How Nassar's abuse victims became a sisterhood of survivors

It's the night before the three young women will come face to face with the man who repeatedly sexually assaulted the...

Posted: Jan 25, 2018 1:02 AM
Updated: Jan 25, 2018 1:02 AM

It's the night before the three young women will come face to face with the man who repeatedly sexually assaulted them, and they are having dinner together.

Kaylee Lorincz, Sterling Riethman and Rachael Denhollander live hours apart and are at different phases in their lives, but one thing bonds them.

Women abused by Larry Nassar says their sisterhood is giving them new strength

Survivor: "These women, these warriors, give me life. They lit a fire inside me that I never knew existed"

They are the last victims -- they prefer the term "survivors" -- to speak at the sentencing of Larry Nassar, the former doctor for the US national gymnastics team.

The young women have spent nearly every moment together here during the sentencing hearing, which was initially meant to take four days but has lasted for seven. They laugh, group text and share Facebook messages.

They are members of a group nobody wants to be part of. Yet their sisterhood is giving them new strength.

And before Nassar's sentencing was over, they had turned into an army.

As Reithman took the podium in court Wednesday, she said Nassar's actions will leave her and many other young women trying to repair their broken selves for the rest of their lives. But they will do it together, she said.

"I look around this room and I am in complete awe," Reithman said. "These women, these warriors, give me life. They lit a fire inside me that I never knew existed. They inspire me and fuel me to continue on in this fight against predators and enablers."

"We were ultimately strong enough to take you down," Lorincz said Wednesday, directing her comments at Nassar in the courtroom.

"Not one by one, but by an army of survivors."

An unspoken understanding

Many of Nassar's victims were gymnasts -- a sisterhood in itself. They'd spend 20 hours a week or more in grueling practices that gave them agonizing injuries.

Lorincz, 18, was once one of those girls who spent most of her time at her gym. She knows many other girls who were treated by Nassar.

"It was never talked about, what Larry had done to us," she told CNN.

As gymnasts, they were taught to fight through their injuries, be disciplined, emotionless. Many also applied this mindset to deal with what Nassar did to them on the exam table -- sometimes while their parents were in the same room.

Riethman, 25, a former gymnast, was one of the first to speak out. She went public last year about the abuse she suffered and now marvels at the group of women who have since joined her.

"I saw a lot of this coming together just through being in court together, doing press conferences together -- that bonds you," Riethman told CNN. "You're going through this experience that you never thought you'd have to go through. You start to realize, like, 'Oh, we have a lot more in common than I thought we did.'"

Riethman and Lorincz are part of a smaller group of about five other survivors who text each other every day. They don't necessarily talk about the trial. But they share an unspoken understanding.

"These girls are so supportive. And we can relate on something that isn't an ideal situation to be able to relate to," Lorincz said. "It's so nice to have these girls to be able to go to because you trust them immediately. Nobody has been able to understand the feeling of going through this, other than these women."

Nassar's victims form strong bonds because sexual abuse is such an isolating event, said Erin Roberts, executive director of End Violent Encounters, a Michigan-based nonprofit that serves victims of sexual assault.

"When survivors are speaking out, they are hearing others and more are coming forward," Roberts said. "There is a healing power in groups. They find solace in each other's words, they find similarities in their stories between each other."

'We'll always need each other'

Kyle Stephens, 26, was the first survivor to step to the podium and speak her truth last week at Nassar's sentencing. She looked Nassar in the eye and began describing to the judge what he did to her in the basement of her parents' home when she was still in kindergarten.

Unlike his other victims, she was not an athlete, she was not seeking medical treatment. He simply gained the trust of her parents and assaulted her, she says. She never told anyone about what happened until nearly a decade later.

"Little girls don't stay little forever," Stephens told Nassar in court. "They turn into strong women who return to destroy your world."

Nassar couldn't look at her.

"That was even more empowering," Stephens recalled a few days later. "I just realized that, now, I have the upper hand in this relationship."

The morning Stephens spoke, the courtroom was quiet. But by mid-week, the audience -- mostly victims of Nassar -- erupted in applause after each statement.

In all, 169 impact statements were read, including 156 from victims themselves.

