Shortly before 11 a.m., Judge Rosemarie Aquilina declared a recess in the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, the former trainer for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University who is accused of sexually assaulting more than 150 women and girls over a period of decades.
The recess capped seven days of testimony by 156 of Nassar’s victims who, one after another, confronted him in court and publicly recounted the abuse they suffered in his exam room. The final voice to speak, before Judge Aquilina hands down his sentence, was Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault and whose testimony ultimately led to his firing and arrest.
“Larry meticulously groomed me for the purpose of exploiting me for his sexual gain. He penetrated me, he groped me, he fondled me, and then he whispered questions about how it felt,” said Denhollander, who began visiting Nassar in 2000. “Larry found sexual satisfaction in our suffering…he was sexually aroused by our humiliation and our pain.”
Like many of the other victims who testified over the last week, Denhollander also demanded answers from the officials at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State who were made aware of allegations as early as 1997 and yet allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue for twenty years. And she recalled how the response by officials made her question her own sexual assault.
“I was confident that because people at MSU and USAG had to be aware of what Larry was doing and had not stopped him, there could surely be no question about the legitimacy of his treatment. ‘This must be medical treatment. The problem must be me.’,” said Denhollander. “I was wrong.”
Michigan State’s longtime gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, who warned multiple athletes there would be consequences if they filed complaints against Nassar, was allowed to retire last year. Dr. William Strampel, who mocked Denhollander after she spoke with the Indianapolis Star in 2016 for their investigative piece that unravelled this whole saga, stepped down from his administrative position as Dean of Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in December, but remains on the faculty of the college. University President Lou Ann Simon has resisted calls for her resignation for failing to protect her students, and the school’s board of trustees has made it clear they continue to support Simon.
“President Simon and board of trustees, is this the right way to handle disclosures of abuse on MSU’s campus?” asked Denhollander towards the end of her impact statement. “MSU, you need to realize that you are greatly compounding the damage done to abuse victims by the way you are responding.”