Larry Nassar Victim Says Queen Esther Inspired Her to Speak Up

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Two decades before the public learned of Larry Nassar’s abuse against several hundred gymnasts, 16-year-old Larissa Boyce made the first attempt to report him. Her coach at Michigan State University (MSU), who was also a friend of Nassar, quashed her claims. The unsympathetic coach interrogated Boyce, leading her to think she misunderstood proper medical treatment for her back injury.

“I told somebody. I told an adult,” Boyce said. “I told Michigan State University back in 1997. Instead of being protected, I was humiliated. I was in trouble and brainwashed into believing I was the problem.”

Boyce said Nassar’s abuse began after the first two treatment visits, once her parents stopped coming with her, and lasted four years. During the appointment following her effort to report him, she received harsher abuse than before. “I didn’t know what to do. I was in shock,” Boyce said.

She sat in her car after the visit, crumpled up her checkout sheet, threw it in the back of the car, and asked herself, “What the heck just happened?” As a teen, Boyce learned to ignore it, cope, and eventually suppress what happened during those visits, since she had been told that it was okay.

Once Rachael Denhollander spoke out against Nassar in 2016, Boyce was still conditioned to defend him. She thought Denhollander was mistaken. Encouraged to contact lawyers but unable to evoke most details of her “treatments,” Boyce resolved to return to her gymnastics training arena, Jenison Fieldhouse at MSU. She walked around trying to remember specifics, which flooded back into her mind after seeing her former coach’s office.

That visit was the turning point for Boyce to go public after 20 years. She gained the fortitude to combat the shame she had been experiencing, realizing she was not the guilty one. The former gymnast also wanted to demonstrate the importance of standing up for truth to her four children, ages two through ten at the time.

As a Messianic Jew, her religious ideals provided further motivation. She looked to the biblical account of Queen Esther to inspire her to stand against her enemy. One of Boyce’s sisters exhorted her to model Esther’s courage when she foiled a plot by the Persian king’s chief minister, Haman, to destroy her people. In the story, Esther’s cousin, Mordechai, urges the Jewish heroine to disclose Haman’s conspiracy to the king with the words, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”

Growing up, Boyce and her family attended a Reform synagogue and a nondenominational church, and she was accustomed to observing Jewish holidays. With the holiday of Purim—which celebrates the events in the Book of Esther—soon approaching, Boyce heard these words as a direct message.

“I felt that if my story could help at least one other person,” Boyce said, “then it would be worth it.”

Boyce and her husband also proceeded to inform her current church, Williamston Free Methodist. They approached the pastor, Doug Bradshaw, who promptly offered support, created a prayer network and provided the opportunity for Boyce to speak before the congregation on a Sunday morning.

“I said to her, ‘When you’re ready, I believe this is something we have to get into the pulpit here,’” Bradshaw said. “We have to be able to address issues like this as a church.”

Even though certain topics like abuse remain taboo within some multigenerational churches, Bradshaw said, he hopes his church can be a model by offering a platform for victims.

“The church should be the leader in [affirming] the value of people,” Bradshaw said, “and in promoting the idea that everyone is created in the image of God. We have to be the frontline to stand up against things like sexual abuse.”

Once some of the criminal investigations relent, as well as some of her kids’ extracurricular activities, Boyce plans to follow up on the pastor’s offer to speak.

Bradshaw hopes Boyce will find reassurance when sharing her story. “The expectation for Larissa is the freedom to be able to stand in front of a faith community and experience love, acceptance, compassion,” Bradshaw said.

The pastor aims to open Boyce’s talk to the entire Williamston community, only ten minutes from Michigan State University. He plans to supply resources, such as Christian counselors, for those who might be processing similar experiences.

Boyce’s parents, sisters, and children have all experienced the repercussions of Nassar’s years of abuse. When Boyce first heard Denhollander’s public account, her body reacted before her mind could process the information. At 35, she endured shingles, panic attacks, hair and weight loss, insomnia, and nightmares. A neurologist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, linked to the resurgence of years of suppressed memories.

In January 2018, Boyce, her father, and her husband spoke directly to Nassar and Judge Rosemarie Aquilina on the fourth day of the hearings at the Ingham County court.

“It seems very surreal that this reality is a new normal in our life,” Adam Boyce said to those in the courtroom, lamenting the intense trauma that had impacted his wife and family. He has juggled full-time work as a middle and high school choir teacher with additional household duties to grant his wife the space for healing.

While preparing for her hearing statement, Boyce used her diary, which she had discovered among her gymnastics memorabilia. It described her dark state of mind at the time. She read a section to Nassar, dated January 16, 1998, when she was 17 years old.

“I feel so unworthy of living and being happy,” she began.

Boyce thinks her words did not register in the mind and heart of her abuser. Nonetheless, she believes that if Nassar can truly acknowledge the pain he has caused, he can receive God’s forgiveness. Boyce said the closest she could come to forgiveness was telling him, “I am releasing you to God and his judgment.” She didn’t want the bitterness to fester inside her.

Source: Associated Press