Column: Justice Served In Nassar CaseDecember 14, 2017
Those words were uttered by Rachael Denhollander after Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison. Denhollander was the first person to publicly accuse Nassar, a former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and the Michigan State University gymnastics team, of sexually abusing hundreds of gymnasts – one of whom was only 9 years old - under the guise of medical treatment.
What would constitute justice for a monster who sexually abused hundreds of girls and women? More importantly, what should justice look like to Nassar’s victims? The sentence virtually guarantees that Nassar will spend his remaining life behind bars. Is that sufficient punishment when it will take his victims years, if not a lifetime, to heal from the wounds he inflicted upon them?
Nassar’s sentencing came after he plead guilty in federal court to three counts of molestation. He is also awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in state court on similar charges. In addition to the criminal complaints, 140 victims have filed civil suits against Nassar, USA Gymnastics and MSU. Allegations in the complaints date back to 1994 and some victims claim to have reported Nassar to MSU authorities as early as 1997. The complainants say in court records they were discouraged from filing “formal” complaints against the doctor. Furthermore, MSU administrators and coaches told the athletes Nassar’s actions constituted “legitimate medical procedures.”
Based on that evidence, it’s fair to say that Nassar isn’t the only monster in this story. Numerous adults were more concerned about their reputations, the reputation of their institution, their jobs and paychecks, than they were about the health and welfare of the athletes in their charge. That cover up is the real crime here. Nassar isn’t the only person who should be going to jail.
The Indianapolis Star broke the Nassar story in September 2016 when it published the accounts of two women, one of whom was Denhollander. The Star also reported that the federation had ignored complaints of deviant behavior against dozens of gymnastics coaches. Steve Penny, who had led USA Gymnastics since 2005, was asked to resign in March of this year but not before receiving $1 million in severance pay. The financial payment was the equivalent of two years’ compensation. After the Star detailed the Nassar story, Penny had faced criticism for not doing enough to protect gymnasts from sexual abuse, which included allowing coaches to move from club to club where their predatory activities continued.
Unfortunately, pedophiles exist among us. But once unmasked they should be prevented from interacting with children at all costs. Instead, USA Gymnastics and MSU covered up Nassar’s activities as if they were a mere mistake or oversight. The organization refused to acknowledge his misdeeds for decades, jeopardizing the health and safety of children they had a sacred trust to protect. In effect, they gave the fox the keys to the henhouse.
For the cruelty Nasser’s victims endured, and will continue to endure, Denhollander is right. Justice is incomplete.