On the eve of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, USA Gymnastics, the governing body for national gymnastics teams, was rocked by an investigation that found it had ignored numerous claims of its coaches sexually abusing young athletes.
The investigation, reported by the Indianapolis Star, found that USA Gymnastics routinely brushed off sexual abuse claims as hearsay, enabling coaches to molest gymnasts as young as 7 for years.
Now, just weeks after the Star published its report, two former gymnasts have come forward with new sexual abuse allegations — this time against USA Gymnastics’ longtime physician.
The two women, one of them an Olympic medalist, accused Larry G. Nassar of molesting them on multiple occasions in the 1990s and early 2000s, saying he fondled their genitals and breasts and made lewd comments during treatments. Nassar, who served as USA Gymnastics’ team physician in four Olympic Games before resigning last year, sexually abused them when they were both minors, the women allege.
The former Olympian, identified as “Jane JD Doe,” filed a lawsuit against Nassar and USA Gymnastics that was made public Monday in California state court. The other woman, Rachael Denhollander, filed a criminal complaint against Nassar last month with police at Michigan State University, where Nassar is a faculty member.
Both women spoke to the IndyStar, which was the first news outlet to report on their allegations, and Denhollander allowed her name to be used publicly. (The Post does not use the names of alleged abuse victims except in such circumstances.) They told the paper they didn’t approach USA Gymnastics about their allegations.
Nassar has not been charged with a crime. He denied both women’s claims through his attorney, Matthew Borgula.
“Dr. Nassar, to the extent the allegations are against him, adamantly denies any misconduct at this or any other time,” Borgula told the IndyStar. Borgula wasn’t immediately available for comment Monday night.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement Monday that it learned of “athlete concerns” about Nassar in the summer of 2015 and immediately notified law enforcement. Nassar was “relieved of his duties,” the organization said.
“We are grateful to the athletes for coming forward to share their concerns when they did,” USA Gymnastics said.
Immediately after learning of athlete concerns about Dr. Nassar last summer, Steve Penny, USA Gym president & CEO, notified law enforcement.
— USA Gymnastics (@USAGym) September 12, 2016
Denhollander alleges Nassar sexually abused her during treatments for back pain in 2000, when she was a 15-year-old club-level gymnast. Over the course of several treatments, Nassar touched her genitals, penetrated her vagina and anus with his hands, and massaged her breasts, Denhollander told the IndyStar.
For years, she said, she blamed herself.
“I was terrified,” she said. “I was ashamed. I was very embarrassed. And I was very confused, trying to reconcile what was happening with the person he was supposed to be.”
Denhollander’s mother came with her to the treatments, but Nassar positioned himself so she couldn’t see what he was doing, Denhollander said. Nassar’s attorney denied that the doctor ever used a procedure that called for penetration, the IndyStar reported.
Denhollander said she was motivated to come forward about the alleged abuse after reading the IndyStar’s investigation last month. She said she feels a responsibility to speak publicly — even if it means reliving painful experiences in court testimony.
“I hate that idea,” she said. “But if I don’t, he can continue.”
The Olympian’s lawsuit doesn’t identify Nassar or USA Gymnastics by name, but the woman’s attorney confirmed to the IndyStar that they were the defendants.
The other woman’s lawsuit, brought by “Jane JD Doe,” claims Nassar started abusing the gymnast in the mid-1990s, when she was 12 or 13, and continued until she was 18. According to the complaint, Nassar fondled her breasts, buttocks and genitals during treatments, pretending he was giving her medical care. The lawsuit says that in multiple instances when the team was traveling in the United States and overseas, Nassar penetrated the woman’s vagina and anus with his hand while she was sitting on a bed in athlete sleeping quarters. Nassar also described oral sex to the woman, saying other gymnasts were performing it, according to the complaint.
The doctor’s contact with the woman was “well outside any recognized and/or accepted technique” and was done for his “own sexual gratification,” the lawsuit says.
The complaint says the woman competed in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where she received a medal, and went on to become an NCAA champion. She is “among the best America had to offer in the sport,” it says.
The lawsuit also seeks to hold USA Gymnastics accountable, alleging the organization buried complaints about Nassar so it could expand its programs and “maintain a false facade of moral high repute.”
“USA Gymnastics has a long and sordid history of covering up this type of activity, of being anything but transparent,” John C. Manly, the plaintiff’s attorney, told the Orange County Register.
Nassar, 53, had worked on the Team USA medical staff since 1986 with athletes in four Olympic Games. In a June 2015 Facebook post captured by the IndyStar, Nassar said he planned on traveling with the team to Rio for the 2016 Olympics. But three months later, he stepped down, saying he would stay in the United States to campaign for a seat on the Holt, Mich., school board, the Star reported. Nassar’s lawyer told the paper that his retirement was unrelated to the sexual abuse allegations.
The IndyStar’s investigation found that USA Gymnastics put together complaint files on more than 50 coaches and kept them in its headquarters in Indianapolis. In some cases, the report found, the organization was warned that coaches sexually abused gymnasts, but didn’t alert authorities. USA Gymnastics has defended its handling of sexual abuse complaints.
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