Let’s start with the good news: Former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is accused of sexually abusing over 100 of his female patients, will be going to prison. Unfortunately, his sentence is the result of a plea deal that one attorney for some of the alleged victims called a “stunning betrayal.”
As reported by The Detroit News and ESPN Outside the Lines, Nassar has agreed to plead guilty to federal child pornography charges, and in exchange, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan will not pursue charges for the “arguably more serious charge of sexually exploiting children, including children he allegedly molested at his home, in his swimming pool and, the agreement states, during ‘interstate/international travel.’”
Nassar is expected to formally accept the deal on Tuesday morning in a hearing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He could spend as few as five years in prison, though ESPN reports it’s likely to be closer to 25 years. Still, for his many victims, that doesn’t seem like nearly enough.
“The Government is albeit unintentionally sending a message that molesting young athletes while far away from their families and competing for our country will not be taken seriously,” John Manly, an attorney representing some of the former gymnasts in civil trials, told the Orange County Register.
Kim Kozlowski of The Detroit News reports that Nassar—who was a god-like figure in USA Gymnastics for decades—is expected to plea guilty to three charges, including destruction and concealment of records and receipt and possession of child porn.
Nassar is an integral part of what is now the worst sex abuse scandal in the history of U.S. sports, but he is far from a lone wolf — the entire USA Gymnastics system enabled abusers for decades.
After IndyStar published the findings of their investigation into sexual abuse in USA Gymnastics last August, multiple women came forward with specific allegations against Nassar. Many of these women said they had previously reported the abuse to other officials at their gym, USA Gymnastics, or Michigan State, only to have their complaints ignored. One gymnast, who went on to become an Olympic medalist, said in a 2016 lawsuit that Nassar sexually abused her for six years beginning in 1994.
Last September, federal officials searched Nassar’s home in Michigan and found four hard drives in the trash can outside of his house that contained approximately 37,000 images and videos of child pornography, featuring girls as young as six years old. Days before, he paid $49 to have his computer’s files and operating system wiped clean. He was indicted on the child pornography charges in December.
Nassar still faces civil lawsuits from his alleged victims, and several separate criminal trials scheduled in state courts. It is unknown whether the plea deal impacts those cases. However, Nassar’s victims are disappointed that the former doctor is not facing a harsher federal sentence, particularly considering how extensively many of them cooperated with the FBI’s investigation.
“Many of our clients have spoken to and given evidence to the FBI. They gave that evidence and went through the trauma of reliving their experiences with the expectation that they would get justice,” Manly told ESPN. “Dr. Nassar molested young women at the Olympics. He molested young women at national competitions. And our country is not going to charge him? The message that sends these women is: ‘You don’t matter.’”
One former U.S. national team gymnast told ESPN she thinks FBI agents and federal prosecutors only met with her and other alleged victims of Nassar to “smooth things over,” and to keep the women from getting upset about the upcoming plea agreement.