‘Army of warrior women’ confronts ex-gymnastics doctor
More than 150 women and girls came forward in a Michigan courtroom to confront Larry Nassar, the former gymnastics doctor who was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting people under the guise of medical treatment.
Nassar worked at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, the governing body that also trains Olympians. Nassar pleaded guilty to assaulting seven people in the Lansing area, but the sentencing hearing was open to all of his accusers. Here are excerpts of some victims’ statements from his seven-day sentencing hearing.
Sterling Riethman, 25, saw Nassar at the age of 20 when she was a diver at Dennison University in Ohio. She told Nassar that he might not fully grasp what he has caused.
“You’ve created an army of warrior women. This army doesn’t have a white flag to wave. There is no white flag to wave when it comes to protecting little girls and their future.”
She also talked about how the molestation has affected her.
“What people don’t realize is the sheer muscle it takes in order to face the world with a smile on. To stay focused with the task at hand on any given day and to try and hold on to even a shred of the former me that my friends and family know and love. Those people see the fleeting good moments from what an otherwise ugly reality that has been this past year of my life. They don’t see the frustrating the exhaustion, the sadness, the emotional and physical trauma that haunts my every day and every move.”
Gymnast Rachael Denhollander was among the first victims in September 2016 to publicly accuse Nassar of molesting her. She was the last of Nassar’s accusers to speak at his sentencing hearing. She said at 15 she went to him suffering from back pain and was sexually assaulted for a year under the guise of medical treatment. During her statement she at times spoke directly to Nassar.
“You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires, a man defined by his daily choices over and over again to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others.”
She also lashed out those in authority at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.
“So MSU, which is it, do your employees have a duty to protect children or not? It has been 18 months and I am still asking the same questions, hoping that the little girls that come after me will have adults that they can trust. This, what it took to get here, what we had to go through for our voices to be heard because of the responses of the adults in authority has greatly compounded the damage we suffer and it matters.”
The first victim to speak was Kyle Stephens, who said Nassar repeatedly abused her from age 6 until age 12 during family visits to his home in Holt, Michigan.
“I testified to let the world know that you are a repulsive liar and those ‘treatments’ were pathetically veiled sexual abuse,” she said. “Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”
A 2000 Olympian, Jamie Dantzscher, looked at Nassar as she said: “How dare you ask any of us for forgiveness.”
“Your days of manipulation are over,” she added. “We have a voice. We have the power now.”
Clasina Syrovy, who competed as a gymnast for 15 years, fought back tears as she confronted him.
“Larry, how many of us are there? Do you even know?” she said. “You preyed on me, on us. You saw a way to take advantage of your position — the almighty and trusted gymnastics doctor. Shame on you, Larry. Shame on you.”
Syrovy said speaking up will allow her to move forward.
“After today, I will not cry anymore,” she told Nassar. “I am done. ... You are a disaster.”
Physical therapist and former gymnast Marta Stern spoke on the fifth day of the hearing, saying she originally wanted to remain anonymous “out of fear of how it would affect my life, my loved ones and my career.”
“However, I will no longer let you have control over me. I will not let you win,” she told Nassar.
Melissa Imrie said she was assaulted in 1997, when she was 12, after breaking her tailbone. She described the severe depression, sleeplessness and other issues that plagued her for years.
“Everybody’s story that I listened to today is just an echo of everything that I’ve went through. They’re just speaking like it’s my voice.”
She said she wants young athletes “to be safe from sexual predators, from this kind of abuse.”
Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman initially said she wouldn’t attend the hearing because it would be too traumatic, but the 23-year-old later showed up in court and spoke directly to Nassar.
“You have not taken gymnastics away from me. I love this sport, and that love is stronger than the evil that resides in you, in those who enabled you to hurt many people,” Raisman said.
Emma Ann Miller, 15, said Michigan State University was still billing her mother for medical appointments in which Nassar molested Miller as recently as August 2016 — a week before he was fired.
In her statement to the court, Miller directly addressed Michigan State.
“I, like all those that have spoken, didn’t choose this circumstance to have the right to be standing in front of this podium today. Nassar made that choice for us — your 20-year child-molesting employee.”
Former gymnast Lindsey Lemke, 22, was among the victims criticizing USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon. The school is being sued by dozens of women who say campus officials wrote off complaints about Nassar.
Referring to Simon, she said: “Guess what? You’re a coward, too.”
And to Nassar: “You sit up here shake your head back and forth. You abused us and you don’t even remember. That’s sickening.”
