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Nassar victims ask: “Why do these people still work at MSU?”

The "Sparty" statue on the MSU campus
Betsy Weber
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

As calls for an independent investigation into Michigan State University's handling of the sexual assault charges against former sports Dr. Larry Nassar grow louder, here’s a rundown of people currently working at MSU, who victims say were either 1) told about Nassar’s abuse years ago; or 2) whose failures to protect children and students on campus, they believe, border on negligence. 

Michigan State University, for its part, says these claims are only one side of the story, and that the school cannot comment about specific allegations because of litigation. Trustee Joel Ferguson has said the victims' civil attorneys are"ambulance chasers" looking to get a "pay day" by blaming MSU. Patrick Fitzgerald, the head of MSU's legal team in these cases, says a joint investigation by the MSU Police Department and the FBI cleared anyone currently at MSU of criminal wrongdoing. 

Here's who some of Nassar's victims believe share responsibility:

1)      Athletic trainers, two of whom are supervisors

Tiffany Thomas Lopez was an MSU softball player from 1998 to 2001. She saw Dr. Larry Nassar for back pain, and says she told a trainer on her softball team that Nassar was touching her vagina during treatment. That trainer responded “by saying that Nassar was a world-renowned doctor, and that it was legitimate medical treatment,” Lopez’s lawsuit claims.

She kept seeing Nassar for treatment, and the abuse worsened. He started inserting his bare, unlubricated hands inside her vagina. This time, Lopez says she reported it to a “higher ranking trainer” in the athletic department, who told her the treatment “sounded unusual.”

That trainer called in her boss, one of the supervisors of the department. But this supervisor dismissed Lopez’s concerns, the lawsuit claims, telling her that this “was not sexual abuse, that Nassar was a world renowned doctor, and that the plaintiff was not to discuss what happened with Nassar and was to continue seeing him…”

Lopez says she eventually refused to keep seeing Nassar for treatments, and was “pressured and coerced” into declaring herself medically inactive.

“I was told on multiple occasions that I was crazy and that I was making this up,” Lopez said at a press conference last week. At least two of those employees still work at the University, she says.

But she still hopes those trainers will come forward.

“It just became really personal with one of the young ladies (a trainer) in particular, who took very good care of me and my teammates. Sweet young woman, very thoughtful, very caring. When I went to her initially, she was very compassionate about what she was willing to do and take it to her superior. I feel like I want her to be my saving grace. I feel like she has the power to say, ‘She came to me and she said something, and we did nothing to help her,’” Lopez says.

2)      Kristine Moore, former Assistant Director for Institutional Equity, currently Assistant General Counsel

Credit Michigan State University
Kristine Moore

On March 14, 2014, a young woman who’s only using her first name,Amanda,saw Dr. Nassar for hip pain. During that appointment, she says, Nassar massaged her vagina and breasts under her underwear, without her consent, and became sexually aroused. Amanda says she had to physically remove his hands from her body to get him to stop.

According to her lawsuit, Amanda says she reported this to Dr. Jeffrey R. Kovan, the director of sports medicine and performance at MSU, in April 2014. Kovan then reported it to MSU’s Title IX department, and Kristine Mooreopened an investigation, the lawsuit claims.

That investigation included interviews with doctors who had close ties to MSU, as the Lansing State Journalreported – including one woman, Brooke Lemmen, who was actually recommended to Moore by Nassar himself, according to documents obtained by the Lansing State Journal.

Moore’s investigation ultimately cleared Nassar of sexual misconduct, and Moore told Amanda she had misunderstood the “nuanced difference” between sexual touching and legitimate medical procedures. But in her civil suit against MSU, Amanda says Moore’s report left out two critical facts: that Nassar had an erection while touching her, and that he refused to stop until she physically removed his hands.

Had investigators searched Nassar’s work computer at the time, attorney John Manly says, they likely would have found child pornography. Nassar later paid to get his laptop hard drive wiped clean when he knew law enforcement was investigating him in 2016.  

3)      Dr. William Strampel, Dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine

After the 2014 investigation cleared Nassar, Strampel wrote an email to Nassar telling him he was “happy this has resolved to some extent and I am happy to have you back in full practice.”

Credit Michigan State University
Dean William Strampel

As part of their agreement, Strampel says in this same email, Nassar had agreed to:

1) “We will have another person (resident, nurse, etc) in the room whenever we are approaching a patient to perform procedures of anything close to a sensitive area. 2) “The procedure which caused the patient emotional distress because of her interpretation will be modified in the future to be sure that there is little to no skin contact when in these regions. Should be this be absolutely necessary, the procedure will be explained in detail with another person in the room for both the explanation and procedure. 3) “New people in our practice will be oriented to be sure they understand these requirements.”

But victims say those policies weren’t enforced. John Manly, an attorney representing a number of women and girls suing MSU.

