Breaking Silence or Just Speaking Louder?: The Story of Larry Nassar and his 499 Victims

Larry Nassar struggling to face his victims during his trial. | Courtesy of Scott Olson/ Getty

The phone rings and when you answer the call, a person claiming to be with law enforcement tells you that he or she has discovered some naked pictures of you when you were a child on your trainer’s computer. Trinea Gonzcar recalls this exact event as the turning point in the way she saw one of her mentors.

“We can’t tell you if it’s you, but there were images of little girls in his bathtub,” said the official.1

Larry Nassar had been in Gonzcar’s life for over thirty-one years, and Gonzcar was a huge advocate of him and his treatment. She could not believe that the one person who she looked up to, who healed her from all of her injuries, and who was there to listen to her when she needed him, hurt her in an unimaginable way.2

The United States is known for having a culture that absolutely loves sports. From the World Series to March Madness and the Super Bowl, the United States has always made sports a huge spectacle. The Olympic Games are no different, as they are an opportunity for many athletes to represent their country in the sport they love the most. Among many other sports, competing in gymnastics is the dream of many little girls who want to showcase their skills on a stage this huge. Gonzcar, a little girl with colossal dreams, was among these special ladies seeking the opportunity. At the age of six she joined the gym Twistars and knew that gymnastics would be her new passion. In a family of five, Gonzcar was the most intense and competitive. Twistars soon became her second home as she spent most of her time training in the gym when she was not at school.3

Gonzcar proved to have strong potential at a young age and began to train with Larry Nassar at the age of nine, when she was selected to be on the team of John Geddert, the owner of Twistars gym. Gonzcar’s mother, Dawn Homer, recalled one of the coaches speaking out in a parent meeting about injuries, stating that, “One hundred percent of the girls would be injured but we have a trainer right here.” The coach was referring to Larry Nassar.4

Nassar was a graduate of the University of Michigan, and he began working for the USA Olympics in 1986 as an athletic trainer and later as a physician. Nassar was a well-known individual with medical degrees in kinesiology and osteopathic medicine. He worked his way up from being a high school trainer to a trainer at his alma mater before earning a spot in the big leagues as a national medical coordinator for United States of America Gymnastics (USAG). In other words, this man’s track record was squeaky clean and all those with whom he interacted loved him.5

Larry Nassar, right bottom corner, helping Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug, at the 1996 Olympics. |IOPP/AFP/Getty Images

Gonzcar was no different from anyone else. She loved spending time with Nassar because she knew that he was the best at what he did and would always heal her injuries quickly, which meant more training and a better opportunity for competition.

“We called it magic of Larry–he could fix you so you could compete. And I wanted to compete,” Gonzcar said.6

All of the girls that attended Twistars gym were truly scared of Geddert because of how cruel and strict his training could be. So Nassar became their escape. They completely and utterly trusted Nassar because he was encouraging and made sure that the girls knew their potential. In 1990, when Gonzcar was nine years old, she noticed that her hip began to pop out of its socket whenever she was on bars, an injury for which she would go to Nassar for treatment. Nassar decided that she was in need of more treatment than what he could provide her at the gym, so he asked to meet Gonzcar and her mother at his apartment. This was an honor for Gonzcar, who took a lot of pride in the invitation, and her relationship with Nassar began to grow.7

When she arrived at Nassar’s home, there was already an ice bath set up in his bathtub with a magazine and a 14-minute timer. After this bath, Gonzcar got dressed and followed him to his treatment table, where her mom was seated in a position where she was only able to see Gonzcar’s head and shoulders. Nassar made Gonzcar lay on her stomach and put one of her legs across her hip while having a conversation with her mother. Meanwhile, he penetrated Gonzcar with an ungloved hand. This same incident happened over 856 times, according to Gonzcar’s attorney.8

Trinea Gonzcar in younger days. | Courtesy of Trinea Gonzcar

Sexual abuse can be defined as an individual forcing unwanted sexual contact or behavior onto another. There are many experts who believe that sexual abuse is the most under-reported type of child mistreatment, which usually occurs because children are most likely to be abused by those they trust or those who have some type of power over them.9 According to the NIS-1 data provided by the Children’s Bureau, 83% of sexual abuse victims are girls. In these same statistics, 32% are 15-17 years old, 28% range from 12-14 years old, and 21% are from 9-11 years old. Unfortunately, these types of situations are increasingly recognized as a cause, or moreover the trigger, for mental health problems.10

