Monster Doc: Former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar faces victims in court

"Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don't stay little forever. They grow into strong women who return to destroy your world." Ms Kyle Stephens, who was just six when the abuse began. She told her parents but Nassar convinced them she was lying. Team USA Gymnastics physician, accused of molesting over 100 women, faces victims in court

WASHINGTON • The families were close, often spending Sundays together. The mothers cooked dinner while Larry Nassar played with the children.

Kyle Stephens was six the first time a game of hide-and-seek took a detour into the boiler room, she said, and 12 when she decided to tell her parents what the doctor was doing to her.

But Nassar, who was known throughout the region as the Michigan State University (MSU) sports physician who also treated the best Olympic gymnasts in the United States, said their daughter was lying.

The parents believed him and made their daughter apologise.

Chelsea Markham was 10 years old in 1995 when she visited Nassar. After one of the visits, the girl burst into tears, said her mother Donna.

"She said, 'Mom, he put his fingers in me, and they weren't gloved'," Mrs Markham said. Her daughter begged her not to tell anyone out of fear it would hurt her gymnastics career.

But Chelsea soon quit the sport, her mother said, and her life spiralled into bouts with drug problems and depression. She committed suicide in 2009, aged just 23.

 
 
 
 
 

"Every day, I miss her," Mrs Markham said. "And it all started with him."

The abuse at Nassar's hands also took a devastating toll on the Stephens family.

As a teenager, Ms Stephens said, she began to detach from her parents, often telling people she had no family.

"Larry Nassar wedged himself between myself and my family and used his leverage as a family friend to pry us apart until we fractured," said Ms Stephens, now 26, the only victim not affiliated with his medical practice.

Her father committed suicide in 2016, she believes, in part because of the belated realisation that his daughter had been telling the truth.

That was the year The Indianapolis Star published an investigation into the sexual abuse some athletes suffered inside USA Gymnastics, marking the first time the matter reached the public domain, where it has since remained.

Nearly a year and a half after one woman filed a police report and contacted a newspaper, the criminal cases against Nassar are nearing an end, with an ongoing marathon sentencing hearing.

Some 105 of the more than 130 girls and women who have accused him of abuse - including his one-time family babysitter and athletes in several women's sports programmes at MSU - are expected to speak, many for the first time.

Their accounts have aligned around common methods first described in The Indianapolis Star and realisations by dozens of other women that what they had accepted years before as medical treatment was actually sexual assault.

FACING LIFE IN PRISON

The hearing - which has been televised nationally - began last Tuesday and probably will stretch into this week. With the 54-year-old Nassar already facing a 60-year federal term for child pornography crimes and a 25-year minimum as part of a plea deal, the judge has said she expects him to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Nassar's best-known victims under the guise of medical treatment were members of the Olympic gold-medal winning gymnastics team, including stars such as Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas.

The quartet took home gold at the 2016 Olympics, but behind their joy is a past they wish they could erase.

Biles, 20, the reigning Olympic all-around champion and 10-time World Championship medallist, came forward on Monday, tweeting: "Most of you know me as a happy, giggly and energetic girl. But lately I've felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head, the louder it screams. I am not afraid to tell my story anymore... (and) I know now it is not my fault."

"It is not normal to receive any type of treatment from a trusted team physician and refer to it as 'special' treatment," she added. "This behaviour is completely unacceptable... especially coming from someone I was TOLD to trust."

Another Olympic gold medallist, Jordyn Wieber, 22, said the athletes did not question the abuse because of Nassar's stellar reputation in the gymnastics world as a "miracle worker".

She revealed that he had unfettered access to gymnasts - he was the only male allowed at the national team training camp in Texas and was sometimes left unaccompanied in their hotel rooms. She also said he had manipulated her by offering her food and coffee at pressure-cooker training camps where such luxuries were prohibited.

Some of the victims spoke of how he had made them change into loose shorts that he kept in his examining room, how he squinted his eyes tightly closed as he was touching them.

They spoke of their discomfort and pain during the abuse, but also their confusion. There were signed photographs of elite athletes on the walls, and he positioned their bodies so that a parent in the room could not see what he was doing, they said.

Kara Johnson, now a high school student, spoke about how she was taken to Nassar for back and hip treatment when she was a 13-year-old cross-country track athlete and he placed her on a table on her abdomen and then molested her.

