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The women who built the case that brought down Larry Nassar

This article is part of "A year later: Larry Nassar and Women who made us listen", a series of Seven parts commemorating the seven days that a woman was in a court in Lansing, Michigan. year and they faced their abuser, the former trainer of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, Larry Nassar. Previous installments: one | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six

The first time that Andrea Munford saw Angela Povilaitis was in a training video. Povilaitis, a state prosecutor, presented the best practices for investigating complex cases of sexual assault.

The next time I saw Povilaitis, this time in person, it was October 2016. Munford, a detective sergeant at the Michigan State University Police Department, answered dozens of calls from young women who said Dr. Lawrence Nassar , a former US gymnastics doctor UU., I had repeatedly abused them when they were children. Munford and his team asked the Michigan attorney general's office, where Povilaitis was a prosecutor, to take action.

Povilaitis and Munford were fast companions. Over the next 18 months, the two women built a case involving hundreds of accusers and a sophisticated approach to prosecuting the charges of aggression on a large scale. A year ago, the two women who watched from a court in Lansing, Michigan, when 169 voices, in agonizing harmony, offered a chorus of "me too" that resonated throughout the nation.

An "almost miraculous" pairing

If there were ever two people willing to end a serial aggressor against whom more than 100 allegations of abuse were filed years later ] Angela Povilaitis and Andrea Munford were them.

Povilaitis spent 12 years as a prosecutor in Wayne County in Michigan before joining the state attorney general's office, where he led a state assault project sexual dedicated to complex cases and multivictim as AG assistant. At the time he took Nassar's case, he had more than 16 years of experience in processing sexual assault cases of late disclosure with multiple victims.

Meanwhile, Munford began building a special unit for victims within the MSU police department in 2014. He graduated from the university and joined the department in 1997. Munford developed and implemented a compassionate approach to sexual abuse cases when Rachael Denhollander, the first victim of publicly accusing Nassar, contacted the office prepared to file a complaint in August 2016.


JEFF KOWALSKY through Getty Images

Kyle Stephens and, Andrea Munford, Angela Povilaitis and others react like the former gymnastics physician at Michigan State University and the US. UU Larry Nassar listens to the impact statements during the sentencing phase in the Circuit Court of Ingham County, January 2018.

Denhollander made his story public, and The Indianapolis Star published his account. By recognizing the details of their own experiences with Nassar, additional survivors contacted MSU police to report their assaults.

Munford and his team asked the state attorney general's office to continue the process in October. When she and Povilaitis met for the first time, each immediately recognized that the other was unusually appropriate for the commitment.

"It was a very unexpected moment when we realized that both approaches were similar," Povilaitis told HuffPost.

Both Povilaitis and Munford had years of experience in the practice of a victim-centered approach based on trauma. The approach leads with compassion instead of skepticism, using strategies to avoid re-traumatizing survivors and guiding them through the legal process. These are the best practices in the field, although they are often applied inconsistently.

"It really was almost miraculous that we could get together and have the background to handle that case successfully," said Povilaitis.

The GA office took the case. Munford and Povilaitis went to work, flying to Chicago to interview Kyle Stephens.

Nassar had previously claimed that the gymnasts had confused medical treatment with sexual abuse, a defense that his supporters frequently invoked. But Stephens was not a gymnast. She was the daughter of friends of the family, whom Nassar sexually assaulted in her basement when she was 6 years old. He continued to abuse her for six years.

In late November, Munford arrested Nassar for the sexual assault of Stephens. In his opinion, that day was one of the most significant of the investigation.

"He showed the people: it does not matter who he is, we're going to take these reports of sexual abuse seriously," he said. "We will hold criminals accountable no matter who they are."

Seven days, 169 stories

Over the course of 18 months, Munford and Povilaitis built a case that was based on the testimonies of nine survivors and that eventually resulted in a plea agreement. But Munford and Povilaitis not only wanted justice for the survivors. They wanted to help them heal.

"Like the prosecution and the police, we build relationships with these victims," ​​said Povilaitis. It was "essential" for the assistant attorney general that each accuser, or his family, had the opportunity to make a statement.

She designed the plea agreement after an earlier case involving a Catholic priest who had abused more than a dozen teenagers. The survivors were older then; Many had advanced with their lives. But Povilaitis saw how vital it was for them to confront their abuser after the balance of power had finally changed, and he was determined to secure the same option for the survivors of Nassar.

Nassar agreed to plead guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors and to attend a sentencing trial in which survivors could share statements about the impact on the victims.


Ali Lapetina for HuffPost

Angela Povilaitis, a former deputy attorney general who prosecuted the Larry Nassar case, developed a plea agreement that would ensure that victims could publicly share how their abuse affected their lives.

As of January 16, 2018, 169 women and family members confronted the disgraced physician with painfully similar accounts of how their abuse poisoned their young lives and pursued them into adulthood. The growing "army of survivors" spoke for seven days.

"There were so many horrible stories and tragedies of the pain this caused," said Povilaitis. "He stayed with us, he stays with me."

Stephens was the first to give a statement: a deliberate agreement by Povilaitis.

