Victims confront Larry Nassar in court: ‘Little girls don’t stay little forever’
Kyle Stephens said she had her first sexual experience when she was 6 years old.
Larry Nassar, a family friend, exposed himself to her in a dark boiler room. From then until she was 12 years old, he would pleasure himself in front of her, rub his penis on her bare feet and put his finger in her vagina.
At 12, she told her parents about the abuse, but they didn’t believe her. The abuse — and their denial — left her feeling brainwashed, caused a split in her family relationship and led to crippling anxiety, she said.
But on Tuesday, Stephens defiantly stared down Nassar in a Michigan courtroom to inform him that the abuse was over, and his time as a free man was up.
“Little girls don’t stay little forever,” Stephens said. “They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”
Stephens was the first victim to speak in what is expected to be days of victim impact testimony as part of Nassar’s criminal sentencing.
Given the remarkable scope of the years of abuse, several days of court have been set aside for victims or their parents to speak out about Nassar — and the systems of power that protected him. Prosecutors in court said that 98 victim statements are expected in all, though that number could change.
Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor for about two decades, pleaded guilty in November to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in Ingham County in Michigan. As part of his plea deal, he admitted that he used his position as a trusted medical professional to sexually abuse young girls.
He also pleaded guilty to three other criminal counts in Eaton County. And he has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography charges.
‘It all started with him’
Stephens said Nassar was a “repulsive liar” who had convinced her family that she was the one lying.
“Sexual abuse is so much more than a disturbing physical act. It changes the trajectory of a victim’s life, and that is something that nobody has the right to do,” Stephens said.
On the witness stand, Nassar kept his head down and his eyes closed and covered his face with his hands throughout the morning proceedings.
Donna Markham said she took her 12-year-old daughter Chelsey to Nassar for medical treatment. On their drive home, Chelsey broke into tears, saying he put his ungloved fingers in her vagina even as Ms. Markham was in the room.
The incident set Chelsey on a path toward depression and drugs, Markham said. She took her own life in 2009 at the age of 23.
“Every day I miss her. Every day. And it all started with him. It all started with him, and it just became worse as the years went by until she just couldn’t deal with it anymore,” Markham said.
Jade Capua said Nassar was “a monster that left me with more pain and scars than I came to his office with.”
Olivia Cowan said she used to sleep soundly through the nights. But since Nassar’s abuse, she spends more nights than not crying, filled with anxiety that leaves her exhausted, unable to sleep, and unable to trust people.
“Today, I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend that is struggling each day to find peace and joy in all the things that once made me happy,” she said.
Cowan placed blame on both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, two organizations that she said ignored complaints of wrongdoing about Nassar and have still refused to take responsibility for their role in the abuse.
“You failed all of us,” she said, addressing USA Gymnastics and MSU, “and for that, I see you in the same category of criminal as I do the criminal standing before us today.”
USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, both of which employed Nassar for years, have denied ignoring the accusations against him and say they took action when they were told about the abuse.
‘No. It was not my fault.’
As a doctor for USA Gymnastics through four Olympic Games, Nassar treated hopeful young gymnasts and world champions alike. His victims include some of the most famous gymnasts in American history, including several members of the 2012 and 2016 gold medal-winning teams.
Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, and McKayla Maroney have said previously they were abused by Nassar. Simone Biles, who set an American record with four gold medals in women’s gymnastics in 2016, said on Monday that she, too, was a victim.
“For far too long I’ve asked myself ‘Was I too naive? Was it my fault?’ I now know the answer to those questions. No. No. It was not my fault. No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG, and others,” Biles, now 20, said.
It’s not clear who will be present at the victim impact hearings. Aly Raisman said on Twitter that she will not attend “because it is too traumatic,” but her impact statement will be read in court.
Nassar also worked at Michigan State University from 1997 to 2016 as an associate professor, and he served as the gymnastics and women’s crew team physician.
Under the guise of providing medically necessary treatment, Nassar instead abused many of his patients. He admitted in court to putting his finger into the vagina of patients in cases going back as far as 1998 — including girls under the age of 13.
Attorney John Manly, who represents more than 100 victims in civil lawsuits, has argued that Nassar was supported in his abuse by institutions like USA Gymnastics.
Facing accusations of a cover-up, USA Gymnastics said in a statement that it acted appropriately and informed law enforcement when it learned about the abuse in 2015.
“We are sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career. USA Gymnastics is focused every day on creating a culture of empowerment that encourages our athletes to speak up about abuse and other difficult topics,” the statement said.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the lead attorney for Michigan State University in these cases, defended MSU’s response in a letter to the Michigan attorney general.
“The evidence will show that no MSU official believed that Nassar committed sexual abuse prior to newspaper reports in the summer of 2016,” he wrote, according to the university.