Unfortunately, Gonzcar was not the only one who experienced sexual abuse from Nassar. In the late 90’s another gymnast Gonzcar was acquainted with shared the same experience as her. The girl expressed that Nassar would penetrate her with his fingers, and Gonzcar began to realize that the same thing was happening to many of the other gymnasts. She was not alone, but she quickly expressed that Nassar’s treatment was normal, and that it was how they were going to get better. Nassar was Gonzcar’s hero and no one understood him like she did, so she would defend him until his name was cleared. If she could only talk to those girls who made those accusations, she could make them understand that it was not what they thought.11

Over the course of more than twenty years, there were multiple accusations against Nassar made to MSU and to other coaches at the Twistars gym, accusations that never made it to the police. No action was taken, as those who were in the position of confronting and possibly firing him believed that Nassar was a great man incapable of such morbid actions. Many reports were made, yet no voices were heard.

It was not until 2014, when gymnast Amanda Thomashow accused Nassar of assaulting her when she went in for a hip injury at MSU, that a problem was raised. Although the directors at MSU cleared Nassar of any possible wrongdoing, the incident got the attention of many other young girls who were experiencing the same thing. Similarly, it was a hip injury that landed Gonzcar in Larry’s arms over twenty years prior. Gonzcar’s opinion on Nassar did not reach its ultimate potential until she received that particular phone call about the investigation. Moreover, Nassar did plead guilty to sexual abuse of some of the girls in 2017.12 It all began to make sense, how even when Gonzcar went in for treatment for her wrists and ankles, she was somehow still getting her back and hip treatment–but she had always believed that he was fixing her and never suspected otherwise.13

Finally, after a rigorous investigation conducted by Detective Lieutenant Andrea Muford, Nassar was arrested. On May 12, 2017, he had to face about 200 of his victims in trial while each of them told their story in court. Among the many testimonies was that of Gonzcar, who referred to him directly when speaking.14 The pain in her voice grabbed the attention of everyone in the room. She was facing the man that, until a couple of months before, she had admired so dearly and defended. Now she felt offended that he betrayed her and her family and that he had committed such repulsive crimes over the course of three decades to hundreds of women.15

Victim Emily Ann Miller and mother, Leslie Miller, testifying against Nassar in trial. | Courtesy of Brendan Mcdermid/ Reuters

Nassar lost absolutely everything when he was sentenced to life in prison. Nassar’s wife divorced him, his medical license was revoked, and his name was tarnished. The squeaky clean reputation that he had maintained and that had kept him out of trouble for so long was no longer around. The USA Olympics and Michigan State University both issued statements apologizing to the girls who were mistreated by Nassar, and both parties are dealing with some lawsuits of their own. At the end of the day, justice was served and although the trauma that the girls have had to deal with will still be around for years to come, at least their abuser can no longer do any harm to them or any more innocent girls.

  1. Kerry Howley, “Everyone Believed Larry Nassar,” New York Magazine 51, no. 23 (2018): 24.
  2. Kerry Howley, “Everyone Believed Larry Nassar,” New York Magazine 51, no. 23 (2018): 23.
  3. Kerry Howley, “Everyone Believed Larry Nassar,” New York Magazine 51, no. 23 (2018): 23.
  4. Kerry Howley, “Everyone Believed Larry Nassar,” New York Magazine 51, no. 23 (2018): 23.
  5. Matt Mencarini, “Inside the investigation and prosecution of Larry Nassar,” Lansing State Journal (2018).
  6. “Day 4 of Larry Nassar Sentencing,” YouTube video, 8:43, posted by ” Alexandra Ilitch,” January 20, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63gVf1oUd4Q.
  7. Kerry Howley, “Everyone Believed Larry Nassar,” New York Magazine 51, no. 23 (2018): 25.
  8. Kerry Howley, “Everyone Believed Larry Nassar,” New York Magazine 51, no. 23 (2018): 26.
  9. Kristen Key and Rebecca J. Frey, “Sexual Abuse,” The Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Health, 3rded. (Detroit, M.I.: Gale, 2012), 1391.
  10. Heather Cecil, “Childhood Sexual Abuse,” in Encyclopedia of Sociology, 2nded. (New York, NY.: Macmilan Reference USA, 2001), 289.
  11. Kerry Howley, “Everyone Believed Larry Nassar,” New YorkMagazine 51, no. 23 (2018): 27.
  12. Matt Mencarini, “Inside the investigation and prosecution of Larry Nassar,” Lansing State Journal (2018).
  13. “Day 4 of Larry Nassar Sentencing,” YouTube video, 8:43, posted by ” Alexandra Ilitch,” January 20, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63gVf1oUd4Q
  14. Matt Mencarini, “Inside the investigation and prosecution of Larry Nassar,” Lansing State Journal (2018).
  15. “Day 4 of Larry Nassar Sentencing,” YouTube video, 14:50, posted by ” Alexandra Ilitch,” January 20, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63gVf1oUd4Q

