Over seven days in January, in a courtroom in Lansing, Mich., a seemingly never-ending procession of women shared harrowing accounts of sexual abuse perpetrated by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State physician who was eventually sentenced to hundreds of years in prison after several trials.
Their strength was palpable, their words powerful—not just because of the courage it took for each woman to face her abuser and share horribly intimate details with the world, but also because they moved others to come forward. Originally, 88 victims were expected to speak. Ultimately, 156 did. A sisterhood of survivors was formed.
While Olympic gymnasts such as Aly Raisman and Simone Biles made the most headlines, SI wanted to celebrate the bravery of as many of the survivors as possible. In early February, an invitation to take part in a photo shoot near the Michigan State campus was extended to all 265 women who had been publicly identified; 41 responded. Most live in Michigan, though some drove several hours to take part. Some were teenagers who came with their parents, others arrived with children of their own in tow. Some had been gymnasts, but there were also dancers, runners and softball players.
Many talked to photographer Simon Bruty about the bond they had formed. They keep in touch through group texts and a private Facebook page, and some are planning a vacation together. They have found solace in each other, and their newfound sense of empowerment can be seen in the poses they struck: defiant, confident, heroic.
During her testimony, former cheerleader Amanda Thomashow told Nassar, "You didn't realize you were building an army of survivors who see you for what you are—a sexual predator. We will rise as an army of female warriors who will never let you or another man drunk off of power get away with such evil again."
Admire their strength. Remember their names.