LANSING, Mich. (AP) — One after one, gymnasts and other victims of a disgraced former sports doctor stepped forward in a Michigan courtroom Tuesday to recount the sexual abuse and emotional trauma he inflicted on them as children, including one who warned that girls eventually “grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”
Nearly 100 victims are expected to address the court during the four-day sentencing hearing for 54-year-old Larry Nassar. Many cried as they told their stories on the hearing’s first day, and some requested anonymity. Others unleashed.
“I testified to let the world know that you are a repulsive liar and those ‘treatments’ were pathetically veiled sexual abuse,” victim Kyle Stephens said to Nassar, who often bowed his head and closed his eyes or looked away as she and others spoke.
Stephens, the first victim to speak, said Nassar repeatedly abused her from age 6 until age 12 during family visits to his home in Holt, near Lansing. She said he rubbed his genitals on her and digitally penetrated her, among other abuse.
She said Nassar denied it, and her parents initially believed him. Stephens said she largely blamed her father’s suicide on the shame and self-loathing he felt for defending Nassar.
“Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever,” Stephens said. “They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”
The judge consoled the 29 women and girls who spoke or had their statements read on Tuesday, saying they should not blame themselves. More victims will speak on Wednesday.
Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting females with his hands at his Michigan State University office, his home and a Lansing-area gymnastics club, often while their parents were in the room. He also worked for Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.
Another statement came from Donna Markham, who told of how her 23-year-old daughter Chelsey killed herself in 2009, years after Nassar sexually abused her during a medical examination.
“It all started with him,” she said, describing her daughter’s downward spiral into drug abuse.
Victims described experiencing “searing pain” during the assaults and having feelings of shame and embarrassment. They said it had changed their life trajectories — affecting relationships, causing them to be distrustful and leading to depression, suicidal thoughts, and anger and anxiety about whether they should have spoken up sooner.
“He touched the most innocent places on my body,” said 17-year-old Jessica Thomashaw, recounting how she was sexually assaulted at ages 9 and 12. “I couldn’t be just a normal girl anymore, and I forever lost a big piece of my childhood due to his abuse.”
Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who is expected to order a sentence on Friday, said the system had failed them.
“You shouldn’t be angry with yourself,” she told a 31-year-old victim, who said she was assaulted almost 20 years ago. “You went to him for pain and healing, and you didn’t know. No one faults you or any other victim for that. You were a child.”
Prosecutors are seeking at least 40 years in prison for Nassar, who has already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.
Olympic gold medallists Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman have said they, too, were victims. Raisman tweeted Monday that she would not attend the sentencing “because it is too traumatic for me. My impact letter will be read in court in front of Nassar. I support the brave survivors. We are all in this together.”
Nassar admitted in November that he digitally penetrating 10 girls, mostly under the guise of treatment, between 1998 and 2015. As part of plea deals in two adjacent Michigan counties, he said his conduct had no legitimate medical purpose and that he did not have the girls’ consent.
The criminal cases followed reports last year in The Indianapolis Star about how USA Gymnastics mishandled complaints about sexual misconduct involving him and coaches. Women and girls said the stories inspired them to step forward with detailed allegations of abuse.
Melissa Imrie told the judge she was assaulted in 1997, when she was 12, after breaking her tailbone. She described years of severe depression, sleeplessness and other issues.
“Everybody’s story that I listened today is just an echo of everything that I’ve went through. They’re just speaking like it’s my voice,” Imrie said.
She said she wants young athletes “to be safe from sexual predators, from this kind of abuse.”