“Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force and you are nothing. The tables have turned, Larry. We are here. We have our voices, and we are not going anywhere. And now, Larry, it’s your turn to listen to me.”
This was the beginning of six-time Olympic gymnastics medalist Aly Raisman’s testimony as she stood up against Dr. Larry Nassar in court on Friday, January 19. Dr. Nassar had been a celebrated USA Gymnastics physician that treated hundreds of Olympic women for almost 20 years.
Now, he’s facing up to 175 years in prison for the sexual abuse of over 160 women - the youngest being under 13 - and the possession of child pornography. In a trial that lasted seven days, 156 victims of Nassar’s sexual abuse came forward and spoke about the trauma they had experienced under the “care” of their doctor. Many emphasized that they were forced to see him, due to nagging injuries and a desire to compete.
The floodgates of allegations really opened in 2016 - although parents were complaining as early as 1997 - when Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar, wrote an article about USA Gymnastics’ failure to report allegations and protect athletes from sexual misconduct from coaches. According to Denhollander, Nassar touched her vagina and anus without gloves. He also massaged her breasts on a separate visit. This all happened when Denhollander was 15, in 2000.
Megan Halicek, 15 at the time, said in court, “...he abused me, all the while telling me stories about his Olympic journey.”
Alexis Moore, age 9 when Nassar began molesting her, said, “He betrayed my trust, took advantage of my youth and sexually abused me hundreds of times.”
At first, Nassar attempted to deny the surge of allegations against him. Eventually, he began to plead guilty. Not only did he plead guilty to assaulting women and girls during medical exams, he also pleaded guilty to abusing a 6-year-old family friend’s daughter for a total of 6 years. In 2016, he pled guilty to the possession of 37,000 images of child pornography.
But how did one man manage to abuse so many girls, and is only just facing court now?
According to Denhollander, USA Gymnastics knew about the allegations years before - in 2015. It was reported to USA Gymnastics president CEO Steve Penny, who waited weeks before he contacted law enforcement. Then, shortly after that, the case sat around FBI offices until April of 2016.
This was 10 months after the first allegations were reported.
Other gymnasts were moved to speak out after Denhollander, but the organization seemed to be working hard to keep the women quiet. According to gymnast McKayla Maroney, USA Gymnastics placed a $100,000 fine on her if she came forward. USA Gymnastics denied this.
To make matters worse, Nassar wasn’t the only doctor involved. Denhollander said that coaches and other members of the organization frequently failed to report allegations. Over the course of 20 years, there were more than 360 allegations of gymnasts accusing their coaches and physicians of sexual misconduct.
The curtain has raised on not only world-renowned physician Dr. Larry Nassar, but on the USA Gymnastics organization as a whole and their failure to protect their athletes. The US Olympic Committee wrote a letter to USA Gymnastics, demanding that the board resign, or else they would render them powerless. In response, the entire board stepped down. Steve Penny was the first to step down in March of 2017 when the allegations really began to flood in.
As the scandal unfolds, it’s safe to say that this isn’t just Dr. Larry Nassar’s problem. The entire USA Gymnastics organization - who knew of allegations early on, and took their sweet time to report, and even then, allowed Nassar to keep practicing - is at fault. The FBI - who let the case fester in offices for almost an entire year before they really jump started the investigation - is also at fault. Women were begging for help years before Nassar was convicted, let alone investigated.
In fact, Tiffany Lopez, former softball player at Michigan State, said that Nassar molested her at least 10 ten times when he previously worked as the team physician at the university. Lopez, a college freshman at the time, told the authorities at the university. She even claimed that a female trainer was in the room when he penetrated her vagina with an ungloved finger. MSU ignored her allegations and continued to let Nassar practice.
Nassar is clearly the monster of this case - but so are the organizations that continued to keep him in practice. MSU and USA Gymnastics either failed to report or delayed their reports for months. No wonder the number of Nassar’s victims is so high.
Nassar now sits, after seven days of fury from 156 of his victims, awaiting the rest of his life in prison. The old saying is true - it’s better late than never. However, organizations and universities need to pick up the slack and strengthen their policies. This is an ugly case of sexual abuse, but unfortunately, people are still in power that are still committing this vile crime.
We’ve seen several of them lose their power - Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, just to name a few - but the fight shouldn’t stop here. Women and men should not be silenced. The fight against sexual assault is an ongoing one, and it will continue. It’s up to all of us - as individuals, organizations, universities, society as a whole - to keep fighting.