They're stunned, confused and outraged.
"I'm not a lawyer and have only a very basic understanding of our legal system,” says former Olympic gymnast Jamie Dantzscher, in an affidavit filed in federal court Tuesday.
“However, I do not understand how a judge in Michigan can legally order me not to speak to other women about what has happened to me, not to speak to my friends, not to speak to my family, not to speak to law enforcement, parents of gymnasts, not to speak to legislators, not to speak on social media, and not to speak at all about what has happened to me.”
Dantzscher is one of more than 80 women and girls who say they were sexually abused Dr. Larry Nassar, who worked on the US Olympic Gymnastics team and was a renowned sports doctor at Michigan State University. Now those women are seeking a restraining order, not against Nassar, but against a judge’s “gag order.”
That gag order was issued by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina last week, after Nassar’s defense team argued it was the only way for Nassar to get a fair trial.
His attorneys said the lawyers representing these alleged victims were being “misleading and inappropriate” with their statements to the media, and purposefully trying to “outrage the public” about Nassar’s case. One of those attorneys released an internal MSU investigation into a grad student’s complaint against Nassar; another makes frequent Facebook posts calling Nassar a “serial pedophile predator” who “will die in prison.”
Saying she has “great concern over all the social media” and is worried about a “mob mentality,” Judge Aquilina told Nassar’s lawyers that the court needs to find a balance between openness and First Amendment rights, and making sure a jury’s opinions aren’t “cemented in people’s minds before evidence is put out here.”
The “gag order” applies to “any lawyers representing any witnesses” and “all current and potential witnesses” related to one of Nassar’s criminal cases. Those lawyers and witnesses were not to release information or make any statements “not already contained in a public court file, relating to this pending matter.”
Any such statements “must be a direct quote – and without elaboration – of a statement contained in a pleading, which specifically cite that pleading…” No discussing the “guilt or innocence of Nassar” either.
“In my view this Order shoves all of us abused by Dr. Nassar and others back into the darkness of silence,” Jamie Dantzscher says in her affidavit. “It intimidates victims who are trying so hard to heal. It unquestionably will have the effect of frightening other women and girls into silence about their abuse. The Order only benefits Dr. Nassar, and those at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University who enabled him.”
Another gymnast, Lindsay Lemke, has spoken publicly about her claims that Dr. Nassar repeatedly assaulted her over the course of four years, under the guise of treatment.
“I am now afraid to speak publicly about Nassar’s sexual assaults because of the Gag Order,” Lemke says in an affidavit, “and the potential to be held in contempt of court and fined or jail.”
In their brief seeking a temporary restraining order, attorneys representing Dantszcher and other alleged victims say the gag order could prevent these women from taking “healing steps,” including psychotherapy. “The consequence for not being enabled to engage in these healing steps can, unfortunately, be fatal. Additionally, it could lead to the unnecessary and avoidable perpetration of sexual abuse upon additional children.”
Beyond just being too vague and overly broad, these attorneys argue, the gag order violates the constitutional rights of the alleged victims. “As long as the Gag Order is left in place, other victims are prevented from coming forward,” they argue.