Larry Nassar Is Behind Bars, But Work Continues For His Survivors In the end, Larry Nassar's survivors were believed. But is that enough?
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Larry Nassar Is Behind Bars, But Work Continues For His Survivors

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Larry Nassar Is Behind Bars, But Work Continues For His Survivors

Larry Nassar Is Behind Bars, But Work Continues For His Survivors

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  • Transcript

KATE WELLS, HOST:

Hey, it's Kate.

LINDSEY SMITH, HOST:

And Lindsey again. Before we jump in, we want to say thanks. There is no way NPR stations like ours can make these shows without you. We can spend money and time on this because of you, because you support stories that are messy and complicated, that introduce you to real people affected by the stories you see in the headlines. All over the country, NPR stations and journalists are doing work like this. You can support them when you give to your local station. Make your gift now at donate.npr.org/believed, and thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROSEMARIE AQUILINA: Would you like to withdraw your plea?

LARRY NASSAR: No, your honor.

AQUILINA: Because you are guilty, aren't you? Are you guilty, sir?

NASSAR: I have said my plea exactly.

WELLS: So here is the thing that kills us about where that last episode left off, with Judge Rosemarie Aquilina giving Larry Nassar up to 175 years in prison.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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

(APPLAUSE)

WELLS: The bad guy got put away. Survivors were believed.

SMITH: It makes it feel like the whole thing, the whole Larry Nassar case, was just wrapped up with a pretty bow. But real life is so much messier than that. We've been following some of these women and girls for the last year, the survivors you've heard in this series. And before we truly end this podcast, we want to show you just a little bit of what their lives are like now.

JOHN ENGLER: We have three minutes set aside for each of you. We have 17 speakers.

WELLS: For instance, this past spring, I went to this meeting at Michigan State University, a board of trustees meeting. This was before the school settled with the Nassar survivors for $500 million. Trustees meetings now - they are often packed with reporters and students and people protesting how the school is handling the Nassar case. They're calling for more reforms and transparency.

KAYLEE LORINCZ: President Engler and board of trustees, my name is Kaylee Lorincz, and I am first and foremost a survivor. In December...

WELLS: You met Kaylee in Episode 6. She's 19, 4-foot-11, used to be kind of shy. She's not anymore. She starts telling the people at this meeting about a recent conversation she had with MSU's interim president, John Engler. Engler used to be the governor of Michigan, and he's the one running this public board meeting. He took over at MSU after the previous president resigned because of the Nassar case.

LORINCZ: I told him how much I love MSU and wanted to help them heal, to make real change. He explained all the new things they've implemented, which sounded promising, but said working together couldn't occur until the civil suits are settled. Mr. Engler then looked directly at me and asked, right now, if I wrote you a check for $250,000, would you take it? When I explained that it's not about the money for me and that I just want to help, he said, well, give me a number.

WELLS: Kaylee goes on. She says Engler told her he had also met with Rachael Denhollander and that she had given him a number. By the way, Rachael says that definitely did not happen.

LORINCZ: Then President Engler started saying how sad it was that hundreds of good osteopathic doctors at MSU are being judged by one, one bad doctor. My mom interrupted and said, well, what about former dean Strampel? Wasn't he just arrested?

WELLS: She's talking about the former MSU dean William Strampel. He was Larry Nassar's boss at MSU, the one who never followed up to make sure Larry was, you know, getting consent or anything. Strampel was arrested in March. He has been charged with willful neglect of duty because of the way he handled the 2014 complaint against Larry Nassar. But he is also charged with sexually harassing female students himself.

Police say Strampel used his work computer to solicit pornographic images from students. One former student says Strampel groped her butt at a school fundraiser. Kaylee says at this private meeting she had with the school's interim president Engler didn't seem too concerned about a medical school dean harassing students.

LORINCZ: President Engler rolled his eyes and attempted to fluff it off and said, oh, that was no big deal. It was only just a slap on the butt. My mom and I were both so shocked. And my jaw dropped. I said, just a slap on the butt? Larry did that to me, too, and look how that turned out. President Engler then tried to back up his statement saying...

ENGLER: Kaylee, your time is up.

