BY DAVID EGGERT
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — One after one, gymnasts and other victims of a disgraced former sports doctor stepped forward in a Michigan courtroom Tuesday to recount the sexual abuse and emotional trauma Larry Nassar inflicted on them as children — one with the warning that “little girls don’t stay little forever.”
Nearly 100 women and girls planned to speak or have their statements read during an extraordinary four-day sentencing hearing. Many of them cried as they told their stories. Some requested that their identities not be made public. The judge consoled the victims and said they should not blame themselves.
“I testified to let the world know that you are a repulsive liar and those ‘treatments’ were pathetically veiled sexual abuse,” one victim, Kyle Stephens, said to the 54-year-old Nassar, who bowed his head with his eyes closed or looked away as she and others spoke.
Stephens, the first to speak, said Nassar repeatedly abused her from age 6 until age 12 during family visits to his home in Holt, near Lansing. She said he rubbed his genitals on her and digitally penetrated her, among other abuse.
She said Nassar later denied it, and her parents initially believed him. Stephens said she largely blamed her father’s suicide on the shame and self-loathing he felt for defending Nassar.
“Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever,” Stephens said. “They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”
Nassar has pleaded guilty to molesting females with his hands at his Michigan State University office, his home and a Lansing-area gymnastics club, often while their parents were in the room. He also worked for Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.
Another statement came from Donna Markham, who told of how her daughter Chelsey killed herself in 2009, years after Nassar sexually abused her during a medical examination.
“It all started with him,” she said, describing her daughter’s downward spiral into drug abuse.
Victims described experiencing “searing pain” during the assaults and having feelings of shame and embarrassment. They said it had changed their life trajectories — affecting relationships, causing them to be distrustful and leading to depression, suicidal thoughts, and anger and anxiety about whether they should have spoken up sooner.
“He touched the most innocent places on my body,” said 17-year-old Jessica Thomashaw, recounting how she was sexually assaulted at ages 9 and 12. “I couldn’t be just a normal girl anymore, and I forever lost a big piece of my childhood due to his abuse.”
Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who is expected to order a sentence Friday, said the system had failed them.
“You shouldn’t be angry with yourself,” she told a 31-year-old victim, who said she was assaulted almost 20 years ago. “You went to him for pain and healing, and you didn’t know. No one faults you or any other victim for that. You were a child.”
The Michigan attorney general’s office is seeking 40 to 125 years in prison for the 54-year-old Nassar. The maximum represents a year for each of the 125 girls and women who filed reports of abuse with campus police. He already has been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.
Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles on Monday said she was among the athletes sexually abused by Nassar. Another gold medalist, Aly Raisman, tweeted Monday that she would not attend the sentencing “because it is too traumatic for me. My impact letter will be read in court in front of Nassar. I support the brave survivors. We are all in this together.”
Olympians McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas also have said they were among Nassar’s victims as teens.
In November, he admitted to digitally penetrating 10 girls, mostly under the guise of treatment, between 1998 and 2015. As part of plea deals in two adjacent Michigan counties, he said his conduct had no legitimate medical purpose and that he did not have the girls’ consent.
Nassar is scheduled to be sentenced in Eaton County in two weeks.
The criminal cases followed reports last year in The Indianapolis Star about how USA Gymnastics mishandled complaints about sexual misconduct involving him and coaches. Women and girls said the stories inspired them to step forward with detailed allegations of abuse.
Melissa Imrie told the judge she was assaulted in 1997, when she was 12, after breaking her tailbone. She described years of severe depression, sleeplessness and other issues.
“Everybody’s story that I listened today is just an echo of everything that I’ve went through. They’re just speaking like it’s my voice,” Imrie said.
She said she wants young athletes “to be safe from sexual predators, from this kind of abuse.”
Follow David Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/David%20Eggert
This story has been changed to correct the spelling of a victim’s name from Chelsea, to Chelsey.
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