One day after several women testified before Congress about how disgraced former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused them, the judge overseeing one of the related criminal cases issued an order restricting what can be said. On Wednesday, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina signed off on an order barring “all current and potential witnesses” in one case from saying almost anything, according to the Lansing State Journal. Now lawyers are looking into whether that would apply to the dozens of women from multiple cases who say Nassar sexually abused them when they went to him for medical treatment.
Restrictions on comments aren’t unheard of, especially in a high-profile case like this one. But it’s worth going into all the ways this order limits victims from speaking out. The order bars them and their lawyers from saying anything that isn’t already in the court file. It restricts both current and potential witnesses. It also restricts how they can refer to Nassar. From the State Journal: “The order also requires that current or potential witnesses, and their attorneys, publicly refer to Nassar by his name or as ‘the defendant.’” And then there’s the issue of just who is a “potential witness” in this case, which doesn’t stem from Nassar’s medical work. From the State Journal:
It’s unclear who could be considered a potential witness because witness lists have not yet been filed in the case. Nassar’s attorneys could call former Nassar patients who say the doctor didn’t sexually assault them. In the documents they filed on Monday, Nassar’s attorneys said they will “definitely” call two of the civil attorneys as witnesses.
Speaking to Michigan Radio, lawyer Mick Grewal said one of his clients, Larrisa Boyce, reached out to him afterward asking if that meant she couldn’t talk about what happened to her. Boyce has said that Nassar sexually assaulted her while she was a gymnast.
“Honestly, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell her that we have to be careful, because the order is so broad and vague,” he sighs. “I think this order needs to be cleaned up. But Larissa never went out and basically said that Dr. Nassar—she never commented on the criminal case. She commented on what happened to her. I think she has a right to do that.”
In explaining her rationale for the restriction, which was requested by Nassar’s defense team, Aquilina talked about social media, the Constitution, and her concerns about a “mob mentality.” They are all valid concerns, and I’d expect even lawyers for the victims would say their clients want Nassar to have a fair trial. But it’s worth remembering that this is a story that began because of women speaking out after institutions meant to protect them had failed. Perhaps that’s why, while another institution might have its reasons for telling these women to stop talking, it feels like another cruel blow to the power of what can happen when women stand up for themselves.