(CROSSTALK)

ENGLER: Her time is up.

WELLS: Now President John Engler is unironically telling a Nassar survivor that her time is up. It's awkward.

ENGLER: Thank you, Kaylee. You're - she's done.

LORINCZ: President Engler, you needed me - I'm not done yet.

ENGLER: You are out of time. I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Why don't you shut up and listen?

LORINCZ: You wanted to talk about money, and I wanted to talk about helping to heal.

WELLS: Later Engler released a statement about that private meeting with Kaylee and her mom. He said he had a different memory and interpretation of what happened. He said he was sorry for anything he said that was misunderstood.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WELLS: This is what real day-to-day life is like for women like Kaylee. It's not always this dramatic, but you get the idea. On one level, these survivors are getting all these accolades for their bravery - glossy magazine spreads, TV award shows. And they appreciate that definitely. But it is one thing for people to say, I believe you were sexually assaulted. It's another to get accountability, for people to fully comprehend that the Larry Nassar case is not just about one bad dude, that Larry did not operate in a vacuum. They're finding that just because people believe them now doesn't mean institutions will be any more transparent or that attitudes will change.

BRIANNE RANDALL-GAY: I think a lot of us are getting to that point now of, you know, we've been fighting this fight, and it's worth it, but it's really hard.

SMITH: Some survivors like Brianne Randall-Gay have basically put their normal jobs and lives on hold. You heard Brianne's story in Episode 2. She is the one who went to police in 2004. Back then, police told her she was not sexually assaulted. But after the Nassar scandal broke, police apologized to Brianne, and they asked her for help. Now Brianne is working with the very same police department that botched her case. That's coming up after the break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMITH: Brianne Randall-Gay lives in Seattle now. But over the last year, she's spent a lot of time back in Michigan working with her hometown police department. They're creating an abuse awareness program.

RANDALL-GAY: So this is to raise a children's training program. This is a two-hour training session created by...

WELLS: Brianne is in a conference room giving a PowerPoint to the Meridian Township police chief, some local school superintendents and rows of mostly empty seats. Only one or two members of the public came out to this community meeting.

RANDALL-GAY: It's a great training program for all adults who have any contact with children today. So far...

WELLS: Afterwards, she's exhausted. She just wants to go outside and eat her lunch. But first she gives interviews to the local TV stations covering this meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We need you to say and spell your name just so we make sure we get everything. To talk to you...

RANDALL-GAY: Yeah, Bree Randall-Gay. B-R-E-E...

WELLS: This is part of life for Brianne and several other survivors now, too. They feel like they have got this fleeting moment where people know about the Nassar case, and they are willing to listen. But it means kind of performing your experience over and over again for every speech you're asked to give and every panel you're invited to attend and every interview request.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: One last thing - can you compare the - I don't want to say - the frustration - I don't know if it was frustration or anger that you felt when something didn't happen when you first, you know, came here to today. You know, can you - is there a - how much of a difference is there?

RANDALL-GAY: I mean, I...

WELLS: She tears up. The thing is, people want your suffering to be just bad enough that it's good TV but neat enough that it fits into a soundbite.

RANDALL-GAY: Sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No, it's not you. I understand. I'm not asking you what's two and two.

RANDALL-GAY: I think it was really hard at that time that I was not believed. And I felt like I didn't have a voice at all. And that lasted a long time. And it kind of stuck with me. And so through this process, I feel like I found my voice a little bit. And so the frustrations are still there, but I feel stronger now. I don't know if that answers your question.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, yeah. I was trying to get you to...

WELLS: And there's something surreal about the whole thing. At one point, Brianne and I are sitting outside the township building, and I ask her...

Do you feel sometimes like kind of a - I don't - I want to use a word that isn't mascot.

RANDALL-GAY: A show pony (laughter)? That's a bad word, too.

WELLS: Brianne wants to do this work. And she wants to be really nice and understanding and forgiving, like, all the time. She's really glad the town is finally doing an independent investigation into what went so wrong with her case. But some days, Brianne is still angry.

RANDALL-GAY: And I think a lot of people feel like, OK, you should be over it at this point. It's been long enough. You got what you wanted.

