Disgraced Gymnastics Doctor Sentenced for Sexual Abuse of Minor Athletes
More than 260 women and girls have come forward to put a monster behind bars. Dr. Larry Nassar, an osteopathic doctor who worked at an elite Michigan gymnastics gym, Michigan State University, and USA Gymnastics, the governing body of Olympic gymnasts, has been sentenced for a 3rd and final time. Nassar was originally sentenced to 60 years in a federal prison for child pornography charges. He was then sentenced a second time in Ingham County, Michigan on charges relating to sexual abuse for between 40-175 years in state prison, and a third time in Eaton County, Michigan for similar charges, with a penalty of 40-125 years.
Most of Nassar’s victims chose to speak out at the Ingham County hearing, where victim impact statements went on for an unprecedented seven days, with 150 young women speaking. When Nassar asked the court to limit the number of women coming forward citing his mental health, Justice Aquilina vehemently denied this request. Aquilina is being called a hero to the survivors due to her therapeutic response to victim testimonies and her pull-no-punches attitude towards the accused, at one point telling Nassar she had “signed his death warrant” while handing down his sentencing. Though Nassar has pled guilty to the pornography and sexual abuse charges, he still maintains that his abuse was treatment, a statement that infuriates survivors and the court.
Many women explained Nassar’s behavior in detail during their victim impact statements, describing the doctor exposing himself, masturbating in front of them, rubbing his erect penis on their bodies, and inserting an ungloved finger into their vaginas. Nassar would tell his victims prior to assaulting them that he was performing a normal therapeutic treatment. He event became so brazen as to assault these athletes with their parents in the room, carefully positioned so that they could not see what he was doing. All of these women came to Nassar in pain, seeking any solution that would return them to a sport they loved dearly. With his renowned reputation as a healer and his confident bravado describing his treatment, many young girls became confused as to whether his actions were truly abuse. Athlete Jennifer Rood Bedford told the court that she trusted her doctors and coaches who referred her to Nassar, so she rationalized his behaviour as proper, despite the sickly uncomfortable feeling it left her with.
Famed 2012 Olympic gymnasts, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber all spoke at Nassar’s Ingham County hearing about the impact Nassar’s abuse had on their wellbeing, citing depression, anxiety, and general mistrust of others. Simone Biles, 4 time Rio Olympic champion also issued a statement saying she had been abused as well. However, the message of these Olympians, as well as that of the other 260 women, was not one of victimhood, but of power. Raisman described her and her fellow survivors as an “army” who are calling for a change in the way young women, specifically athletes, are heard when they report abuse. Many of the 260 women who spoke at Nassar’s hearing had reported the abuse to someone, yet all were ignored until an article was published by the Indianapolis Star exposing Larry Nassar in 2016. Raisman called for a full investigation into USA Gymnastics and Michigan State in order to understand how over 200 girls, some as young as 6 years old, were victimized by this celebrated coach, and why the abuse was not stopped earlier.