“We represent a number of children who were molested after 2014,” he says. “Some, hundreds of times. They were never given a heads up that Dr. Nassar had been given new protocols that he was never to be alone, that he was supposed to use a glove. They were never told that. As far as we know, much of the staff was never told that.

“If Mr. Strampel had called any of these patients and said, ‘I need to talk to you, we need to do a sample interview, we need to find out what happened.’ If somebody had just asked the parents: did something happen to your child that’s unusual in the treatment room?' Any of these things, it could have been stopped,” Manly says.

In April, the Washington Post published additional emails between Strampel and Nassar, including one from September 2016. A reporter with the Indianapolis Star told Nassar he’d interviewed Rachael Denhollander and wanted to talk with Nassar. Nassar forwarded the email to Strampel.

“Good luck,” Strampel replied. “I am on your side.” On Sept. 12, the Star published a story detailing Denhollander’s claims and those of an Olympic medalist who was given anonymity. Strampel and other university administrators emailed the story to each other. “I expect that this will be all over the paper tomorrow .?.?. Cherry on the Cake of my day!!! Strampel wrote June Pierce Youatt, executive vice president for academic affairs. On Sept. 15, Nassar wrote Strampel to tell him he had been inundated with messages of support from other doctors, gymnasts, and coaches. “I am trying to make sure I take advantage of this time before the ‘Me Toos’ come out .?.?. and the second media blitz occurs .?.?. Thank you for your support,” Nassar wrote.

Rachael Denhollander wrote an open letter to Strampel in May 2017.

“You can’t go back and ask the questions you should have been asking all along. The damage is done. Little girls walked through Nassar’s door for years while you were the Dean, and came back out scarred in ways you’ll never understand. And you were wishing him ‘good luck.’”

Update: Strampel announced his intention to step down as dean on December 14, citing medical reasons. 

4)      Athletic Director Mark Hollis

It took Hollis almost six monthsafter the first reports of Nassar’s abuse became public, to reach out to current and former female MSU athletes explaining how to actually report abuse by Nassar.

Mark Hollis
Credit Twitter
Mark Hollis

An MSU spokesman told the Lansing State Journal that Hollis sent the letter because people were still confused about reporting.

"However, over the past several weeks, we have heard from some members of the MSU community who were still needing information on where to go to report information on Nassar," he said. "The letter to female student-athletes represents another way we are working to get information out."

Update: Hollis resignedon January 26. 2018. "I am not running away from anything," he said in a statement, "I am running toward something. Comfort, compassion and understanding for the survivors and our community"

5)      MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon

Simon’s most famous statementabout the Nassar case, to date, created a backlash. “I have been told it is virtually impossible to stop a determined sexual predator and pedophile, that they will go to incomprehensible lengths to keep what they do in the shadows,” she said in April. 

Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon
Credit Michigan State University
President Simon

But for years, women say, Nassar’s abuse wasn’t in the shadows at all. “For those of us who were victims of this man, it’s a bitter reminder that our voices counted for nothing,” Denhollander wrote Simon in an open letter. “And it makes every one of your condolences ring hollow.” 

Earlier this month, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette asked President Simon to release the results of the school’s internal investigation regarding Nassar. Rather than agreeing, Simon deferred to the school’s hired legal gun, Patrick Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald told the Attorney General that he could not share those findings because, after almost a year of investigation and interviews, he didn’t actually write a report. “There is no investigative report,” Fitzgerald told Schuette. He also denied anyone at MSU had known Nassar “engaged in criminal behavior,” and said MSU needed to protect itself from costly lawsuits by keeping the internal review under attorney-client privilege, or “applicable privileges in civil litigation.”

Even outside of the Nassar case, MSU’s handling of sexual assault cases under Simon’s leadership has been problematic, leading to numerous lawsuits and a federal investigation in 2015 that found MSU created a “hostile environment” for some victims.

This was all too much for Speaker of the Michigan House Tom Leonardand the Lansing State Journaleditorial board, both of whom are calling for Simon to resign. 

"For 16 months, I and other victims of Larry have been pleading for answers as to how he could have been left in positions of authority when MSU officials had been warned of his conduct..." Rachael Denhollander said last week after Nassar's federal sentencing for child pornography position. "And for 16 months,  [MSU and other organizations] have deflected. They have told half truths. They have closed ranks around themselves and refused to acknowledge dynamics that allowed a pedophile to flourish in their midst."

Update, Wednesday, December 13th at 3:32 p.m: Michigan State University spokesman Jason Cody declined a request for comment, saying the University "will stand by our earlier statements." 

Update: Simon announced her resignationon January 24, 2018, the same day Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. "As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable," Simon said in her resignation letter. "As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger."

*This post was last updated on Monday, January 29 at 3:30 p.m.

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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