By Emma Holmes
Content Warning: Descriptions of sexual assault and abuse
A prominent gymnastics doctor is facing 22 charges of first-degree criminal sexual assault, spanning more than 20 years with the Olympic gymnastics team, Michigan State University (MSU) and Twistars gym in Michigan. The assaults took place during medical treatment for female athletes. The following paragraphs contain details regarding the assault and reporting process that may be triggering to some readers.
Lawrence G. Nassar worked for USA Gymnastics (the Olympic-affiliated team) from 1996-2015, Michigan State University from 1996-2016 as well as private training gyms. Nassar specialized in treating athletic injuries, especially those of gymnasts, cheerleaders, and dancers. He lost his position with the Olympic Team in 2015 due to “athlete concerns,” and was fired from MSU the following year after failing to follow medical guidelines, such as having another person in the room during invasive procedures or explaining the reasons for them.
These guidelines were originally imposed after a complaint filed against Nassar in 2014 by a Michigan State University student. The complaint was ultimately dismissed, on the grounds that the student did not understand the difference between assault and medical treatment. Now, however, Nassar faces separate charges of sexually assaulting a family friend’s daughter, as well as owning over 37,000 images and videos of child pornography. Searches also recovered videos of Nassar assaulting girls and women that he recorded himself. There are 22 new accounts being considered.
At this point, more than 60 women have voiced that they were assaulted by Nassar, though only seven are involved in the case. Under the guise of treatment, he would insert ungloved fingers into the girls’ vaginas or anuses, or fondle their breasts. The girls ranged in age from 9 to 16 years old. While many report feeling uncomfortable, they say the pressure to heal and perform well pushed them to continue treatment. Additionally, Nassar was a well-known doctor, and his prestige protected him against suspicion.
Jamie Dantzcher, a former Team USA gymnast, explained that Nassar was “like a buddy” and “on [their] side,” describing him as friendly and attentive which was a breath of fresh air from the body image and fitness standards imposed on young girls in gymnastics, especially at such a high level. The trust he formed with the girls also prevented them from speaking out while the events were taking place.
The lawsuit is pleading negligence on the part of USA Gymnastics, MSU and Twistars Gymnastics, as well, for not better protecting the young women. Nassar’s trial will take place on March 2.
The coach of the MSU women’s gymnastics team, Kathie Klages, has resigned amid the scandal. Klages allegedly downplayed comments made in the 1990s about concerns regarding Nassar, and passionately defended him when the concerns resurfaced last year.
Readers are reminded that medical patients always have the right to bring a person into an appointment, refuse procedures, and ask for more information about treatments. Resources are available for victims of sexual assault through Peer Allies, Counseling, Health and Wellness Services and Campus Security.