Heather Hansen

Larry Nassar’s “Army of Survivors” Are Teaching Us to Listen

I’m getting ready to go to my hosting job at LawandCrime.com, and I know it’s going to be a hard day. For over a week, we’ve been livestreaming the statements of the women who survived being abused by Larry Nassar. They were young girls when Nassar used his position as the team doctor for Michigan State University and the US Gymnastics organization to molest them. There are hundreds of them, and it’s hard for me to hear them speak. It’s inspiring and disgusting; it’s beautiful and ugly; it’s embarrassing and it brings me to tears. And it’s the only thing I have to offer to all of these heroines. I will listen.

When the sentencing hearing began, 88 women were scheduled to speak. One by one, they came forward and faced Nassar. They shared their stories, and by doing so they empowered more and more women to step up to speak. As I write this, there are now 144 women who will speak at this hearing. Over the weekend 24 additional women came forward to testify. It’s been an incredible illustration of how sharing your story gives others permission to do the same. But I think it’s more than seeing women like Aly Raisman, Rachael Denhollander and the rest of this army of warriors share their stories that gave more women the power to come forward. I think it’s also that they saw we are listening.

Stories have power, yes, but that power increases when the stories are heard. One of the survivors who testified against Nassar said as much. Amanda Smith shared her story, saying “I may not be an Olympian or a Big Ten athlete, but I have a voice….I will not stop speaking until I am heard, until we are heard, and things have changed.” It’s not enough to have a voice–we all want to be heard. And that means we all have to listen.

Some of us may need lessons in listening. It’s not something we’re taught as children. We are taught to speak, and our first words are celebrated and marked in baby books. But few of us are taught to listen. To make it worse, n this age of technology and distractions, our listening skills may have gotten even worse. Listening takes presence, attention, empathy and action. If we want to learn by example, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina is a good start. She is the Judge hearing the testimony in Nassar’s case. Imagine the weight of that job. She has spent over a week listening to each survivor tell their own personal horror story, and yet she hasn’t looked away. She makes eye contact with each witness. She is fully present, and when each women finishes speaking she repeats some of what she’s been told. Her body language, her actions, her words and her tone all show that she’s listening. And in response to the gift of being heard, the women keep coming with the gift of their stories.

I’m off to LawandCrime.com, where I will spend a few hours doing my best to extend the gift of my attention. I’ll do so to show my gratitude to this army of 144 (so far) survivors, for the gift of their stories and the change those stories will bring. And I will hope that in some small way, my listening will allow one more survivor to know in her heart that she is safe to tell her story. She is heard.

Heather Hansen

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