Editorial: MSU owes victims apology, assistance

The Detroit News

The expectation from Tiffany Thomas Lopez does not seem unreasonable. What she wants is an apology from the institution that harbored the serial sexual predator who molested her when she was a college student.

Thomas Lopez was a softball player at Michigan State University when she was exposed to Dr. Larry Nassar, the MSU physician accused of assaulting nearly 150 female gymnasts and other athletes.

“I just want them to say something: ‘Yes, we understand. We’re sorry,’” Thomas Lopez said after Nassar was sentenced this week in federal court to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges. “Just something.”

But so far, nothing.

MSU has not apologized to the girls and young women who were molested by Nassar on its campus over the course of 20 years. The doctor has pleaded guilty to 10 counts of rape and awaits other charges.

Nor has the university offered to assist the victims, many now edging toward middle age and still suffering the trauma of their abuse, in obtaining counseling or other therapeutic services.

“What the hell are they waiting for? I guess it’s something called litigation,” says Mary Fisher, a West Bloomfield dentist whose two daughters are among the at least 144 women and girls who are suing Nassar, MSU, college officials and others in federal district court in Grand Rapids.

Fisher began taking her daughters to Nassar in 1997, a couple of years after the first girls raised concerns about the doctor’s treatment, which often involved digital penetration.

The mother’s frustration is that if MSU had taken those early complaints seriously, the scores of additional victims over the next 20 years would have been spared. The molestations continued into 2016.

Fisher says both of her daughters, now in their 30s, are in therapy attempting to work through issues related to their abuse.

She, too, wonders why MSU has offered no apology, and no offer of assistance.

A statement issued by the college after Nassar’s sentencing said “we recognize the pain sexual violence causes and deeply regret anytime someone in our community experiences it.”

That falls a fair piece short of an actual apology. But it does reflect the institutional indifference MSU and its president, Lou Anna Simon, have shown since this scandal was uncovered.

The college said Friday it has no internal report from the investigation conducted by an outside investigator into who in the MSU chain of command may be culpable. It seems incredible that an investigation was performed and no formal report prepared.

Presumably, MSU’s lack of transparency stems from its potential liability from the lawsuits, which could eventually become hundreds of millions of dollars.

But this is a public institution funded heavily by tax dollars. MSU should not have the option to cover up any role university officials may have played in enabling Nassar to continue his attacks.

Between 1997 and 2015, seven women and girls say they told trainers, coaches, other MSU officials and even police about what Nassar had done to them, and no one acted. One victim says two of the people she alerted still work for the university.

There should be a strong sense of urgency on the part of MSU to get to the bottom of those claims, and to rid itself of anyone whose negligence contributed to this horror story.

But the first step should be a sincere apology to the victims, issued by President Simon, and followed by an offer of assistance in coping with the abuse they suffered on the MSU campus.