Stephens now lives in Chicago and works as an engineer for AT&T. But she stays in touch with some of the other women who spoke publicly about being assaulted by Nassar.

They mostly text. Whether they're talking about the case or just day-to-day-things, the sisterhood they have formed has helped them heal, Stephens said.

"We're all at different places in our process," she said. "I don't know if this process ever really ends. We'll always need each other."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 61516

Reported Deaths: 1701
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin19472835
Ramsey7658267
Dakota4480106
Anoka3739115
Stearns290620
Washington215545
Nobles17656
Olmsted174723
Scott157419
Mower11032
Rice10388
Blue Earth9275
Wright8925
Carver8733
Clay78540
Sherburne7328
Kandiyohi6981
St. Louis57019
Todd4262
Lyon4253
Freeborn3601
Steele3512
Nicollet34213
Benton3203
Watonwan3080
Winona26416
Beltrami2410
Crow Wing23914
Le Sueur2241
Martin2075
Chisago2041
Goodhue1979
McLeod1970
Otter Tail1973
Cottonwood1780
Becker1611
Pipestone1579
Polk1544
Waseca1490
Itasca14712
Douglas1431
Carlton1380
Unassigned13441
Pine1290
Dodge1280
Isanti1280
Murray1221
Chippewa1061
Morrison931
Wabasha920
Brown892
Faribault870
Jackson860
Meeker862
Rock850
Sibley842
Koochiching793
Pennington751
Cass732
Mille Lacs713
Fillmore650
Renville655
Lincoln580
Grant563
Swift551
Roseau520
Yellow Medicine520
Pope480
Norman410
Aitkin401
Houston400
Kanabec371
Redwood360
Hubbard340
Wilkin343
Marshall290
Mahnomen271
Wadena270
Red Lake240
Big Stone220
Lake210
Stevens180
Clearwater140
Traverse110
Lac qui Parle80
Cook50
Lake of the Woods40
Kittson30

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 49024

Reported Deaths: 930
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk10351207
Woodbury372752
Black Hawk313466
Linn239988
Johnson210719
Dallas188835
Buena Vista179412
Scott172714
Dubuque168631
Marshall144626
Pottawattamie132526
Story116714
Wapello90433
Muscatine84848
Webster8138
Crawford7303
Sioux6373
Cerro Gordo63417
Warren5691
Tama55329
Jasper47926
Wright4731
Plymouth4639
Clinton4103
Dickinson3824
Louisa37814
Washington30010
Boone2593
Hamilton2481
Franklin24110
Bremer2277
Clarke2023
Clay1961
Carroll1931
Emmet1924
Des Moines1862
Hardin1840
Shelby1841
Marion1740
Benton1601
Poweshiek1598
Floyd1572
Jackson1561
Allamakee1554
Mahaska14017
Cedar1331
Guthrie1325
Jones1322
Buchanan1291
Henry1274
Hancock1222
Madison1222
Butler1212
Humboldt1181
Lee1173
Pocahontas1162
Delaware1151
Lyon1142
Harrison1091
Cherokee1081
Clayton1043
Iowa981
Taylor980
Winneshiek971
Page940
Monona910
Kossuth900
Mills890
Jefferson860
Palo Alto860
Sac850
Fayette840
Winnebago840
Calhoun832
Osceola830
Grundy791
Mitchell780
Union771
Cass741
Monroe747
Lucas714
Worth660
Davis602
Montgomery594
Chickasaw540
Appanoose493
Howard490
Fremont420
Greene420
Keokuk371
Van Buren361
Ida310
Adair300
Audubon281
Decatur230
Ringgold221
Wayne201
Adams160
Unassigned30
Rochester
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 59°
Mason City
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 61°
Albert Lea
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 64°
Austin
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
Charles City
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 63°
Clouds clear tonight, tracking sunshine for Tuesday!
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Sean Weather 8/11

Image

Affinity Plus Credit Union holding technology drop off

Image

More parents switching to homeschooling

Image

Car crashes into Mason City home

Image

Dangerous week for cyclists

Image

Sara's 10pm Forecast - Monday

Image

Iowa fall practices begin Monday

Image

How you can raise funds with a local tech companies app

Image

Sara's 6pm Forecast - Monday

Image

Saving A Historic Church

Community Events