LARRY Nassar will die in jail. Following arguably the biggest child abuse scandal in sporting history, the disgraced US gymnastics doctor will never see a day outside a prison wall. We’ll remember his name. I imagine most of us could name more sex offenders, more serial killers, more murderers than the women who have suffered at their hands.

Invisible women have long been the product of sexual violence and the legal process. In reporting it, too often the victim is an afterthought. The perpetrator profile, the act detailed, the woman or girl nowhere to be seen. When the victim is mentioned, she’s subject to interrogation. What she wore. Who she was with. How she made herself vulnerable. By this line of questioning, the act has already been distanced from the man responsible. When we hear her name, it’s when a case collapses and the tabloids feast. More often, we hear nothing unless a woman waives her right to anonymity (though there’s little incentive to do so), goes missing, or is killed. The human cost of the perpetrator’s actions is easy to forget, easy to dismiss. We have heard little of the consequences of those actions for the survivors until now, Rachael Denhollander raised an army to bring down her abuser.

The case: in 1992, Nassar began sexually assaulting girls. He used his position as US gymnastics’ national team physician to molest them under the guise of medical treatment. In 2016, he was charged with first-degree sexual abuse of a minor, starting aged six. He pleaded not guilty but was found in possession of child pornography, including home videos of him abusing girls in a swimming pool. He received three consecutive twenty-year sentences.

In November 2017, he pleaded guilty to seven out of twenty-two charges of molesting seven girls. By January 2018, at least 150 women and girls, including nine of the US gymnastics national team, had reported Nassar’s abuse, spanning three decades.

What followed was a sentencing hearing that made history. Ingham County Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina allowed all those who wanted to address the court to speak. In all, 156 women and girls, including the mother of one who took her own life, took their chance to speak. Many waived their right to anonymity, including minors, together contouring the heinous assaults enacted on their young bodies by a man they trusted – sometimes with their parents, coaches or teammates in the same room.

During this, Nassar wrote a six-page screed to the court. He accused the judge of inciting a media circus. He claimed that listening to his victims was affecting his mental health. Aquilina dissected the letter, and tossed it away. “There’s no truth in this, sir,” she said. “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”

The survivors continued to speak. In finding themselves finally heard, in the solidarity of their grim sisterhood, they grew in courage, from lamb to lioness. Nassar was barely able to raise his head as they confronted him. Aquilina heard them and consoled them. “Leave your pain here, and go out and do your magnificent things.”

She sentenced him to 175 years. A titan of a sentence, the fullest force of the law – but just one year and one month per girl when you do the maths.

You would think denouncing a serial paedophile would be a given in a civilised society. There’s no ambiguity about the atrocity of child abuse. And yet countless men took to the internet denounce everyone but Nassar. The girls were looking for money and attention. Aquilina was grandstanding. She was mean. The sentence was too harsh. She wears too much makeup. Where were their mothers?

How can your wiring be so faulty that an abuser elicits such passionate defence? How can you hear an outpouring of such pain and exonerate the perpetrator? It begs the question: how much damage can one man do before he’s truly condemned?

This is not the direction sympathy should flow, and yet it does, so often unconsciously. The focus shifts from the abuser to the abused, the empathy from the victims to the victimiser. Professor Kate Manne, a moral philosopher at Cornell, theorises this as “himpathy”.

Testimonial injustice reflects systemic biases, rendering some social groups less credible. You can be an abused little girl or a county court judge – and still have less credibility than the man on trial. You can never have been abused, never have set foot in law school, and still feel confident enough to proclaim why a victim seeks justice or how a case should be judged.

Instead of asking why the abuser acted, himpathy asks what victims – and in this case the judge – want from the situation: money, attention, vengeance. The focus becomes what they’re taking from him rather than what he took from them, resulting in a surfeit of sympathy bestowed upon violent men. Brock Turner. The Steubenville rapists. Larry Nassar.

Himpathy blinkers us. It hides the lengths we go to reframe a situation, perpetuating a system of male dominance. Of course, women repeat these exonerating scripts too – there’s little to be gained in a culture that punishes women for standing up for themselves. It’s this tendency toward himpathy for him over empathy for her, that makes victims invisible. It’s what keeps girls silent for decades, and a paedophile in a job despite their complaints.

WHAT is the antidote? Is there one? Perhaps not. When women and girls step out of their boxes, from passive participants to agents, misogyny and himpathy will act to correct this deviation and enforce the “correct” power dynamic. Men and women’s perceived roles are so hard-coded into the culture, we don’t see how actively we preserve the existing dynamic.

What we can do for now is open our eyes and spot this enforcement in action. Right now there are 156 reasons to open them – 156 reasons to open our hearts and our ears to survivors, to give our fullest attention to the human cost of sexual abuse, of silence and exoneration. There are thousands more Larry Nassars in the world – I have no doubt the bravery of these young women, the compassion of Judge Aquilina will help others to find their voices. But it’s for us to listen.

On the final day of the hearing, Rachael Denhollander asked: “how much is a little girl worth?”. A federal prison sentence of 175 years is a start, but the greatest restitution would be the universal condemnation of the man who felt they were his to take. We’re not there yet, but we can be.

Aquilina reminded us that Lady Justice holds scales in one hand and a sword in the other. She adjusted the scale so each young woman could claim her sword. If we challenge our biases, others will dare to lift it.