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MSU report: Nassar assaulted girl who told gymnastics coach about abuse

Larry Nassar
Michigan Attorney General's office

Dr. Larry Nassar has been found responsible for sexual assault, for the first time since this scandal erupted in the fall. 

Since then, some 80 women and girls have come forward with similar stories about alleged abuse by the renowned Olympics gymnastics and MSU sports doctor.

But this ruling wasn’t made in a criminal case.

Instead, it’s from a Michigan State University investigation and comes about three years after a similar MSU investigation cleared Nassar of wrongdoing in 2014.

“The circumstances of these two investigations are unique,” says MSU spokesman Jason Cody, who couldn’t go into details about the specifics in these Title IX cases because of confidentiality rules. “They’re not exactly the same. Each is handled by an investigator, under the policies at the time, based on the facts known at the time and the information collected at the time. And that investigation then reaches the best conclusion, based on what’s known at the time.”

But attorney John Manly disagrees.

“The fact patterns [of the two cases] are almost identical,” says Manly, who represents Rachel Denhollander, the woman in this 2017 complaint, and more than 70 others suing Nassar, MSU, and USA Gymnastics over alleged abuse.

“I’ve got a dozen little girls who were molested after 2014 that I represent. And these families are distraught and destroyed. There’s a crime called child endangerment. And if putting someone you know has sexually assaulted a woman back into the treatment room isn’t child endangerment, I don’t know what is.”

The 2017 case: MSU finds Nassar did sexually assault 15-year-old

In a 28-page-report completed this month, the school’s investigator found Dr. Nassar “engaged in sexual harassment” by digitally penetrating then 15-year-old Rachel Denhollander’s vagina and anus, without gloves and for extended periods of time, over the course of several medical appointments.

Denhollander brought her case to MSU back in September, claiming Nassar assaulted her during five appointments when she was his patient back in 2000. 

Both she and her mom, Camille Moxon, noticed Dr. Nassar would get flushed, breathe heavily, and had a “very clear erection” on two occasions.

“And yet, I was equally convinced my misgivings, fear and shame were my fault – it was not possible that he was a predator, it was not possible that he could be in intimate contact with young children without anyone being very sure everything was proper, so it had to be my mistake,” Denhollander says in the report, recalling her thought process at the time.

“But I was very, very certain I would not be believed, and my greatest fear was that he would be empowered to continue if I tried and failed.”

Still, she says she did tell her head gymnastics coach at Kalamazoo Gymnastics Club in 2003 about the molestation. But the coach, whose name has been redacted, “told her not to tell the owners of the gym because they loved [Nassar.]” In the final MSU report, Denhollander says that coach continued to send gymnasts to see Nassar, and “at that point, she decided not to say anything…because she thought she was not believed. [Denhollander] said it was not a battle she wanted to fight alone.”

Nassar, however, told the MSU investigator in September that he didn’t “penetrate the vagina or anus,” nor massage the patient’s breasts. He also denied having an erection during appointments, saying “that would be totally unprofessional.”

He also asked, “Why would she come see him five times if she was uncomfortable?” according to the report, and “Why didn’t they (the patients) complain at the time?”

On March 17, MSU’s investigator submitted a final report, finding a “preponderance of the evidence” pointed to Nassar’s guilt.

The 2014 case: MSU clears Nassar of abuse, lets him continue treatment

In March 2014, a female grad student went to the MSU Sports Medicine Clinic to see Dr. Nassar for hip pain.

According to her lawsuit, Nassar proceeded to “cup” her buttocks, asked a resident doctor to leave them alone in the room, massaged the grad student’s breasts, and began to massage her vaginal area under her underwear.

The grad student she says told him to stop, repeatedly, but “Nassar did not stop until she physically removed his hands from her body” and “became sexually aroused,” according to a federal lawsuit her attorney filed this month.  

But MSU’s investigation into her complaints, which included interviews with multiple medical experts, concluded the grad student didn’t understand the “nuanced difference” between what is and isn’t medically appropriate touching.

According to the grad student, that investigation left out important information, like that she had to physically remove Nassar’s hands from her body, and that he was sexually aroused.

Ultimately, the school dismissed her 2014 complaint against Nassar, and allowed him to continue treating patients. MSU did put several new protocols in place for his future treatments, like not being alone in a room with a patient; but Nassar allegedly ignored those guidelines.

Now that grad student has sued MSU for fraud, civil rights violation, gross negligence and a number of other counts.

Meanwhile, Nassar is facing multiple criminal charges for child porn and sexually assaulting 10 girls. He’s currently in prison without bond.  His attorney did not return request for comment.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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