure as a parent in the situation with me and Larry.

For me, I had come to a point where I recognized that I wanted my father around and I enjoyed him as a person. But it was selfish for me to tell him, I don't want you to take your own life; I want you to stay here with me and live in misery for me. That wasn't fair. And I knew that. So instead, if that's what he wanted, I was going to support him.


SMITH: Kyle's father took his own life in March of 2016.


WELLS: Before Kyle even has time to grieve or process her dad's death, she sees that article about Rachael Denhollander in the IndyStar. That is when Kyle calls the police. And for months, Kyle throws herself into the Larry Nassar case. She makes trips back to Michigan, working with police to get him arrested. She's actually the first victim to testify against him in the preliminary hearings. And the whole time, in court, she is known only as Victim ZA. Kyle wants her name, her face, her life kept private as much as possible until this moment.


AQUILINA: Please state and spell your name for the record.

WELLS: January 16, 2018 - Larry's sentencing.


STEPHENS: Kyle Stephens.

WELLS: When Kyle volunteers to be the first to face him and use her full name.



WELLS: Kyle's mom stands a few steps behind her on her right. News cameras click, click, click, click, click. And Kyle's voice shakes as she tells the full courtroom the raw specific details of Larry's abuse - how it started when she was just 6 years old, how he put his fingers inside her, masturbated in front of her, rubbed her feet on his penis, how her parents didn't believe her.


STEPHENS: Larry Nassar's actions had already caused me significant anguish. But I hurt worse as I watched my father realize what he had put me through. My father and I did our best to patch up our tattered relationship before he committed suicide in 2016. Admittedly, my father was experiencing debilitating health issues, but had he not had to bear the shame and self-loathing that stemmed from his defense of Larry Nassar, I believe he would have had a fighting chance for his life.

Larry Nassar wedged himself between myself and my family and used his leverage as my parents' trusted friend to pry us apart until we fractured. And fracture we did. My relationship with my mother is still marbled with pain, anger and resentment. And for a long time, I told people that I did not have a family. The complex feelings of shame, disgust and self-hatred brought me bouts of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other compulsive conditions.

Sometimes I think it's hard for people to translate these generic terms into reality. For me, it was a girl crying on the floor for hours, trying not to rip out too much of her hair. For me, it was a girl wanting the pain to stop so badly that she woke up for months to the thought, I want to die. For me, it was a girl getting out her gun and laying it on the bed just to remind herself that she has control over her own life. For me, it was a girl that spent so much time trying to fix herself that she forgot what she actually enjoys doing.

Sexual abuse is so much more than a disturbing physical act. It changes the trajectory of a victim's life, and that is something that no one has the right to do. Your honor, with your permission, I would now like to address the defendant.

AQUILINA: You may.

STEPHENS: After my parents confronted you, they brought you back to my house to speak with me. Sitting on my living room couch, I listened to you tell me, no one should ever do that, and if they do, you should tell someone. Well, Larry, I'm here not to tell someone but to tell everyone.

SMITH: Kyle glances around the courtroom. Then she glares at Larry.


STEPHENS: You used my body for six years for your own sexual gratification. That is unforgivable. I've been coming for you for a long time. I told counselors your name in hopes that they would report you. I have reported you to Child Protective Services twice. I gave a testament to get your medical license revoked. You were first arrested on my charges. And now, as the only non-medical victim to come forward, I've testified to let the world know that you are a repulsive liar and that those treatments were pathetically veiled sexual abuse. Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don't stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.

SMITH: The crowded courtroom remains quiet.

WELLS: But Kyle's words, little girls don't stay little forever - overnight, it's like they are everywhere - on protest signs at women's marches, in headlines in the national news.

SMITH: Going into the first day of Larry's sentencing, prosecutors say there are about 98 people who want to speak in court. But something happens after that first day. Survivors who had not yet come forward saw Kyle's statement and started just showing up. Bekah Snyder works for the prosecutor's office. Her entire job was to help coordinate all the victims. She remembers one mom in particular walks into court...

BEKAH SNYDER: Really quiet and stoic and said, I need to add my daughter's name to the list. And I was like, OK, great. I introduce myself. And I'm, you know, trying to get some information from her. And she just starts crying. And she goes, she just told us last night that she was also abused.


SMITH: Bekah says that's when she starts realizing, oh, my God, there are girls sitting at home, watching this on TV and realizing, I'm ready to come forward now, too.

