Why Women All Need to Pay Close Attention to Nassar Trial Judge Rosemarie Aquilina


If you haven’t seen Judge Rosemarie Aquilina‘s scathing indictment of sexual predator Larry Nassar, it’s worth watching. On Wednesday, the judge signed what she referred to as Nassar’s “death warrant,” and the convicted sex offender will spend up to 175 years in prison.

The case will go down in history, but Judge Aquilina wants none of the attention. This is precisely why she deserves some.

Aquilina has made headlines nationwide for opening her courtroom during Nassar’s sentencing to allow every single survivor the opportunity to speak in open court. This resulted in days of broadcasted testimony from over 150 survivors, family members, and coaches.

In addition to being a judge for Ingham County Circuit Court in Michigan, the judge teaches at two law schools, has five kids, wrote several novels, and served in the military. This is someone who is clearly accomplished.

Meanwhile, she is not interested in national attention, and wants to keep the focus on survivors. In a direct address to the media, she said, in part:

I’m just doing my job. I know you all want to talk to me. My secretary has informed me that I have a growing stack of requests from print media, from television, from magazines — from around the world, literally. This story is not about me. It never was about me. I hope I’ve opened some doors but, you see, I’m a little stupid because I thought everybody did what I did, and if they didn’t, maybe they ought to.

After the appellate period runs, with victims by my side to tell their stories, I might answer some more questions than what I’ve said on the record. I don’t know what more I could possibly say. But I’m not going to talk with any media person until after the appeal period, and even then, if you talk to me about this case, I will have a survivor by my side because it is their story.

This is the kind of person that all women ought to strive to be like: caring, confident, hard-working, and above all, fierce allies for other women. In doing her job in such a way that gave survivors the floor and continued to keep the focus on them, she made the hearing about both the collective strength of these women, and also about each individual’s courage in coming forward.

Many people are likely to agree on all of those points. But the crux of the judge’s remarks to the press, in my mind, is: “I’m just doing my job… I thought everybody did what I did.” In other words: what many – including this author – are lauding as a great act of women’s empowerment is, to Aquilina, just another day’s work. And we all ought to be doing the “job” of democracy by the example she sets.

This past Saturday, hundreds of thousands of women showed up to women’s marches across the country. Many chanted: “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” Yes, marches like those are an important facet of democracy — the marchers are exercising the right to assemble as set out in the First Amendment. But do such marches truly encapsulate what democracy – the grind, the grit, the beautiful mess of our system of government – is all about?

Because let me say, and I am guilty too: Going to a rally once a year and declining to visit the polls to support a local candidate is not what democracy looks like.

“My grandmother always told me… that America is the greatest country. I believe that,” Aquilina said in court. “That’s why I served in the military. That’s why I’ve always done community service.”

When I heard these words, I thought of the hundreds of smiling faces I saw at the Women’s March and wondered; How many of them know how a bill becomes a law? How many have written to their congressperson? How many, in their daily lives, have seen a stranger who was sad or scared and asked her if she needed help.

“I’m not really well-liked because I speak out. I don’t have many friends because I speak out,” Aquilina continued. “If you ask me a question, you’d better be ready for the answer.”

This is the kind of feminism we need: direct, pounding the pavement, and not flashy. Sure, pussyhats are eye-catching, but they don’t – on their own, without action – create substantive change. The real change comes from the work between the pussyhats — and that work is long, often dull, and deeply necessary.

Judge Aquilina won’t go home and rest on her laurels tonight. She’ll go into the courtroom again tomorrow, and hear whatever case came across her desk. That next case will certainly be less prominent than the one that came before it, but she will find it no less important. She will do her job.

Watch some of Aquilina’s remarks above, via CNN.

[image via screengrab]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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