The Nassar Abuse Case, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina & The Power of Witness

The Nassar abuse case has struck a chord with us. The courtroom exposure this past week was heartbreaking as over 150+ women read their victim impact statements one by one while the American public watched and listened to each excruciating word.

I have a deep and abiding affection for Judge Aquilina who resided as a powerful witness to the women who came forward and I truly believe that what she did and how she did it will be discussed as a landmark event from this moment on, perhaps forever changing the way we think about helping the victims of trauma heal. 

Witness. It's not a noun, It's a verb. 

It's the action of being totally present to someone else without interrupting, needing to relate, take away their pain, offer advice, or fix them.  It's the action of keeping our mouths shut, ears and hearts open and being there for whatever gets revealed. 

The women who were victimized at the hands of Larry Nassar needed a witness.  They needed to feel seen and heard so that they could start the process of healing. I have no doubt that Judge Aquilina consciously made it her business to use her courtroom as a conduit for healing and I applaud her for it. 

To feel invalidated and invisible is at the very heart of our unresolved suffering as human beings. To offer someone the space to feel seen and known (REVEAL) is to allow them the space to process (HEAL).

What Judge Rosemarie Aquilina did.. 

Was to allow each woman a reclamation. She adjusted her schedule and cleared her docket day after day, even as the number of women to come forward more than doubled. She made time and space and then held that space for each of them while they addressed their abuser and did the work of reclaiming their voices, bodies & dignity.

She made their words a priority without rushing, hushing or rescuing and held space over her domain with reverence and compassion as they each had a turn to relay their experience of anguish, heartbreak and reckoning. You could have heard a pin drop as time and space seemed to vanish and I have no doubt that a multitude of victims at home were having their own version of healing as they watched the proceedings on television. 

People ask:  

"What does holding space for someone mean?" 

"Holding space" is to be aware and intentional about making a moment count while also being fully present to the experience of the moment however terrifying and difficult.  It's intending that the space you physically occupy or reside over in those moments have intention and significance for those who might be doing the work of processing or healing.  It's also knowing that you are connected to the source of that which creates safe space for someone to expose and even release their pain and suffering.  When I see a space- holder, I get chills down my spine because I know the work they do is sacred. 

"..and witnessing.." 

"Witnessing" is when we "be with"  another human being and truly see them while allowing them to have their experience without saving them, fixing them, or running away. What you do when you witness someone in pain is you offer them the gift of your presence.  Many of us falsely believe that this is the time to shift the subject or jump in with our advice. Instead what you might offer is encouragement & validation "I value you, I see you, I hear you, I believe you." or  "you are not alone, you are strong, you are brave, you are beautiful." 

If you feel awkward and inadequate at witnessing someone, know that just saying "thank you for sharing that with me" and sitting in silence with them would be just as powerful. 

I noticed that at the end of each victim statement heard in the courtroom, the Honorable Judge addressed each woman by name and acknowledged her courage and pain. She validated her suffering and her right to her feelings of anger and betrayal by those that failed to listen or act and most important she believed them.

She also called them by a new name: Survivor. 

As more and more women come forward to be truth -tellers, more and more space-holders are showing up to create the safe places for healing and reclamation.  We are blessed to be a witness to these changing times.

Thank you so much Judge Aquilina for modeling what it looks like to be the power of witness.
Thank you to the survivors who showed up as the embodiment of courage to break the cycle of silence and violence. 

Keep it coming ladies. Keep it coming.
We are revealing and healing and creating a new space in the world that can only grow in beauty and strength. 

 “Leave your pain here,” Aquilina said on one occasion, in one of the most powerful instructions ever delivered by a presiding judge. “Go out and do your magnificent things.”

For those of you still keeping your secrets, please know that your time is near and that you are more powerful than you know,  I invite you to read a recently published memoir  Meet Laura Parrott Perry and her new book:  She Wrote it Down : How a Secret Keeper Became a Storyteller.

"We live inside our stories, we make homes of them. When we decide those stories are unspeakable, when we attach shame to those stories, they become secrets and those homes become prisons. You know what the difference between a home and a prison is? It's just the ability to walk outside it to freedom.

A lifelong secret-keeper, Laura Parrott Perry began the process of transforming into a storyteller when the dark secrets she'd been carrying around became too heavy and her life began to collapse under the weight of them.

Sexual abuse, eating disorders, alcoholism, perfectionism... Those secrets were all her story making itself known when she was unwilling to tell it. 

Bit by bit, story by story, the author began to shine a light into all those dark corners and tell the truth. She surrendered to the facts of her life and her past, and in doing so began to write a beautiful new future."