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January 25, 2018

Disgraced doc to Olympic athletes sentenced to 40-175 years for sexual assaults

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    Former Michigan State University (MSU) and USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar on Wednesday was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in Michigan prison for charges that he sexually assaulted young female athletes.

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    Sentencing details

    The sentence is part of a plea deal under which Nassar pleaded guilty to multiple sexual assault charges in two Michigan counties. Nassar initially denied allegations of abuse, claiming vaginal exams were part of his medical treatment. The sentencing hearing lasted seven days and included statements of sexual abuse from more than 150 girls and women, many of whom were student athletes who said Nassar abused them multiple—sometimes hundreds of—times.

    Alexis Moore, who said Nassar had molested her beginning at age nine, during her testimony last week said, "For years, Mr. Nassar convinced me that he was the only person who could help me recover from multiple serious injuries. To me, he was like a knight (in) shining armor." Moore continued, "But alas, that shine blinded me from the abuse. He betrayed my trust, took advantage of my youth, and sexually abused me hundreds of times."

    During the sentencing hearing, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, said, "It was not treatment what you did; it was not medical." She added, "I wouldn't send my dogs to you, sir."

    The latest sentence is in addition to a 60-year federal prison sentence for child pornography crimes to which Nassar pleaded guilty last year.

    About Nassar

    Nassar started working as a trainer for USA Gymnastics, which chooses the Olympic teams, in 1986. Nassar became chief medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics in 1996. He was also on the faculty at MSU. He had taught and practiced medicine at the school since 1997.

    Nassar abruptly left USA Gymnastics in September 2015, and MSU fired Nassar in 2016, according to Vox.

    Allegations surface

    The Indianapolis Star in August 2016 ran an exposé on USA Gymnastics that alleged the organization had failed to protect young athletes from abuse and had not reported allegations against coaches to authorities.

    While the Star article did not name Nassar, Rachael Denhollander, who had been treated by Nassar at MSU, later approached the publication with her story. In a September 2016 story, Denhollander told the Star Nassar had sexually abused her when she sought treatment for lower back pain in 2000, when she was 15. Denhollander also filed a criminal complaint with MSU police.

    Around that time, Jamie Dantzscher, a gymnast who had competed with Team USA in 2000, filed a civil suit—initially as a Jane Doe—in California that accused Nassar of abusing her repeatedly between 1994 and 2000.

    Scores of similar allegations followed, according to Vox, with 125 women filing criminal complaints with police and more than 140 individuals filing civil lawsuits against Nassar and the institutions he worked for—namely USA Gymnastics and MSU.

    Allegations against Michigan State, USA Gymnastics

    Michigan's Attorney General's office is investigating the state's potential liability for Nassar's crimes, the Washington Post reports. The university also is conducting an internal review of its handling of the Nassar case, and on Wednesday MSU President Lou Anna Simon resigned from her role.

    Victims have said they raised complaints about Nassar's conduct to MSU athletic officials as early as 1997, according to the Post. A recent Detroit News investigation found at least 14 MSU officials or representatives were aware of allegations against Nassar in the two decades preceding his arrest.

    An investigation by MSU's Title IX office in 2014 cleared Nassar in a case in which a woman had alleged he sexually assaulted her when she visited his clinic for hip pain. According to the Post, the investigation concluded that the woman misunderstood the difference between legitimate medical treatment and sexual assault. But the Star found that all four experts whom the university consulted in the case had ties to both the university and Nassar. The Title IX investigation also prompted a criminal police probe—during which, Vox reports, Nassar was allowed to continue seeing patients. Ingham County prosecutors ultimately declined to file charges.

    Attorneys for MSU have said the school did not mishandle earlier complaints. MSU's attorneys also said Nassar's method of abuse was insidious and hard to detect, according to the Post, as many of Nassar's accusers said they did not know Nassar's medical treatment was not a legitimate form of care until the Star story came out.

    A spokesperson for the NCAA on Tuesday said the organization sent a letter to MSU "regarding potential NCAA rules violations related to the assaults Larry Nassar perpetrated against girls and young women, including some student-athletes at Michigan State." A spokesperson for MSU said the letter is being reviewed.

    Meanwhile, USA Gymnastics on Monday announced that three board members had resigned. The organization's CEO resigned last year over the Nassar case.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, although allegations against Nassar surfaced in June 2015, USA Gymnastics did not begin investigating them with serious attention until around April 2016.

    U.S. Olympian Aly Raisman, in an interview with ESPN's "Outside the Lines," said, "I'm so angry that, after realizing that we were abused, they let him continue to molest other gymnasts when they told me there was an investigation going on" (Hobson, Washington Post, 1/24; AP/WSB-TV, 1/24; Kozlowski/Rahal, Detroit News, 1/23; Kirby, Vox, 1/24; Park/Levenson, CNN, 1/24; Davis O'Brien/Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 2/16/17; Lage, AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/24).

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