Ex-gymnast: Michigan sports doc’s assault was ‘humiliating’

Posted at 10:50 AM, May 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-12 17:47:37-04

MASON, Mich. (AP) — A former gymnast testified Friday that she turned to a prominent Michigan sports doctor for treatment of back problems but instead was repeatedly molested as a teenager, assaults that have haunted her for nearly two decades and had a lasting impact on every aspect of her life.

Rachael Denhollander was the first witness to speak at a critical court hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar, a former Michigan State University doctor who also worked for USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. A judge must decide whether there’s enough evidence to send him to trial for sexually assaulting seven gymnasts at a campus clinic or his home basement.

It is one of four criminal cases against Nassar, including a child pornography case in federal court. He has pleaded not guilty. The allegations have rocked Michigan State and Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, whose president resigned in March because of how the organization responded to sexual complaints against coaches.

The Associated Press typically doesn’t identify people who say they’re victims of sexual assault, but Denhollander, 32, of Louisville, Kentucky, has publicly identified herself, starting last year in media interviews.

“I was confident that an anonymous voice would not be enough” to stop Nassar and any institution protecting him, Denhollander testified.

With hands folded in front of her, Denhollander answered a prosecutor’s questions with poise for 90 minutes. She recalled how as a 15-year-old in 2000 she went to see Nassar — a “household name” in gymnastics — for chronic back and wrist problems.

Denhollander said the doctor molested her with his hands during the first visit, even with her mother in the room. She said it felt “very humiliating,” but she trusted Nassar. She said the assaults continued during four subsequent visits, with the doctor also unfastening her bra and massaging her breasts.

“His movements were very rehearsed, very confident,” Denhollander said. “I was not a test case.”

She said she was confused and didn’t tell her mother immediately. Denhollander said Nassar was known for unusual techniques to relieve injuries that are common for gymnasts.

She said a physician’s assistant in 2003 recommended she report Nassar to state regulators, but that she didn’t follow through.

“I was confident I wouldn’t be believed. At that age I wasn’t ready for this,” said Denhollander, who’s now a lawyer.

She stepped forward last summer after reading a report in the Indianapolis Star about the history of assault allegations against coaches affiliated with USA Gymnastics. Denhollander said Nassar’s assaults have negatively impacted how she perceives male doctors and seemingly innocent things such as casual touching.

“Not one” part of her life has been unaffected, she said.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Shannon Smith wondered if Denhollander has been speaking publicly because she wants an “audience.”

“There are things that are more important than what I want,” she replied. “Stopping a child predator is one of them.”