3 testify that Nassar sexually abused them

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Mason — Two women and a girl testified Friday that former Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar sexually abused them during treatments while they were teenage gymnasts – including a 32-year-old woman who said she is speaking out to help reform institutions that protected him.

Dr. Larry Nassar appears in court in Mason, Michigan Friday for a hearing in a sexual assault case.

“Larry Nassar was a pillar in the community,” said Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly come forward with accusations against Nassar. “He had been sexually abusing women for 17 years, by my count, and had never been held accountable ... (but) this is bigger than Larry Nassar.”

Denhollander, who came forward last year, gave the other woman who testified the courage to come forward, too. Denhollander said she never thought people would believe her.

She testified that she got treatment from Nassar at his home because when she tried to see him at Twistars USA Gymnastics Club, the line was two hours long.

Denhollander

Now, Nassar is charged with 15 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct filed in 55th District Court near Lansing. He faces additional state and federal charges and could be sentenced to as much as life in prison if convicted.

Nassar has pleaded not guilty.

His attorneys could not comment since a judge in a related case placed a gag order on them.

On Friday, Denhollander — a former Kalamazoo resident now living in Louisville, Kentucky — described five alleged incidents in graphic detail during a preliminary hearing.

She said the sports doctor, who also was affiliated with USA Gymnastics, penetrated her vaginally and anally with his fingers, and touched her clitoris and breasts during five treatments that began in early 2000. At the the time, she was 15.

Nassar didn’t use a glove and did not seek consent from her or her mother — who was in the examining room, but was unaware of what was happening, Denhollander said.

“It was brazen,” she testified during the hearing to determine if Nassar will face trial. “It was clear to me that it was a treatment he did on a regular basis.”

Denhollander began to have suspicions that he was sexually abusing her during the second treatment with Nassar, when he touched her clitoris, she said. But it wasn’t until the fifth treatment, in March 2000, that she realized he was assaulting her when he touched her breast and he was visibly sexually aroused, Denhollander testified.

“He had an erection,” she said. “His cheeks were flushed, his eyes were closed ... I was sexually assaulted.”

Upon cross examination, Shannon Smith, one of Nassar’s attorneys, questioned Denhollander’s motivation for being so public about her story in media reports, and also for suing Nassar and MSU.

“I was not motivated by anything other than to tell the truth,” Denhollander said.

The Detroit News typically does not identify those who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Denhollander has publicly identified herself, unlike the other two witnesses at Friday’s hearing.

The other woman and the girl also testified that Nassar digitally penetrated them while treating them for gymnastics injuries.

“I felt yucky,” said the minor, who said she cried the whole way home after an appointment with Nassar when he penetrated her. “I had never been touched in that area as a 13-year-old.”

Besides the three alleged victims who took the stand Friday, four others are expected to testify, but will not do so until May 26 and, if necessary, June 23.

Of the seven testifying, three are minors and one recently turned 18. After the testimony, Judge Donald L. Allen Jr. will determine if probable cause exists to bind Nassar over to circuit court for trial.

Nassar was a highly regarded physician at MSU until September, when allegations emerged that he treated injured athletes with a procedure that involved him digitally penetrating female patients without a glove, lubricant or consent.

Attorneys estimate more than 100 women have filed civil suits against Nassar and MSU is investigating more than 100 complaints filed against him.

Explaining why she didn’t ask Nassar to stop, Denhollander said Friday she was confused and thought she would be silenced.

“I thought it was what I had to do” to get better, she said. “He was supposed to be taking care of me.”

Denhollander said she started participating in gymnastics at age 12, suffered injuries and sought treatment from Nassar after hearing about him. She said during her first visit with him, when she was 15, Nassar evaluated her back and wrists and identified shoulder tightness.

Denhollander testified she has felt guilt and shame for years over what happened and has had recurrent nightmares.

In an open letter last week to officials at Michigan State University, Denhollander accused school officials of downplaying and ignoring sexual abuse allegations against the doctor from her and other athletes.

Nassar also was a longtime team doctor for USA Gymnastics, the sport’s national governing body.

USA Gymnastics said it fired Nassar and notified law enforcement in 2015 shortly after receiving a complaint.

The state of Michigan also recently revoked his medical license.

kkozlowksi@detroitnews.com