CHARLOTTE, Mich. (Reuters) – Jessica Thomashow said on Wednesday she was in middle school when her gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar, sexually assaulted her for the first time under the guise of treating her injuries.
“He first molested me when I was 9 – when I was in fifth grade, before I had braces, and when I still played with my American Girl dolls,” Thomashow, now 17, told a Michigan judge during Nassar’s latest sentencing hearing. “Larry Nassar preyed on us for his own pleasure, leaving in his wake traumatized and broken girls.”
Thomashow, a high school senior whose older sister also was abused by the doctor while a student at Michigan State University, was the first of what is expected to be at least 65 molestation victims to speak at the sentencing hearing for Nassar, the former physician for USA Gymnastics, the sport’s U.S. governing body.
Nassar, 54, has pleaded guilty to two sets of abuse charges in Michigan’s Ingham and Eaton counties. Nassar was sentenced last week to 40 to 175 years in prison in the Ingham County case after more than 150 victims including Olympic gold medallists recounted abuse at his hands in an emotionally wrenching week-long hearing.
Michigan Circuit Court Judge Janice Cunningham, presiding over Wednesday’s Eaton County hearing, said 265 victims of Nassar have now come forward.
The hearing is expected to last several days. Nassar faces a minimum of 25 years in prison in Eaton County, though he is already assured of spending the rest of his life in prison. He is also serving a 60-year federal prison term for a child pornography conviction.
The Nassar scandal has had wide-ranging ramifications in the world of Olympic sports and beyond. Around 140 victims have filed a civil lawsuit against Nassar, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State, where he also worked, seeking monetary damages from institutions that they accused of knowing about allegations of abuse years ago and failing to stop it.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Wednesday that its entire board of directors has now stepped down after US Olympic officials threatened to decertify the governing body, and that it was moving forward toward assembling an interim board in February. The organization said last Friday that its remaining board members would resign in the wake of the scandal.
The US Olympic Committee, which has also faced criticism from some of the biggest stars in gymnastics for failing to halt Nassar’s abuse, has announced an independent investigation into its own conduct and that of USA Gymnastics.
Michigan’s attorney general has launched a criminal investigation into Michigan State, and the university’s president and top sports official resigned last week following Nassar’s sentencing.
The U.S. Congress, which plans hearings into the scandal, has passed legislation to require USOC officials to immediately report any allegations of abuse to law enforcement.