WELLS: Got what you wanted.

RANDALL-GAY: Yeah, in terms of a settlement with MSU or an apology, things like that. And that's not the end of it. And, yeah, it feels like I just have to be on all the time. Like, I have to take what's happened to me and turn it around in a positive way and spread awareness and, you know, always be in a good mood and always, you know, have the energy to do everything. And that's just not possible. I feel like we've all been trying to make that image. And it's a struggle.

SMITH: Then Brianne thinks about her baby boy, who just celebrated his first birthday. When Brianne gave her victim impact statement at Larry Nassar's sentencing last winter, her kid was just 7 weeks old. It breaks her heart that her earliest memories of his life will always be so tied up in this horror show. But it motivates Brianne to keep slogging away. She says something that sounds like a cliche, but we hear it from so many survivors and their families. If any of this can save one child from abuse, it's worth it. And that means for some of these survivors, the fight kind of never ends.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Bind us together, Lord. Bind us together, Lord. Bind us together with love.

SMITH: For Rachael Denhollander, fighting for change also means going on the road. She's given commencement speeches. She spoke at Harvard. And she spends some of her time speaking to the community that means the most to her, her church community. Rachael and her husband - they're reformed Baptists. But Rachael's message is nondenominational. I tagged along with her last May to New City Fellowship, a church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Amen, somebody. Thank you, Rachael.

(APPLAUSE)

SMITH: It's a warm, sunny evening. The stained-glass windows are wide open.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Let's whoop it up. Come on, New City. Are you ready for the gospel? Come on, somebody. Rachael Denhollander.

(APPLAUSE)

SMITH: The crowd is on its feet. At the large wooden pulpit, Rachael smiles and begins.

RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER: Thank you so much. I am truly so encouraged to be here with you all this evening and just to see the way...

SMITH: Rachael's message here isn't a pretty one necessarily. She wants people to be radically honest about abuse, be willing to have difficult, uncomfortable conversations in our own communities, the kinds of conversations that can put our relationships or our jobs at risk. Don't just focus on the parts of her story that feel nice, she says, like how she offered Larry Nassar forgiveness at his sentencing.

DENHOLLANDER: I found it very interesting that when I gave my victim impact statement, I delved deeply into the idea of God's wrath and the pursuit of justice. In fact, at that point, I had dedicated a year and a half of solid daily effort in the pursuit of justice at great personal cost to myself and my family. And yet every single evangelical outlet that published or commented on any part of my statement discussed how godly it was to offer forgiveness. But not one that I saw discussed how godly it was to pursue justice.

SMITH: She tells this congregation, God calls on you as Christians to speak up for the defenseless, not hide, bury sexual abuse. Support victims who come forward.

DENHOLLANDER: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SMITH: After the speech, Rachael stands at the front of the church greeting people one at a time. There is a line all the way to the back of the church. And this 8-month pregnant superstar of a woman - she stands there for more than an hour, shaking hands, hugging fellow survivors, listening patiently as people thank her, share their own stories of abuse or their own despair. And she's so gracious. I sit with Rachael's mom, Camille Moxon, and we watch her daughter. Camille says at this point, in this whole ordeal, things are a little easier. And then she stops herself.

CAMILLE MOXON: Easier's probably not the right word to use. Trying to think what the right word would be - yeah, I don't know what that word would be because easier's not it.

SMITH: Yeah, it's not relief, right?

MOXON: No. No, but it is more - it's good to see it being able to be used for good. That's the thing. You don't always get that. That's kind of a gift when you can actually see something being used for good.

SMITH: That's what these women and girls want, for some part of this to be used for good.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMITH: For one last time, thank you for listening. We know it's not an easy hang. And remember; your support makes projects like this possible. Make your gift now at donate.npr.org/believed.

WELLS: And since this is really it this time, we want to thank our families for putting up with us throughout this. And one last shout-out to our ride-or-die team, producers Juliet Hinely and Paulette Parker. Alison MacAdam is an editing angel. Sarah Hulett is magic.

SMITH: Bob Skon mixes and fixes everything. Vince Duffy runs our newsroom. Jennifer Guerra runs the show. Zoe Clark runs the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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