Even before allegations of sexual misconduct were reported in 1998, former official USA Gymnastics women’s team doctor Larry Nassar had molested girls as young as age six. Hundreds of girls and their parents complained to staff about medical examinations, which Nassar used as an opportunity to grope them inappropriately for decades. Despite this, he was not arrested until Sep. of 2016. In the last two weeks, over 160 girls and women have stepped up to testify. On Jan. 24, 2018, Nassar was sentenced to between 40 and 175 years in federal prison.

Women and girls of all ages from both the USA Gymnastics program and Michigan State University athletics, where he previously worked, have revealed shocking information about physical examinations performed by Nassar. Many have testified to the fact that, sometimes even while the girls’ mothers were in the room, Nassar would molest the often injured athletes. He obstructed the parents’ views by using a draped towel, or would simply conceal where his fingers were located. Nassar ignored health protocols during pelvic examinations that involved vaginal penetration. He did not wear a glove, ask for consent, or have a medical chaperone present. He often insisted on performing pelvic examinations, even if the patient had no pelvic related injuries.  Chelsea Markham, one of the victims of his assault, took her life in 2009 because, as her mother Donna Markham testified, “she couldn’t deal with the pain anymore.” Other athletes feared for their lives when they were left alone with Nassar. Furthermore, other gymnasts remarked that Nassar’s friendly and trustworthy demeanor encouraged them keep quiet about what he had done.

Nassar’s trial has been unfolding for over a year. In Aug. of 2016, lengthy investigations on the former doctor were filed. Later, the civil case changed to a criminal case when Nassar was indicted on federal child pornography charges. Eighteen victims filed a federal lawsuit, and Nassar’s medical license was suspended during the month of Jan. 2017. In June of 2017, Nassar was charged with 12 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. With the trials occurring in the months of Dec. 2017 and Jan. 2018, more than 160 girls and women testified for seven days against Nassar for sexual assault and molestation during their physical examinations. After hearing all of these testimonies, Nassar admitted that he used his power to sexually abuse girls. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Larry Nassar to 40 to 175 years in federal prison, or as she called it, his “death sentence.”

How did Nassar get away with sexually abusing so many young female athletes for decades? While reports about who enabled Nassar to perform such transgressions are yet to be released, dozens of people at Michigan State University have been accused of turning a blind eye, downplaying accusations, and ignoring their duty to protect students. A few of these enablers have already stepped down from their positions, such as the former Michigan State head women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, athletic director Mark Hollis, President Lou Anna Simon, Nassar’s former boss Dr. William Strampel, and Nassar’s colleague Dr. Brooke Lemmen. Many faculty members and doctors were made aware of allegations about the abuse, yet none filed any official reports. Instead, they told victims who came forward that Nassar was a world renowned doctor who had not violated any rules.

Courtesy of The Atlantic

USA Gymnastics worked to conceal the scandal as well. The organization paid 2012 Olympian McKayla Maroney $1.25 million dollars to stop her from speaking out against the doctor in 2016. This contract also included a gag order in which McKayla would pay $100,000 if she did choose to reveal Nassar’s misconducts. An attorney who represented 107 victims in the case claimed that before the 2016 Olympics, the organization tried to hide the investigation from the public. Recently, all of the high ranking USA Gymnastics board members, including chairman of the board, Paul Parilla, vice president chairman Jay Binder, and the board’s treasurer, Bitsy Kelly, have resigned from their positions.

Athletes of the USA Gymnastics team and MSU athletics were questioned about why they are only speaking out now. According to the New York Times, gymnasts said that as intense and driven athletes they had been conditioned from a young age to ignore pain, whether in practice, competition, or even the doctor’s office. They were taught not to question their superiors, especially those who were as revered in the sports medicine community as Larry Nassar. But as the trial unfolded, many more females stepped out of the shadows to testify about Nassar’s actions, backed by their parents and other athletes who had been in the same situation.  However, some are still afraid to face their abuser, even while he is behind bars. Four-time olympic gold medal winner Simone Biles remarked that she “was not emotionally ready ….to go see him again.” With the 2020 Olympics approaching, Biles feels that she needs to be in a good place mentally to continue with her training. “If I went there I think it would take me back, and I’m trying to move forward,” she said.

 

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