The judge who sentenced a former Michigan State University sports doctor to prison for the rest of his life for sex offenses has garnered national attention for her support of victims' rights.
Larry Nassar pleaded guilty in November to 10 counts of first-degree sexual assault, but Judge Rosemarie Aquilina allowed more than 160 victim-impact statements to be read aloud in court over seven days before sentencing Nassar on Wednesday.
Aquilina encouraged the young women, who often began their testimony quietly or in tears, to speak up. She tailored a reply of encouragement for each victim.
"You built an army of survivors," she told former gymnast Rachel Denhollander, who is credited with taking her story to the press and exposing the abuses. "And you are its five-star general."
Most of the women opened their statements by thanking Aquilina for the chance to speak publicly about their experiences. Many said their public statements unburdened them of the shame and guilt they felt Nassar had imposed on them.
Aquilina encouraged them to leave their fear and shame in the courtroom and successfully move ahead without it.
Aquilina cited the recent #MeToo social media campaign as a broadening public movement against sexual abuse and harassment. #MeToo started last year when years of alleged abuses by powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein were exposed. He has been dismissed from the board of his own company, and prosecutors in Los Angeles say they are assembling criminal charges against him.
"I'm here," said Christina Barba, reading her victim-impact statement Tuesday ahead of Nassar's sentencing, "so my three sons and my precious daughter will never have to say '#MeToo.' "
From the bench, the judge cited abuse statistics, saying, "One in 10 children will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. One in seven girls, one in 25 boys by their 18th birthday.
"It stops now."
A popular tweet on social media shows Aquilina casually tossing a letter to the court that Nassar had written, saying his accusers "fabricated" their stories and were involved in the case for reparations.
Aquilina noted that she was "stateless" when she came to the U.S. from Malta with her Maltese father and German mother. She also said she had served in the military and that her two brothers were doctors.
"I'm really not well-liked because I speak out," Aquilina said. "I speak out because I want change. I believe in the truth.
"I follow the Constitution. I believe our system works."