The Heartland Independent Film Forum, in partnership with The Michigan Daily, hosted a launch event Thursday night at the Ann Arbor Public Library for an online database containing every impact statement of the survivors of Larry Nassar. The database is intended to aid students, families, educators and journalists in understanding this decades-long pattern of abuse. About 25 students and Ann Arbor residents were in attendance.
Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University physician, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse of young girls and women in January. More than 160 women came forward in court earlier this year to testify against him.
The event featured two panels — the first with survivors sharing their stories and another with journalists who covered the trial and proceedings — sought to reflect on the scandal and educate the audience to prevent similar patterns of abuse in the future.
Roger Rapoport, director of the Heartland Independent Film Forum, purchased the records for the database, which included 1,400 pages of accounts from survivors. Rapoport, a survivor himself, said this project would allow the truth to be shared.
“When I heard about Larry Nassar case and the courage of these women … I was so amazed by what they were saying in court that I bought the trial transcripts (with help of donors),” Rapoport said.
Michigan Radio reporter Kate Wells was also present at the event. Wells worked on the podcast “Believed,” which shares many stories of survivors in depth. The podcast has already gained recognition for its work in exposing the abuse.
“It’s really exciting, our goal with the podcast too, is the same goal as this project — to have as many people understand as wide of the story as possible and what the background and depth (is),” Wells said.
Each of the panelists shared their backgrounds and how they came together to form this network of survivors.
Trinea Gonczar, another survivor, now works for Wayne County SAFE, which forensically examines sexual assault and provides resources to survivors. Gonczar said education on the Nassar case and other instances of sexual assault is important to help prevent future abuses.
“Our strongest mission is to educate the community,” Gonczar said. “The more conversations we’re having, whether it’s 30 people in a room or 300, they’re just as important.”
For survivor Christina Barba, she did not realize she belonged to this cohort of women until the first news came out about the trial.
“I was around 14, but my story is different in that I did not realize until this year January,” Barba said. “I’m listening to all these women with tears rolling down my face and the realization that this is my story.”
Survivors Larissa Boyce and Jessica Smith also spoke on the panel.
Detroit News reporter Kim Kozlowski later shared her experience covering the stories of these women and said the survivors deserve the recognition for bringing Nassar to trial.
“Even though it was the media that made it an international story, we had nothing to do with it,” Kozlowski said. “What really happened was these women came forward and they were brave.”
Eastern Michigan University freshman Georgia Nagel attended the event. With an interest in studying women and gender, Nagel said she’s hoping to work in nonprofits relating to that and wanted to directly hear the experiences of survivors.
“I wanted to hear exactly what they had to say,” Nagel said. “I’m so used to hearing it secondhand.”
Many of the survivors reflected on how being a parent affected their perspective on what they’ve been through. Gonczar said she won’t have the same level of trust in coaches and doctors that her parents did.
“Being a parent, being a gymnast and being one of the survivors and I know going forward I will never trust someone with my child as much as my family trusted my coaches and doctors,” Gonczar said.
Barba also added change will take place, even if it is slow.
“Cultural change is so slow, there are slow changes that are happening,” Barba said. “We have to work at that, chip away at the powerful people.”