SNYDER: And the next day being ready to give an impact statement is unbelievable. But they were empowered by the other women.

WELLS: Kyle's statement does something else, too. By using her name publicly and putting her face out there on TV for the whole world to see, Kyle sent a message. I am not ashamed.

SMITH: At first, a lot of survivors don't want to use their names when they face Larry in court, like this 17-year-old.


JADE CAPUA: This is something about me that I have always been afraid to share with people. I couldn't help but fear that people were going to look at me differently.

SMITH: But after Kyle, that starts to change.


CAPUA: After thinking about it and taking time to cope with facing this fear of mine, I decided to finally put a name to it. I am Jade Capua, and I am a survivor.

SMITH: And then they just keep coming.


ALEXIS ALVARADO: My name is Alexis Alvarado, and my childhood innocence was stolen from me at the hands of Larry Nassar at the age of 12.

LINDSEY LEMKE: I was abused so many times that I can't even remember when the first time was. I just know that I was only 10 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Ten years old.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Eleven years old.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Twelve years old.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Twelve years old.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Twelve years old.

MADDIE JOHNSON: He was the doctor. I was the child. I had no idea what to think.

KAYLEE MCDOWELL: You gave me your Olympic jacket with your name on the inside tag.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: He gave me a pen from one of the Olympic...

ANYA GILLENGERTEN: Gifts - backpack, shirts, a water bottle.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Autographed photos of famous gymnasts, which made me feel special.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: I thought I was special.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: It made me feel so special at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: He made us all feel like we were special.

ISABELL HUTCHINS: Because of the monster that is Larry Nassar, I am afraid to trust anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: I had my first mental breakdown during the summer of 2006.

ARIANNA GUERRERO: I have depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #12: I don't want to get out of bed. I don't want to go to work.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #13: I was a happy, fun-loving, bubbly little girl, turned into a depressed, bitter mess of a person.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #14: And I'm scared. I'm scared. I'm on medication. I'm scared if I go off...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: I might not be here talking to you today if MSU would have listened and acted in an ethical and moral manner.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #16: I told you back in 1997.

HUTCHINS: How could you have not said anything or not done anything?

MORGAN MCCAUL: How many little girls could have been spared from this lifelong battle?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #17: It is mind-blowing to me why someone wasn't listening to me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #18: And shame on you for not listening to young women.


SMITH: Ultimately, 204 women and girls tell their stories. Each day, the crowd in the courtroom gets bigger - more reporters, more cameras, more victims. And each day, Rachael Denhollander is there to watch as all the survivors give their impact statements, every single one. And as the final day of sentencing approaches, everybody knows the woman who had started this case would be the one to finish it. On that last day, lead prosecutor Angela Povilaitis stands to introduce Rachael. She tells the court, from the moment I met Rachael, I knew this day would come.


ANGELA POVILAITIS: There was no doubt that she would carry this case and that the world would hear her and believe her and that the truth would be exposed.

SMITH: That's coming up after the break.


WELLS: It's easy now with the sheer number of survivors to forget that for so long, Rachael Denhollander's name was the only one out there. The other women and girls who come into court during the sentencing, they mostly don't know each other.

But they know Rachael. They know her story. They know this whole case started with her report. They know they probably would not be here without her. They would approach her in the court room shyly and say thank you or, can I give you a hug? She was like this talisman, like the unofficial symbol of the Larry Nassar case. And Rachael's words - they turn out to be less a victim impact statement and more of a sermon about all of us. Rachael tells the court, this whole case comes down to just one question.


RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER: How much is a little girl worth? How much is a young woman worth? What was done to myself and these other women and little girls and the fact that our sexual violation was enjoyed by Larry matters. It demands justice. And the sentence you impose today will send a message about how much these precious women and children are worth.

SMITH: Larry is a predator, Rachael says.

WELLS: But the institutions, the cultures that enabled him - they have failed us, too.


DENHOLLANDER: And I would like to take a moment now to address both organizations whose failures led to my sexual assault because it is part of the consequences that I know carry.

WELLS: First, she says, Michigan State University. Ever since the Nassar scandal became public, the school's president and the trustees insisted that determined sexual predators are almost impossible to stop or that the survivors were just ambulance chasers and always, always beating the same drum. This is a Larry Nassar problem, they said, not an MSU problem.


