US gymnastics doctor pleads guilty to molesting athletes

Larry Nassar has been accused of sexual assault by more than 130 women and girls

Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting numerous underage US gymnasts. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/Getty Images

Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting numerous underage US gymnasts. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/Getty Images

 

The team doctor accused of molesting scores of young athletes while working with the United States gymnastics team and Michigan State University pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexual assault on Wednesday in Ingham County Circuit Court. He is expected to face at least 25 years in prison.

Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, 54, was charged with the molestation of seven girls, most of whom were gymnasts, but he has been accused of various levels of inappropriate or abusive sexual behaviour by a group of more than 130 women and girls, including the Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas.

Sentencing is set for January 12th. The victims will have an opportunity to speak. In a brief statement on Wednesday, Nassar said he made the plea “to move the community forward and stop the hurting. I pray every day for forgiveness,” he said.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina responded: “You used your position of trust in the most vile way: to abuse children. I agree that now is a time of healing, but it may take them a lifetime of healing while you spend your life behind bars thinking of what you did by taking away their childhood.”

The girls involved in this specific plea agreement testified that Nassar molested them, sometimes with their parents present, while they were seeking treatment for sports-related injuries. Complaints against Nassar reportedly go back 20 years, but USA gymnastics fired him in 2015, which is when the organisation claims to have been made aware of the abuse.

“He convinced these girls that this was some type of legitimate treatment,” Assistant Attorney General Angela Poviliatis told a judge last summer. “Why would they question him? Why would they question this gymnastics god?”

Raisman, who was the captain of the teams that took home gold medals for the United States at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics, has been one of Nassar’s most vocal public critics, and has fiercely argued that the victims of the case should be blameless, despite some criticism they have received for waiting extended periods of time before reporting the abuse.

“Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up?” she said in an interview with 60 Minutes this month. “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?”

After Raisman’s announcement, and her subsequent commentary, Douglas, who had competed alongside her in both Olympics, posted a tweet that quoted a message from Raisman about the abuse. Douglas’ post included her own comment, which read “however it is our responsibility as women to dress modestly and be classy. Dressing in a provocative/sexual way entices the wrong crowd.”

The comment was widely attacked as victim shaming, with Simone Biles, the 2016 all-around gold medalist, showing her disappointment in a post to Twitter in which she said it “shocks me that I’m seeing this but it doesn’t surprise me.” Douglas has attempted to walk back the post, saying it was misinterpreted and that victims are always blameless. In her clarifications she revealed that she, too, had been one of Nassar’s victims. Maroney was the first of the gold medal-winning gymnasts to publicly accuse Nassar when she revealed details of her abuse in October, and Jamie Dantzscher, a bronze medalist from the 2000 team, was among the initial group of Nassar’s accusers last year.

While Nassar’s legal situation appears to be resolved in Ingham County, he faces similar charges in Eaton County, the location of an elite gymnastics club. He is also awaiting sentencing after having pleaded guilty in federal court on child pornography charges. – New York Times service

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