The Sentencing of Larry Nassar Was Not ‘Transformative Justice.’ Here’s Why.

 Scott Olson/Getty

Scott Olson/Getty

For those of us who believe our “justice” system must be transformed, moments such as this one are a test of conviction.

On January 24, Larry Gerard Nassar, the former national team doctor of USA Gymnastics, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of minors. The sentence was handed down with biting words from Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, after a week of intense and moving pre-sentencing statements from Nassar’s victims. Aquilina noted that if the Constitution did not forbid cruel and unusual punishment, she might have sentenced him to be made a victim of sexual violence. She settled for an unsurvivable prison sentence, saying, to great public applause, “I just signed your death warrant.”

Amid our society’s current cultural upheaval around sexual violence, Aquilina struck a chord with many survivors who want and need to believe that justice under this system is possible. By offering the mic to survivors, and by aiming violent, vindictive language at a widely loathed defendant, Aquilina has been rewarded with the status of instant icon. Unsurprisingly, she is also reportedly considering a run for the Michigan Supreme Court. The case launched numerous think pieces, including a misguided, misinformed praisesong entitled, “The Transformative Justice of Judge Aquilina,” by Sophie Gilbert.

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