DENHOLLANDER: You issue a press statement saying there was no cover-up because no one who heard the reports of assault believed that Larry was committing abuse. You play word games, saying you didn't know because no one believed. I know that. And the reason everyone who heard about Larry's abuse did not believe it is because they did not listen. They did not listen in 1997 or 1998 or 1999 or 2000 or 2004 or 2014. Victims were silenced, intimidated, repeatedly told it was medical treatment and even forced to go back for continued sexual assaults.

WELLS: And for USA Gymnastics, Rachael says, Larry Nassar is one symptom of a much larger infection.


DENHOLLANDER: I did not know that at the same time Larry was penetrating me, USAG was systematically burying reports of sexual assaults against member coaches in a file cabinet instead of reporting them, creating a culture where predators like Larry and so many others in the organization were able to sexually abuse children, including our Olympians, without any fear of being caught.

SMITH: There is a personal cost to taking on a battle like this. Rachael's told us she had nightmares before and after every interview she gave, nightmares where she's back in Larry's treatment room. She's lost friendships over her decision to speak out publicly about abuse. She lost her church, her privacy. And in exchange, Larry's supporters called her a liar in it for the money, for the fame.


DENHOLLANDER: But I want you to understand why I made this choice knowing full well what it was going to cost to get here and with very little hope of ever succeeding. I did it because it was right. No matter the cost, it was right. And the farthest I can run from what you have become is to daily choose what is right instead of what I want.

SMITH: And then Rachael turns to her faith, something that has guided Rachael through her entire life, sure, but especially through this process of getting justice. And she appeals to Larry's faith in God, too.


DENHOLLANDER: The Bible you carry says it is better for a millstone to be thrown around your neck and you thrown into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet, because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so that you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me, though I extend that to you as well.


SMITH: After Rachael offers Larry forgiveness, she addresses us and you, people watching the sentencing, this case play out in a way we've never seen before.


DENHOLLANDER: Look around the courtroom. Remember what you have witnessed these past seven days. This is what it looks like when someone chooses to put their selfish desires above the safety and love for those around them. This is what it looks like when the adults in authority do not respond properly to disclosures of sexual assault. This is what it looks like when institutions create a culture where a predator can flourish, unafraid and unabated. And this is what it looks like when people in authority refuse to listen, put friendships in front of the truth, fail to create or enforce proper policy and fail to hold enablers accountable.

This is what it looks like. It looks like a courtroom full of survivors who carry deep wounds, women and girls who have banded together to fight for themselves because no one else would do it. Judge Aquilina, I plead with you, as you deliberate the sentence to give Larry, send a message that these victims are worth everything. I plead with you to impose the maximum sentence under the plea agreement because everything is what these survivors are worth. Thank you.

WELLS: Finally, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina announces her sentence for Larry Nassar - 40 to 175 years in prison.

SMITH: I just signed your death warrant, she tells him.


AQUILINA: Thank you. That's all for the record.



SMITH: Kate and I want to say thank you to all the survivors. Thank you for your courage and inspiration.


WELLS: And a special thank-you to those survivors who took so much time for this series - Trinea Gonczar, Brianne Randall-Gay, Kyle Stephens, Amanda and Jessica Thomashow, Kaylee Lorincz and of course Rachael Denhollander. Thank you to all their families, too, the men and women who generously gave their emotional energy and shared their insights all because they want us to learn from this case. Finally, thank you, the lead prosecutor on this case, Angela Povilaitis, and Detective Andrea Munford.

SMITH: OK, we told you this was the last episode, but we have a little bonus coming next week because of course the story does not end as neatly as what you just heard. This week's show was reported by me, Lindsey Smith, and Kate Wells, produced by Juliet Hinely with help from Paulette Parker, edited by Sarah Hulett with help from Alison MacAdam, engineered and mixed by Bob Skon. Jennifer Guerra is the show's executive producer. Zoe Clark is our program director. Our theme music is by Paul Brill, additional music by Ramtin Arablouei.

WELLS: Special thanks to Emma Winowiecki, Jodi Westrick, Rebecca Williams, Vince Duffy, Amy Tardif, Len Niehoff, Nisa Kahn, Hannah Rubenstein and Lara Moehlman, and the folks at NPR - Mark Memmott, Ashley Messenger, Camille Smiley and N'Jeri Eaton. We would love it if you shared this podcast. And remember to fill out our survey at Finally, thank you so much for listening.

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