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This Post Has 72 Comments

  1. This sort of thing is just despicable honestly. It disgusts me how people who have high reputations and accomplishments get away with grooming and assaulting young people. The saddest thing is that many of the girls probably believed that everything was fine and the treatment was perfectly normal. I am so thankful this grotesque man has been caught and his actions have been brought to light. I pray for the girls who were violated by this man.

  2. Kathryn Martinez

    This article was hard to stomach, but it is exactly the type of things that need to be brought to light. It’s very interesting to see how much new coverage or lack of there is in this case. He has put over 400+ girls through trauma and yet the majority of the U.S haven’t even heard of it. There is a huge problem with this situation where we live in a world where a celebrity’s favorite food gets more attention than the real problems that need to be addressed.

  3. The introduction did an amazing job of grabbing the audience’s attention right off the bat. It is so terrifying how Nassar used his position to completely take advantage of hundreds of innocent, unsuspecting girls that wanted nothing more than to be healthy and compete in the sport that they loved. It is even scarier how so many of the girls reported Nassar and absolutely nothing was done about it; people wanted to protect his reputation so badly considering he was an outlet and a safe place for so many gymnasts. However, this made it infinitely worse considering it gave him the opportunity to abuse more and more gymnasts. I really liked how the author included the details of specific cases as well as the fact that Nassar had to face so many of his victims in court.

  4. This was a great article that sheds some light on just how sick and backwards can be. People are unpredictable, no one in this word is a mind reader, and therefore one does not always know a person’s true intentions. You can meet a person and eventually over time you can build trust with this person, but in all honesty you can never completely know a person. It is difficult to fully confide in someone as an adult, but for an innocent child to but their full trust in someone and have that trust betrayed in such a way by a role model is horrible and should never be something an innocent child should experience

  5. This article sheds light upon the heartbreaking truth that so many children are silenced after being sexual assaulted, in this case young athletes. I had heard of Larry Nassar and the things he had done, however I’ve heard that some of Nassar co-workers were approached by some of the young women, but still question the young athletes and were not believed. In my opinon it is important for more children to be made aware that they are valued, it saddens me that adults, people we young people look up to can make such horrible actions.

  6. Wow. This article is truly moving and frustrating at the same time. It’s frustrating because so many reports were made about the same person for so long, yet no one thought to maybe investigate what was being reported. Women who are being abused struggle enough with the abuse itself and speaking up about it, but for it to just be pushed aside as if it means nothing, makes it ten times harder for them. Great read.

  7. Wow, the introduction alone had me in shock. Obviously, I had heard of Larry Nassar and the horrible things he had done, but I had never heard about the baby pictures. The thought sickens me. I cannot imagine what Gonzcar felt when she heard of this. I still cannot believe that he went unrevealed for so long. I am glad that you chose to write this article so that more of the story could be learned to stress the importance of the battle against sexual assault.

  8. This was a very well written article and one that put the issues of abuse against women in of importance. It is rea;;y sad how men can so easily take advantage of girls when they have their entire trust. He shouldn’t have been able to go this far in his life doing this to innocent girls and making them so afraid. He made these girls go through a unnecessary traumatic experience that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

  9. This story was truly heartbreaking to hear. Like the article mentioned so many children go unheard or are silenced after such horrible acts are done to them and it is so important for more children to be made aware that they are valued and should never be harmed in this way. The article did a great job of pointing out one of the biggest flaws in the system when it comes to sexual assault, which is that even after so many athletes reported Nassar they were not believed. This is such a real problem that so many victims face, if the school had listened and launched an investigation sooner so many innocent girls could have been saved.

  10. This was a painful article to read, but powerful. I cannot believe how many victims there were and the trauma all of them suffered from. This brings attention to all the young girls who were sexually abused but are too scared or traumatized to speak up. It makes me wonder about all the sexual abusers who are wandering around freely, which is a really frightening thought.

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