He left the room, returned with a lubricant, and repeated the abuse. He then smacked her on her "bare butt", called her "sweetie" and told her that if she ever had her period when she came to see him, to be sure to let him know, she said.

"How was I supposed to know at the age of 13 what was medically acceptable and what the boundaries were?" she said. Her sister, now 15, was also abused.

Raisman, meanwhile, has demanded an independent probe to find out how Nassar was apparently able to abuse young girls for years with impunity.

USA Gymnastics and MSU, where Nassar was also a faculty member, have come under heavy criticism for their handling of the case.

Four athletes told ESPN they had reported Nassar's abuse to Michigan State in the late 1990s, while he continued to see patients at MSU for 16 months after a criminal investigation into his actions was launched in July 2014. Raisman says she suffered abuse after that date.

ESPN also reports that Nassar did not leave his position at USA Gymnastics until months after allegations of abuse had been reported.

MSU has denied there was a cover-up. Maroney, 22, filed a lawsuit against USA Gymnastics last month, alleging that officials paid her to sign a confidential financial settlement to remain silent on the abuse.

Biles also laid some blame on USA Gymnastics on Monday. "For too long I've asked myself, 'Was I too naive? Was it my fault?' I now know the answer to those questions," she wrote. "No. No, it was not my fault. No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG, and others."

In the aftermath of the revelations, USA Gymnastics has adopted a new "safe sport policy" that requires "mandatory reporting" of suspicions of sexual abuse.

International Gymnastics Federation president Morinari Watanabe said on Tuesday that his organisation would also set up a victim support body.

A civil lawsuit has been filed on behalf of about 100 of Nassar's victims. Their attorney, Mr John Manly, has said the total number could be as high as 160.

"I've been coming for you for a long time," Ms Stephens told Nassar at the hearing. "Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don't stay little forever. They grow into strong women who return to destroy your world."

Biles, too, vowed not to let the horrors of the past define her, writing: "I am much more than this. I am unique, smart, talented, motivated and passionate. I have promised myself that my story will be much greater than this."

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THE VICTIMS

Victims Catherine Gordon (left) and Megan Ginter in court to give their victim impact statements. Larry Nassar was made to face his victims during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan, over the past week. He is expected to spend the rest of hi

1. Olympic medallist Aly Raisman

Ms Raisman said treatments with Nassar were mandatory and that she first met him in Australia. "The tables have turned, Larry. We are here. We have our voices," she said.

Victims Catherine Gordon (left) and Megan Ginter in court to give their victim impact statements. Larry Nassar was made to face his victims during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan, over the past week. He is expected to spend the rest of hi

2. Christine Harrison

She saw Nassar for sports injuries and was abused when she was 15.

"You knew what you were doing was wrong but it wasn't until you got caught that you started to ask for forgiveness," she said.

Victims Catherine Gordon (left) and Megan Ginter in court to give their victim impact statements. Larry Nassar was made to face his victims during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan, over the past week. He is expected to spend the rest of hi

3. Gymnast Lindsey Lemke

The Michigan State undergraduate accused Nassar of sexually assaulting her on hundreds of occasions, starting when she was 12. She also called out USA Gymnastics and MSU.

Victims Catherine Gordon (left) and Megan Ginter in court to give their victim impact statements. Larry Nassar was made to face his victims during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan, over the past week. He is expected to spend the rest of hi

4. Donna Markham, mother of Chelsea Markham

She said her daughter was abused when she was 10 and never recovered. She developed drug problems and committed suicide in 2009. She was 23.

Victims Catherine Gordon (left) and Megan Ginter in court to give their victim impact statements. Larry Nassar was made to face his victims during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan, over the past week. He is expected to spend the rest of hi

5. Olympic medallist Jordyn Wieber

"I thought that training for the Olympics would be the hardest thing that I would ever have to do. But, in fact, the hardest thing I ever had to do is process that I am a victim of Larry Nassar."

Victims Catherine Gordon (left) and Megan Ginter in court to give their victim impact statements. Larry Nassar was made to face his victims during his sentencing hearing in Lansing, Michigan, over the past week. He is expected to spend the rest of hi

6. Carrie Hogan

The Former MSU softball player said she had no idea she was being molested. "He was so incredibly kind to me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 21, 2018, with the headline 'Monster Doc'. Print Edition | Subscribe