How Larry Nassar ‘Flourished Unafraid’ for So Long

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“How much is a little girl worth?”

Rachael Denhollander, the primary former gymnast to go public about abuse by Larry Nassar


Nassar portrayed himself as “the nice guy” and was beloved in his community.

In a sport where girls are militarily broken down physically and emotionally, Nassar established himself as a rare compassionate figure and confidante.

Isabell Hutchins, a former gymnast, said that she texted with him as a teen almost daily, and Kristen Thelen, another gymnast, said that in their town of Holt, Mich., he was “almost everywhere we went, always smiling.”

He did community outreach at local high schools and gyms, where he had access to rowers, cheerleaders and dancers. “He had his hands on hundreds of children every year for many years,” said Juliet Macur, a Times sports reporter who was interviewed for the film. “He was brilliant at fooling the girls into trusting him.”

Marci Hamilton, a child sex abuse expert, offered perspective on how Nassar was able to groom not only his victims, but also his community.

“He was a typical, serial pedophile: charming, powerful,” she said. “What do you look for in a child sex abuser? The answer is the nice guy.”

“They find places where it is easy: a priest, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, a coach,” she said. “He was able to pull the wool over all the adults’ faces.”


Nassar insisted his technique was “medically necessary.”

In 2015, the gymnast Maggie Nichols asked Aly Raisman about Nassar’s technique. “I’m not sure it’s helping,” Nichols reportedly said.

Nassar’s so-called treatment involved him sticking his fingers into girls’ vaginas, often ungloved and unlubricated, for numerous ailments, including injured ankles. He performed this on most of the girls who said he abused them.

He would use this technique whether or not the child’s parents were in the room, further normalizing it to the girls. (Though, if parents were present, he’d position himself so they couldn’t see, essentially hiding the abuse in plain sight.)

Trinea Gonczar, a former gymnast and longtime family friend of the Nassars’, said that he’d subjected her to this abuse more than 800 times.


The system failed.

In 1997, the gymnast Larissa Boyce confided in Kathie Klages, then a M.S.U. gymnastics coach, that Nassar had molested her. Klages responded by telling Boyce she was mistaken and ultimately scared her into silence, Boyce said.

“I convinced myself I must be the problem,” Boyce said. “I hopped up on that table, and he continued to abuse me for the next four years.”

Between then and 2015, 17 incidents were reported to M.S.U. alone.

Since Nassar’s sentencing, officials from several organizations — including M.S.U., U.S.A.G. and the United States Olympic Committee — have been ousted or charged in relation to the case.

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