Former USA Gymnastics doctor pleads guilty to criminal sexual conduct
MICHIGAN — Larry Nassar, the former acclaimed USA Gymnastics team doctor who is accused of sexually assaulting dozens women and girls, pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in a Michigan court on Wednesday.
Three of those charges applied to victims under 13, and three applied to victims between 13 and 15 years old. Several other charges were dismissed or reduced as part of a plea agreement. All 125 victims who reported assaults to Michigan State Police will be allowed to give victim impact statements at Nassar’s sentencing, according to the plea deal.
In all, Nassar had been charged with 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and 11 counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct at the state level, according to Megan Hawthorne, deputy press secretary for state Attorney General Bill Schuette told CNN in July.
A number of women, including several gold-medal winning members of the famed “Fierce Five” team of American gymnasts, have accused Nassar of sexual misconduct in his role as the USA Gymnastics doctor.
Nassar was the team physician for the Michigan State University gymnastics and women’s crew teams, as well as an associate professor at MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. He worked at MSU from 1997 to 2016, and served as the USA Gymnastics physician through four Olympic Games.
Several of the first degree charges pertain to victims under 13, and all of the state-level charges involve former family friends, gymnasts and patients of Nassar, Hawthorne said.
Separately, Nassar is also awaiting sentencing for federal charges of receiving child pornography, possessing child pornography and a charge that he hid and destroyed evidence in the case. That hearing is scheduled for November 27.
US gymnasts speak out
Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, two prominent American gymnasts, recently spoke out about abuse at the hands of Nassar. Maroney said Nassar molested her starting when she was 13 years old under the guise of providing “medically necessary treatment.” Raisman, now 23, said she was first treated by Nassar when she was 15.
Earlier in November, Raisman told 60 Minutes she was “angry” at Nassar and the broader culture of USA Gymnastics that she said kept victims quiet for years.
“Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up?” Raisman said in a short clip released by 60 Minutes. “Why not look at what about the culture? What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?”
Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast with USA Gymnastics, said in court in May that Nassar sexually abused her on five doctor’s visits in 2000.
Denhollander, a mid-level gymnast, said that she went to Nassar because of his esteemed stature with USA Gymnastics. The abuse began at her first visit, when he put two fingers in her vagina. She thought at the time that it was a legitimate medical treatment.
At a follow-up treatment, Nassar unhooked her bra, rolled her onto her side on the massage table and put his hand on her left breast, she said.
“I froze, because I knew that was sexual assault,” she said.
Gabby Douglas speaks
US Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas released a statement on Tuesday apologizing for a comment she had made that was perceived as victim-shaming, and she shared her own experience with Nassar.
“I didn’t view my comments as victim shaming because I know no matter what you wear, it NEVER gives anyone the right to harass or abuse you. It would be like saying that because of the leotards we wore, it was our fault that we were abused by Larry Nassar,” the statement said.
She also implied she had been abused by Nassar as well.
“I didn’t publicly share my experiences as well as many other things because for years we were conditioned to stay silent and honestly some things were extremely painful. I wholeheartedly support my teammates for coming forward with what happened to them,” she added.
In a statement, USA Gymnastics praised Douglas and her teammates willingness to speak out.
“The conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused is appalling, and we are very sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career,” the organization said.
In light of the sex abuse scandal, USA Gymnastics adopted a series of reforms in June that it said will better prevent and respond to future cases of abuse. All members are now required to report suspected sexual misconduct, and adults kicked out of a club will be tracked in a database to prevent future abuse.
“We are committed to further developing a culture that has safe sport as a top priority throughout the organization,” USA Gymnastics said.