- Larry Nassar has been sentenced to 60 years and faces sentencing for other charges next month. Some of his victims are calling for organizations that employed him to finally accept their responsibility.
More than 140 women have accused Larry Nassar of molesting them under the guise of medical treatment including Olympic medalists McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Jamie Dantzscher and national team members Jeanette Antolin and Jessica Howard.
Five of those women who have filed suit—Rachael Denhollander, Sterling Riethman, Kaylee Lorincz, Tiffany Thomas and Antolin—were in attendance at a press conference Thursday after Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in a federal prison.
All five women and their attorneys were firm in calling for USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University and the U.S. Olympic Committee to take responsibility for the roles each organization played in allowing Nassar to molest women and girls for more than two decades.
“But as so much in this process, today the justice feels very incomplete,” Denhollander said. “… For 16 months, I and other victims of Larry have been pleading as to how he could have been left in positions of authority when MSU officials had been warned of his conduct as early as 1997 and when USAG was aware of flagrant violations of safety policies. And for 16 months, these organizations have deflected, they have told half-truths, they have closed ranks around themselves and they have refused to acknowledge the dynamics that allowed a pedophile to flourish in their midst.”
Denhollander was saddened that Michigan State did not learn from another scandal in the Big Ten.
“Penn State was initially the poster child for how not to handle sexual abuse complaints” Denhollander said. “MSU has eclipsed them by a long shot. And I find that heartbreaking because we should know better. We should know better in 2017 and we don’t.”
Nassar, 54, was sentenced to the maximum of 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to three child pornography charges in July. The ex-doctor has pleaded guilty to a total of 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct across two state cases in Eaton and Ingham counties in Michigan. He will be sentenced in both of those cases in January and will serve his federal time consecutive to his state time.
John Manly, whose firm represents more than 100 of Nassar’s victims, acknowledged that Thursday was an important day for the survivors.
“Hundreds of women and girls were failed by three major government institutions: Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic Committee,” Manly said. “Not only did they ignore two decades of credible complaints against Nassar. There is ample evidence that individuals at the highest levels of these organizations worked actively to cover-up Nassar’s crimes. These institutions have proven that they have not and will not investigate themselves and bring the perpetrators within their ranks to justice.”
Manly had words for the leaders of the three institutions he said failed victims—Kerry Perry, who is the president and CEO at USA Gymnastics, U.S. Olympic Committee president Scott Blackmun and Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon.
“Where were you today? Did you send a representative today? The simple answer to that is no,” Manly said.
A USA Gymnastics spokeswoman provided the following statement Thursday night to address Nassar’s sentencing:
Larry Nassar was sentenced today to 60 years on child pornography charges. He committed despicable crimes for which he is now receiving punishment. USA Gymnastics is sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career. We hope everyone realizes they are empowered to speak up about abuse and other difficult topics, and we encourage them to promptly report their abusers to the appropriate authorities. We are focused on further developing a culture that has safe sport as a top priority throughout the organization.
Nassar began working for USA Gymnastics in 1986 as an athletic trainer and became the national medical coordinator in 1996. He held that position until USA Gymnastics quietly fired him in 2015 and allowed him to retire.
The U.S. Olympic Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
At Michigan State, only former women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages was suspended in the wake of the Nassar case. Klages resigned in February, one day after her suspension was announced. Former USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny was forced to resign in March in the wake of the scandal.
“The truth is the system failed these women for 20 years” Manly said. “Today we took a big step in taking back for survivors power over Dr. Nassar. But there are steps left to take.”
Those steps include Michigan State releasing an internal investigation that would show who at Michigan State knew about Nassar’s behavior and enabled it to continue for decades. The university has steadfastly refused to release its internal investigation done by former U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has not reached out to speak with any of Manly’s clients.
Tiffany Thomas was a Michigan State softball player who reported Nassar’s conduct to three different trainers at Michigan State and was ultimately dismissed.
“I first reported Larry Nassar’s actions to MSU trainers and coaches in 1999. Now we know he continued to assault girls up until 2016,” Thomas said. “How could MSU allow this to happen for so many years and why do they still refuse to take responsibility for this horrific tidal wave of abuse?”
Two of those trainers still work at the university and Thomas had a message for them.
“This is really hard for me only because it became really personal with one of the young ladies in particular who took very good care of me and my teammates,” Thomas said. “She was a sweet young woman, very caring, very thoughtful. When I went to her initially she was very compassionate about what she was willing to do to take it to her superior.
“I feel like I want her to be my saving grace. I feel like she has the power to say ‘She came to me and she said something and we did nothing to help her.’ I have hopes for that. I don’t know if it’s possible. It would relieve so much, it would help me to just feel at ease if you would just admit what you know. Admit that I came to you, that I said something to you, I spoke to you. Just tell your side of the story, it’s just simple as that.”
Michigan State spokesman Jason Cody released the following statement after the hearing:
Larry Nassar’s sentencing today on federal child pornography charges represents another important step toward justice for the victims. As our president has said, we recognize the pain sexual violence causes and deeply regret any time someone in our community experiences it. We acknowledge it takes real courage for all victims of sexual violence who come forward to share their story. His behavior was deeply disturbing and repugnant, as the state and federal criminal charges that he has been convicted of show.
Michigan State denies allegations that university administrators covered up Nassar’s conduct. The university cited an investigation by the FBI and MSU police earlier this year to determine if other university employees were aware Nassar engaged in criminal conduct. The results of that investigation were sent to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan.
Maroney, who first shared her story during the #MeToo campaign in October, was among those in the courtroom during the sentencing but did not appear at the press conference. The court did not permit victims to speak at the sentencing hearing but they were permitted to provide written victim-impact statements.
In a written victim-impact statement, Maroney wrote, “As it turns out, much to my demise, Dr. Nassar was not a doctor, he in fact is, was, and forever shall be, a child molester, and a monster of a human being. End of story! He abused my trust, he abused my body and he left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”
Raisman, who came forward last month in an interview with 60 Minutes, penned an eloquent piece for The Players’ Tribune and included the victim-impact statement she would have read in court. Raisman has jumped straight into the role of advocating for change, to stop victim blaming and for those in power to be more accountable.
“How many hundreds would have been saved if even one adult had listened and acted? It sickens me to know that for years and years, so many put an institution, or an organization, or medals, money and reputation, above the safety and welfare of young, innocent people. We must listen and take proper action.”
Denhollander was the first woman to file a criminal complaint in 2016 and the first to go public stating that Nassar had sexually abused her as a teenager. In her victims impact statement, Denhollander implored U.S. District Judge Janet Heff to send a message: “They need to know this. Every sexual assault victim needs to know this. Larry Nassar needs to know this. Every pedophile using little children to satisfy perverse sexual desires, needs to know this. The sentence you hand down will send a message one way or the other. It will answer this question:
“How much is a little girl worth?
“Judge Neff, I plead with you, as you deliberate the sentence to give to Larry Nassar for his crimes against these precious children, tell them they are worth everything.”