Lemke listened as her mother, Cristy Lemke-Akeo, also gave a statement in which she described Nassar as a family friend who was “someone we completely trusted.” Nassar “ultimately abused her on a daily basis for many years, starting around the age of 10,” her mother said.
Marion Siebert described the ordeal that victims like herself will face going forward.
“Every time someone Googles them, for the rest of their lives, they will see the sickening things we’re talking about here today. When they apply for a job, when they go on a first date, they won’t be able to be the ones to fully make the choice on when to talk about what happened. This terrible part of their past is exposed to all.”
Sisters Maddie and Kara Johnson both gave statements about being abused by Nassar.
“He was the doctor. I was the child. I had no idea what to think,” Maddie Johnson said. “For the longest time, you deprived me of my happiness. Because of you, every time I hear someone call me, ‘Kiddo,’ I think of the face you made when you were abusing me.”
Her sister said: “I will never be able to get back what you have so effortlessly taken. ... After this is all over, I can finally be a senior in high school again.”
Oklahoma gymnast Maggie Nichols’ mother read her statement. Gina Nichols said it would be too painful for her 20-year-old daughter to attend the hearing. The young woman went to Nassar for treatment of back pain when she was 15.
“I remember he took me into the training room, closed the door and closed the blinds. At the time I thought this was kind of weird but figured it must be OK. I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should.
“He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain.”
Nicole Reeb said she sought treatment from Nassar, hoping that he would help her compete as a dancer in high school and college.
“I have spent my entire adult life crawling my way through the aftermath of being sexually abused.”
Gymnast Katie Rasmussen said she was abused when she went to Nassar for treatment of a hamstring injury.
“No one did anything because no one believed me. They didn’t understand how such a respectable doctor would do something like that. And I don’t understand how a 14-year-old could make that up.”
Alexis Alvarado said she was abused by Nassar in her first session with him when she was 12. In her statement, she referenced statements Nassar made in a letter to Judge Rosemarie Aquilina that were critical of her handling of the case.
“This is not Judge Aquilina’s so-called ‘circus’ that you called it. This is your hell. And I hope you burn in it.”
Arianna Guerrero, 16, is a high school gymnast in Michigan. She went to Nassar after experiencing back pain.
“You, Larry, turned the sport I love into the sport I hate. I hope someone does to you what you did to us for the rest of your life.”
Jessica Thomashaw, 17, recounted how she was sexually assaulted at ages 9 and 12.
“He touched the most innocent places on my body. I couldn’t be just a normal girl anymore, and I forever lost a big piece of my childhood due to his abuse.”
Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber made a surprise appearance in court and, like many of the victims, allowed her name to be used publicly.
“Even though I’m a victim, I do not and will not live my life as one. I’m an Olympian despite being abused. I worked hard and managed to achieve my goal.”
McKayla Maroney, a 2012 Olympic gold and silver medalist, had a statement read in court in which she said being sexually assaulted by Nassar scarred her mind in ways that may never heal.
“Dr. Nassar was not a doctor,” she wrote. “He left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”
Former gymnast Jeanette Antolin was a member of the national team in the late 1990s when she went to Nassar for treatment.
“He robbed a good portion of my gymnastics experience, not just from me, but from countless women. Only a monster would harm innocent children the way Larry did. I will never understand the evil that motivates an adult to abuse an innocent child,” she said.
Gymnast Melissa Imrie said she was sexually abused when she went to Nassar in 1997, when she was 12, for treatment of a fractured tailbone.
“On the way home, I told (my mom) what happened — she was livid, so furious.”
Soccer player and gymnast Christine Harrison said she saw Nassar when she was 15 and 16.
“I know the truth. Regardless if he remembers what he did to me or not, I remember. That’s all that matters. You knew what you were doing was wrong. It wasn’t until you got caught that you started to beg for forgiveness.”
She said she saw Nassar for injuries.
“My family always used the saying, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves.’ But with you, you had the opportunity for years to seek help. You knew what you were doing was wrong, but it wasn’t until you got caught that you started to ask for forgiveness.”
Olivia Cowan said she saw Nassar more than 10 years ago.
“The anxiety this has caused me is what leaves me feeling like there’s nothing more to give. There’s not a day that passes that I don’t think about the monster.”
Melody Posthuma-Vanderveen said she was first abused by Nassar when she was 13 years old.
“I’m still suffering every day and will continue to do so. And I ask each one of you — and everyone this reaches — that you will help cultivate environments where women don’t have to live in fear. I wholeheartedly believe that this begins with giving you a life sentence today.”