Trigger warnings for rape and sexual assault, read with caution
by Rachel Poe
On Wednesday, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for multiple sex crimes against young women in his care in addition to a 60 year sentence for child pornography. Nassar’s abuse spanned over 20 years and affected over 150 women. According to the New York Times, he was considered the “must-see” doctor for female gymnasts. Prior to his sentencing, Nassar pled guilty to 10 counts of criminal sexual misconduct. The women who accused Nassar of sexual assault include Olympic gold medalists, athletes who attended Michigan State, and a “family friend” who says her abuse started at the age of 6.
The investigation into Nassar reportedly started in 2015, after two gymnasts from within USA Gymnastics came forward. Nassar was relieved from his position that summer. Nassar wasn’t removed from his clinical position at Michigan State until 2016 and was fired later that year.
During the past week, nearly 150 survivors, coaches, and parents came to the sentencing hearing to confront Nassar and share their victim impact statements- twice the amount of those who were originally scheduled to appear. A common theme present throughout many of the statements was that of Nassar’s manipulation and abuse of power and trust. Nassar reportedly told parents and other officials that his victims claims of assault where just “misunderstandings” as the girls were “not comfortable with their bodies” and “didn’t understand medical procedures.” One coach from USAG told the court of the immense guilt he felt for sending countless girls Nassar’s way over the years.
These drastic numbers can also be contributed to the therapeutic words of the victims’ fiercest advocate, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. Judge Aquilina vowed to let every victim who wanted to speak have the opportunity to do so. She even dismissed Nassar’s letter which claimed that he could not “mentally handle” four days of victim statements. Additionally, she was making the trial into a media circus to fuel her own ego. Judge Aquilina said Nassar having to sit through a couple days of victims statements was minor compared to the trauma he inflicted on his victims over the past 20 years.
There is no doubt that Nassar is the only one to blame for his horrid actions, but contingently, one has to question how such a high profile individual was able to continue these crimes for so long without any sort of repercussions. Amid Nassar’s sentencing hearings, attention has been turned to the institutions who possibly protected him for the past twenty years: Michigan State and USA Gymnastics. Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette announced on Saturday that a special prosecution will be investigating Michigan State from “the President’s Office down” to find how Nassar was able to continue this abuse for 20 years without any sort of acknowledgement from the administration. “My department… will find out who knew what and when, who took action, who failed to take action, what did or did not happen, and what should have happened,” Schuette said, “No individual and no department at Michigan State University is off limits.” The investigation reportedly started last year but only now is the Attorney General revealing how far-reaching it will be.
Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon resigned on Wednesday, January 24th, as questions are being raised about the university’s handling of the scandal. According to the New York Times, an investigation conducted for the university found no that university administrators had knowledge of the abuse. Yet, the Detroit News reported that at least 14 administrators were aware of the allegations and that Dr. Simon knew of the Title IX investigation against “an unnamed sports medicine doctor in 2014.” Unfortunately, Simon has the option to return to an academic position where she can take a 12-month leave of absence for “research.” During this leave, she will still be making her $750,000 salary, which is one of the highest current salaries for university presidents.
USA Gymnastics’ board is also set to comply with the US Olympics Committee’s request for resignations amid the scandal. Five board members have already resigned. In a recent BBC article, the USAG admitted to “dragging its feet” when it came to alerting authorities to Nassar’s crimes in 2015 when two gymnasts came forward with accusations. In a statement, USAG acknowledged that it was time for a change within the organization and they were “looking forward” to working with the USOC to improve.
In the end, at least some good came out of these horrendous crimes. Justice was served and the victims were given a platform to speak their truth. As Aly Raisman, gymnast and six-time Olympic medalists, said, “Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is O.K. to hurt another person. Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.”