The Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse Scandal
Note: This story contains graphic content related to sexual abuse that may be disturbing to some readers and/or painful to survivors of sexual assault and might not be suitable for some readers. We feel it is necessary to remain true to the facts of this case and report on the details fully and accurately.
The Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal is the largest of its kind in the history of US sport. In early 2018, disgraced former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor, Nassar, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing over 300 female athletes and at least one male athlete. This sentence is on top of the 60 years Nassar also received for possession of child pornography.
You may be thinking: “How TF was Nassar able to abuse over 300 athletes?” He did so under the guise of “treatment.” Nassar was a doctor of osteopathic medicine and performed osteopathic manipulation. That means he would be expected to use his hands to move his patients’ joints and muscles.
The techniques in osteo tend to include stretching, resistance and gentle pressure. Given the nature of his work, Nassar manipulated his patients into thinking what he was doing — sexually abusing his patients by penetrating their vaginas and anuses, often doing so with bare hands — was a form of treatment that would help with back and hip pain.
Nassar’s unfathomable sexual abuse began in the 1990s. Complaints from athletes date back as early as 1994. However, due to the systemic dysfunction across USA Gymnastics, USA Olympic Committee (USOC), Twistars Gymnastics Training Facility and Michigan State University (MSU), coupled with the power dynamic between an old, white male doctor and young female athletes, the complaints were not adequately addressed and little to no action was taken.
Since 2016, the full extent of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal has finally been brought into the public eye. The outcomes from this scandal have shaken the world; from media, to lawsuits, to resignations. In the wake of movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, and because there’s so much to know in this story, we thought it was important for us to provide context and tell this story in its entirety.
2016 - The beginning
August 4th: The Indianapolis Star published an investigation into Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics. It highlighted its inappropriate handling of sexual abuse over the decades. You can read the investigation here.
August 29th: Rachael Denhollander became the first gymnast to file a criminal complaint against Nassar with the MSU Police. Denhollander alleged she was sexually abused in 2000 when she was only 15 during treatments for her lower back pain.
August 30th: Following the investigation and Denhollander’s criminal complaint, MSU released Nassar from his patient duties. Later in September, they relieved him from his position as an Associate Professor. How it took a month for MSU to fully remove Nassar from their faculty, we just don’t know…
September 12th: After filing a lawsuit on September 8th, McKayla Maroney and Denhollander went public about Nassar’s sexual abuse in this article. The fallout for Nassar was appropriately substantial.
November 22nd: Nassar was charged in Ingham County for first degree sexual assault, including sexual assault to girls under the age of 13. At that time, Nassar plead not guilty and was released on $1M USD bond.
December 16th: Nassar was indicted on child pornography charges. This time though, Nassar was not released on bond.
2017 - The charges
January 10th: Eighteen victims filed a federal lawsuit against Nassar, MSU, USA Gymnastics and Twistars Gymnastics Club for sexual assault, battery, molestation and harassment dating back to 1996. The lawsuit alleges that complaints were brought up at least five times over the last years, but nothing was done about them.
February 14th: Nassar isn’t the only one affected. Prior MSU Gymnastics Coach, Kathie Klages, announces her “retirement” after at least two athletes say that Klages discouraged them from reporting Nassar’s conduct, effectively putting the success of her gym team over the safety of her athletes.
June 30th: Between February and June, more and more athletes came forward with claims that they too were abused by Nassar. By June 30th, 119 women had come forward to join the lawsuit.
October 18th: Remember the Fierce Five USA Gymnastics team? McKayla Maroney (mentioned earlier), Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas all came forward between October and November claiming they had also been assaulted by Nassar.
November 22nd: Nassar finally pled guilty to the sexual assault charges he faced. It took 120 girls coming forward and over two years for Nassar to decide that the world would not believe him. Take that in. It took over 100 young women to take down one white, well-educated man. At the time, he was facing up to 60 years in prison.
November 30th: On the heels of Nassar’s sentencing, Maroney’s lawyer made public that USA Gymnastics paid her off to keep quiet about Nassar’s abuse. Just…wow. The parties reached a $1.25M USD settlement in exchange for her confidentiality BUT she broke that agreement in October. Maroney sued USA Gymnastics right back saying that it was illegal for them to make her sign a confidentiality agreement post-settlement in California.
December 7th: Nassar was officially charged with possessing child pornography and sentenced to another 60 years.
2018 - The sentencing
January 24th: Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years in prison on sexual assault charges. During the sentencing, over 156 women and girls made victim impact statements over several days. The purpose of the victim impact statements was to allow Nassar's victims to describe the impact — short and long term — of the accused crimes to the court. Nassar was apparently quite affected by these impact statements, so much so that he wrote a six-page letter to the judge saying that it was "too hard" to hear the victims' stories, requesting for it to stop. To that, the judge basically said: "Boo hoo, I do not care.”