"I wanted the world to know that she was not a survivor neither a doctor nor a gymnast," she said. "She has a lot of grace and strength and perseverance. I think that moment will always stay with me. "The audience was the first time that Stephens publicly identified himself.

While Povilaitis and Munford reflect on the year since the conviction of the criminal that they helped to expose, that seven-day period is the most important thing. The sentence was "such a moment in history, that the survivors could introduce themselves and tell their stories and know that they received support", said Munford.

"Not for everyone, but they had each other. They had Angie and me. "

" We could feel that something bigger was happening "

The January hearing was charged of meaning, trapping a nation in the middle of a public trial with sexual assault The media had arrived to cover the initial trial in the spring of 2017, but it was not until January, after Nassar pleaded guilty and several months after the growing Me Too movement, when Munford and Povilaitis began to understand the true magnitude of the case.

"During the sentencing hearing, we could feel that momentum," said Munford "More and more people we know personally communicate and say: 'Oh, my God, we are watching the statements of the victims. It's amazing what you did. "

 Andrea Munford, principal investigator of the Nassar case, in the Ingham Circuit Court in Lansing, Michigan.


Ali Lapetina for HuffPost

Andrea Munford, principal investigator of the Nassar case, at the Ingham Circuit Court in Lansing, Michigan.

The two women heard more victims "who wanted to show up, get rid of their anonymity and talk" after the hearing began, Povilaitis said.

"We could feel that something bigger was happening," he said. "We were mature in this social moment so that the victims would be heard."

Another hearing

Nine months after the sentencing of Nassar, another woman publicly accusing a powerful man of bad behavior would ask to be believed. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that then Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, along with a friend, had sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.

Munford and Povilaitis were hopeful that the Nassar case, and other high profile convictions, could shape the public dialogue surrounding Kavanaugh's audience. It seemed that more and more people considered the idea of ​​the "falsely accused man", in real life, a surprisingly rare phenomenon, with the skepticism that justified

"I felt that initially , people were applying what they learned from research [the Nassar] to that situation, "Munford said. But instead of focusing on whether the prosecution should disqualify Kavanaugh from serving on the highest court on earth, "everyone wanted to focus on his motive and what he could be doing to get ahead."

When the people around Munford expressed their skepticism about Ford's story, he asked them to consider the victims of Nassar.

"There are people who ask me: 'What do you think about this?' And I think, well, did you believe in all the survivors of the Nassar case? "Well, of course," they tell me. "

" Why do you assume that Dr. Blasey Ford Is he lying? "he asks. "And they say, 'Well, I never thought about it that way.'"

Povilaitis described hearing-related events as "incredibly discouraging."

"What Kavanaugh's audience showed in my opinion is that there are still areas of our society where a victim can move forward, gain nothing, take a lot of risk , loses a lot, keeps losing a lot, and has little effect on the outcome of any procedure whatsoever, "he said.

Still "many people who simply do not understand"

It has been a year since the sentencing hearing that brought justice to more than 500 known accusers. That's even less time than Munford and Povilaitis spent working on the case itself. The research continues to affect them deeply, both personally and professionally.

"It had a negative effect on our entire team," said Povilaitis. "You have to be empathetic and compassionate to be able to work with the survivors and be there with them and support them and be their strength. I do not know how it would not affect someone. "

Munford agreed," There is a certain level of indirect trauma "that comes from interviewing so many victims of abuse child sexuality, he said. "And there is also frustration because there are many people who just do not understand it."

Last week, the interim president of the Michigan State University, the school that employed Nassar and did not protect patients from him significantly, resigned after declaring that the survivors of Nassar's abuse were "Enjoying" their moment in the "center of attention" . And although the criminal investigation ended in February, the role of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University in allowing the abuse to continue to come to light

"I feel very bad for the Survivors who constantly, whether they choose to participate in social networks or not, are exposed to what seems like every day, and often insensibly, their image. " Povilaitis said.

"I do not think we have finished with the impact it has had on us".

Munford, now a lieutenant in the MSU Police Department, has begun to lead a training program aimed at educating the police on the victim-centered, informed approach about the trauma, which was vital to winning Nassar's sentence. Denhollander named her third daughter after her.

Povilaitis is now a staff attorney for the Michigan Board of Prevention and Treatment of Domestic and Sexual Violence.

The two recognize a measure of serendipity in terms of the preparation they had to prosecute a criminal like Nassar. But they would like their approach to be considered the norm, and not as something remarkable.

"We did what our training, what our experience taught us to do. We knew that we were doing things the right way. I am pleased to see that people are now understanding that this is the best practice to handle these cases, "said Munford." But at the same time, I wish people were already applying them. "We did not realize it would be so shocking to all. that this is the way to do it. "

"A year later: Larry Nassar and the women who listened to us" is a seven-part series commemorating the seven days that women were in court Judith Rosemarie Aquilina, Michigan, courtroom last January. powerful statements of impact of the victim to the former coach of USA Gymnastics and Michigan State Larry Nassar. His words made history, forcing the country to finally listen and confront the abuse that Nassar committed. This series highlights the people who helped topple Nassar, as well as the people he suffered for so long.

Need help? Visit the National RAINN Hotline for Sexual Assault or the website of the National Resource Center on Sexual Violence

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