Just when you thought you had seen it all regarding sexual abuse – Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Jerry Sandusky, and a myriad of teachers and clergy – we find out about Larry Nassar. Like a game of “can you top this,” the Larry Nassar revelations have taken us to a new low of depravity. Many people who know me well consider me to be somewhat of a wordsmith, but I confess that this case disgusts me beyond words.
Nassar is an incorrigible serial sexual predator and abuser. Wednesday, after a 16-month trial he was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing some 150 women and girls as young as six years old. Among his victims were Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney. Moreover, this sentence is in addition to another 60-year sentence he received recently resulting from a conviction for child pornography.
The sentencing judge, Rosemarie Aquilina, was so disgusted by the case that she called it “an honor and privilege” to pass sentence on Nassar. In doing so, she proudly proclaimed “I just signed your death warrant.” That was not mere hyperbole, folks. We all know what prison inmates do to sex offenders. It is highly unlikely that Nassar will last long in prison.
This situation strains credulity. How could Nassar have managed to get away with these abuses for over 20 years. Most of his victims were minors. Didn’t the parents realize what was happening? Wasn’t there any oversight by the US national gymnastics coaches and administrators or Michigan State University? Apparently, not.
Nassar was born on August 16, 1963 in Farmington, MI (a suburb of Detroit). While a student at the local high school he served as a student athletic trainer. (In light of recent revelations one has to wonder if he abused any fellow students during that period.) He attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1985. In 1988, he joined the medical staff of US gymnastics. He remained team doctor through four Olympiads. In 1997 he commenced employment at MSU as a team physician. Those positions gave him easy access to dozens of young girls, most of them minors.
Typically, these girls came to him seeking help when they were vulnerable and in pain. They would be under great pressure from their coaches, parents, or even self-imposed to play through the pain lest they lose their position on the team. Their coaches required them to see Nassar for treatment. They were young, innocent, and vulnerable, and Nassar wielded considerable power over their careers. In short, it was a perfect storm for abuse. Furthermore, Nassar had an affinity for making these girls feel that what he was doing was not abuse and that complaining would be futile.
It began to unravel for Nassar when investigative reporters at the Indianapolis Star published an extensive expose in 2016. As a result, victims began to come forward. Before long, there was a flood of complaints, too many to ignore.
To say these stories are heartbreaking does not do them justice. (Again, I have no words to describe the abuse adequately.) For example:
- The first person to speak up publicly was former gymnast Rachael Denhollander in 2016. She told reporters how Nassar abused her continuously when she was 15 even though her mother was right there in the examination room. Nassar would have her mother stand at the head of the examination table where she could not see what he doing. While giving Rachael a massage he would brazenly slip his other hand under the towel, fondle her breasts, and insert his fingers inside her anus or vagina. He called it an examination, and she said she didn’t know any better.
- Kyle Stephens was neither a gymnast nor even a patient. Her parents were friends of Nassar’s. Her abuse commenced when she was six. SIX! In her words, she “had not [even] lost all her baby teeth.” Sometimes, the abuse occurred even as both families were together socially. At first, he exposed himself. Eventually, he began to rub his erect penis against her. Kyle told her parents when she was 12, but he denied it. They did not believe her, and even made her apologize to him! Now an adult, it was Kyle’s call to the police that led to Nassar’s arrest. After the trial Kyle told reporters, “He forced me to grow up really fast…… It [seemed like] such a benign action until you grow up and realize it was a vile thing.”
There is no point in relating other examples. They are all disgustingly similar, and if you wish to view or read about the lurid details you can, no doubt, find them on the internet.
It appears he got away with this for 20 some years, maybe more if one considers his activities in high school. How did he manage it? The girls trusted him. After all, he was the renowned doctor. The coaches and the Olympic administrators sent them to him. They had to go to him if they wanted to stay on the team and compete. Their mothers never suspected, or if their daughters said anything they weren’t taken seriously.
I believe we do not yet know the full story. I believe it is likely the coaches and administrators at both MSU and USA gymnastics knew or suspected something was going on. They might not have been cognizant of the extent of the abuse, but it is hard to believe they were oblivious for over 20 years. Part of your responsibility as an administrator is adequate oversight. Ignorance is no excuse.
As I write this, the MSU president, Lou Anna Simon, has resigned. Moreover, the USA Olympic Committee has announced it will conduct an independent investigation to ascertain how these abuses could have continued undetected for so long. Also, the committee’s chief executive, Scott Blackmun, has called for the resignation of all of the committee’s directors. Well and good as far as it goes, but, sadly, too little, too late.
Given the litigious society in which we live, expect lawsuits against the university and USA Gymnastics. Also, don’t be surprised if further allegations of abuse surface.
Those who were abused got their day in court. They got to vent at their abuser. Good for them. Experts claim it is very cathartic to face down your accuser. I have seen some of the speeches and found them very touching, particularly Gold Medal gymnast Aly Raisman’s.
Meanwhile, the lesson for parents is be hyper-vigilant. It is a sad fact of the society in which we live that danger lurks everywhere – teachers, coaches, camp counselors and clergy. And if your child alleges abuse, take it seriously.