The Judge presiding over the case, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, quickly became the fan fave of the case when she said "I wouldn't send my dogs to you, sir" and most notably, "I've just signed your death warrant". We won’t soon forget that.
Following this sentencing, three senior members of the USA Gymnastics board stepped down and USA Gymnastics cut ties with the Twistars Karolyi Ranch. This “ranch” was the training facility where the athletes would practice and where the majority of the abuse took place. As for Michigan State University, President Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis announced their resignations soon after. It wasn’t until this sentencing that the police were tasked with completing a full investigation at MSU, including meeting with all the victims. They say better late than never, but this is just too damn late.
February: Nassar had his third and final hearing. This one focused on Nassar's work at an elite gymnastics club in Lansing, Michigan called Twistars. During the hearing, tormented father Randall Margraves, whose three daughters were sexually abused by Nassar during their time training at Tristars, legitimately tried to attack Nassar while still in the courtroom. This attack came after Judge Janice Cunningham rejected Margrave's request "for 5 minutes in a locked room with this demon," and again when she denied his second request for "one minute alone" with Nassar. The scrum didn't really go anywhere as he was tackled by the sheriff's deputies and taken out of the courtroom. After he cooled down, Margraves did apologize, stating that he had just "lost control" in the courtroom. Although Margraves was taken out in handcuffs and removed from the court, he wasn’t fined or arrested.
March 1st: Following the trials, it became v. apparent that it wasn’t just USA Gymnastics who was responsible for letting Nassar be a doctor to their athletes, but that USA Olympics was responsible too. The CEO of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) stepped down as a result of the fallout from the sex abuse scandal.
March 4th: Olympic gold medallist Aly Raisman sued the USOC and USA Gymnastics. She filed these lawsuits as she firmly believed that high-level execs from both organizations were aware of Nassar’s abuse, but turned a blind eye instead of acting. Second, she did not believe that either organization had the full intent to conduct a timely and robust investigation. Suing the organizations was Raisman’s way of keeping them accountable and compelling both organizations to get their butt in gear in terms of enacting change. Raisman quickly became one of the most outspoken during the lawsuits and you can watch her moving impact statement here.
March 28th: Turns out, Nassar’s boss was also involved in the abuse. Ugh. William Strampel, the former dean of Osteopathic Medicine at MSU was charged with abusing his power as a dean by asking his students for nude photos and sexual favours including groping and making inappropriate comments about their appearance. He was also charged with willful neglect of duty for failing to properly oversee Nassar.
May 16th: MSU agreed to pay $500M to settle the lawsuits filed by 330+ of Larry Nassar's victims. This was the largest-ever settlement reached in a sexual abuse case in American university history — $425M was distributed among the 332 women that came forward to date, about $1.28M per victim. The remaining $75 million was put in a trust fund for any victims who may come forward in the future. The university hopes that with this half billion dollar payout, they’re showing that they are taking responsibility for Nassar's actions and for Michigan State's extremely inadequate response.
May 28th: New reports surfaced that revealed in June 2015, USA Gymnastics officials provided excuses for Nassar’s absence from major gymnastics competitions, rather than admit that Nassar was under investigation for child abuse. One line from Nassar literally read, “Can I just say I’m sick?” SMDH. Apparently, there were two separate occasions where Nassar and the attorney for USA Gymnastics came up with "cover stories" to explain why Nassar wasn't attending competitions.
The emails were a BFD because they represented the first evidence that USA Gymnastics actually HELPED cover-up Nassar’s abuse, as well as stayed silent. Christ.
To make matters worse, there were over 14 additional gymnasts that allege they were abused AFTER the original complaints because Nassar was somehow still able to work at Michigan State University after all of this. SERIOUSLY *clap* WHAT *clap* THE *clap* F***?!
July 18th: The hundreds of survivors of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs. FYI — the ESPYs are kinda like the Academy Awards for sports. These brave athletes are truly the epitome of strength and courage and are sparking a movement to seek justice for the unprotected. At the awards, they gave an incredibly moving speech and created this heart-wrenching montage that is a MUST watch.
Put simply, this was not an easy piece to write and could not have been easy to read — but thank you for making it here. This story is incredibly important. And while there’s not really a light at the end of the tunnel, we can take solace in the fact that, thanks to these young women, hundreds more women were likely saved from Nassar’s abuse.
We are writing about Nassar because this story needs to be told and discussed. Hundreds of people were abused by this man and it was somehow allowed to continue for more than 20 years in part due to the power dynamic that exists between men and young women as well as between coaches/doctors and athletes, and due to the lack of proper process/actions from the institutions that are supposed to protect their athletes.
We need to call out institutions that perpetrate sexual abuse because of their inaction and pursuit of fame, fortune and success at the expense of their athletes’ safety. Lastly, we need to support all of the brave women who were courageous enough to speak up and out against Nassar. Because, #TimesUp.
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