LANSING, Mich. (CBSNewYork/AP) — One after one, gymnasts and other victims of a disgraced former sports doctor stepped forward in a Michigan courtroom Tuesday to recount the sexual abuse and emotional trauma Larry Nassar inflicted on them as children — one with the warning that “little girls don’t stay little forever.”
Nearly 100 women and girls planned to speak or have their statements read during an extraordinary four-day sentencing hearing. Many of them cried as they gave the initial testimonies Tuesday. Some requested that their identities not be made public. The judge consoled the victims and said they should not blame themselves.
“I testified to let the world know that you are a repulsive liar,” one victim, Kyle Stephens, said to the 54-year-old Nassar who bowed his head with his eyes closed or looked away as she and others spoke. Stephens, the first to speak, said Nassar repeatedly abused her from age 6 until age 12 during family visits to his home in Holt, near Lansing. She said he rubbed his genitals on her and digitally penetrated her, among other things. She said Nassar later denied it, and her parents believed him.
“Without my knowledge or consent, I had engaged in my first sexual experience by kindergarten,” she said. “You convinced my parents that you didn’t pull my feet into your lap, unzip your pants and rub your erect penis against my bare skin.”
The abuse shattered her family. Her father killed himself in 2016.
“Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever,” Stephens said. “They grow into strong women that … destroy your world.”
Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting females with his hands at his Michigan State University office, his home and a Lansing-area gymnastics club. He also worked for Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.
Another statement came from Donna Markham, who told of how her daughter Chelsey killed herself in 2009, years after Nassar sexually abused her during a medical examination.
“She took her own life, because she couldn’t deal with the pain anymore,” she said, sobbing. “It all started with him.”
Victims described experiencing “searing pain” during the assaults and having feelings of shame and embarrassment. They said it had changed their life trajectories — affecting relationships, causing them to be distrustful and leading to depression, suicidal thoughts and anger and anxiety on whether they should have spoken up sooner.
“He touched the most innocent places on my body,” said 17-year-old Jessica Thomashaw, recounting how she was sexually assaulted at ages 9 and 12. “I couldn’t be just a normal girl anymore, and I forever lost a big piece of my childhood due to his abuse.”
“I remember laying there wondering, ‘Is this OK? This doesn’t seem right. What’s happening?’ I didn’t know what to do,” victim Jennifer Rood Bedford said.
“I must ask you this: Are you remorseful for you actions?” asked gymnast Alexis Moore, who was 9 years old when she first saw the doctor for a broken pelvis.
She said he abused her with her parents in the room.
“He betrayed my trust, took advantage of my youth and sexually abused me hundreds of times,” she said.
Danielle Moore said she’s been stuck in darkness since her abuse.
“The pain of the abuse continues to make me feel broken, insecure, fearful and overall worthless,” she said.
Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who is expected to order a sentence Friday, said the system had failed them.
“You shouldn’t be angry with yourself,” she told a 31-year-old victim, who said she was assaulted almost 20 years ago. “You went to him for pain and healing, and you didn’t know. No one faults you or any other victim for that. You were a child.”
The Michigan attorney general’s office is seeking 40 to 125 years in prison for the 54-year-old Nassar. The maximum represents a year for each of the 125 girls and women who filed reports of abuse with campus police. He already has been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.
Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles on Monday said she was among the athletes sexually abused by Nassar. Another gold medalist, Aly Raisman, tweeted Monday that she would not attend the sentencing “because it is too traumatic for me. My impact letter will be read in court in front of Nassar. I support the brave survivors. We are all in this together.”
Olympians McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas also have said they were among Nassar’s victims as teens.
In November, he admitted to digitally penetrating 10 girls, mostly under the guise of treatment, between 1998 and 2015. As part of plea deals in two adjacent Michigan counties, he said his conduct had no legitimate medical purpose and that he did not have the girls’ consent.
Nassar is scheduled to be sentenced in Eaton County in two weeks.
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