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 88 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sexual assault is one thing that no one should have to worry about or be afraid of but it is something that lingers in the back of everyone’s mind every single day. The fear of not being able to walk alone on the streets or just not knowing that even someone you trust can turn out to be a complete stranger. I can’t begin to imagine how painful this was for these young women. Everyone should always be cautious of those you meet because you can never truly know someone’s true intentions.

  2. Avatar

    This article was very informative and went into great detail about how disturbing the incident that took place between Larry Nassar and the gymnast. It breaks my heart to know that so many young ladies and the woman went through three decades of sexual abuse before someone finally cared enough to hear them and take immediate action. It’s a very disturbing article to read but I do believe people need to hear their story so we can learn from our mistakes and do better next time when we hear people calling out for help.

  3. Avatar

    I recall hearing about this story in the news when it was live and happening. So often persons in places of power use that as an opportunity to commit crimes and it is completely unacceptable. The part about this story that confuses me is that one of the victims didn’t realize her ‘treatment” was sexual assault, and it took her so long to. It is possible that it is because she was so young and that’s the worst part. He got away with it and continued to assault impressionable young girls. I am glad to hear that he will serve life and is no longer a doctor, and is publicly recognized as the criminal that he is.

  4. Avatar

    This story was hard to read. Many girls were young to trust in their trainers without knowing what they could do to them. It must have been difficult to come to a realization of what Nassar did to her and other girls were wrong. People like him still exist today without us knowing. Some people still have that power that could get rid of allegations even though that kind of power can still be taken away from them. At least he is behind bars now to prevent more girls in harm’s way.

  5. Avatar

    It’s hard to believe that there are actually people like this in the world. I think that people that do things like this to anybody are horrible and disgusting. Nassar took advantage of the trust that the parents and children had in him, and used it to sexually abuse those many girls. The abuse that those girls experienced must have affected them mentally. They didn’t even realize that they were being abused until long after because they thought it was part of the treatment. The fact that people made reports against him that weren’t taken seriously makes me mad because if they were, they could have stopped him sooner.

  6. Avatar

    It’s heart-wrenching to know that many victims of sexual assault know, love, and trust their abusers. People like Nassar show their true colors by taking advantage of the victims’ love and trust in them and making them believe that what they’re doing to them is normal and okay. I had no idea that over twenty years, many accusations were made against Nassar, but they went unheard of. It’s horrible to plea for help with no one there to save you. However, I am glad that Nassar was finally caught because the victims stood together and made their voices heard, which is empowering and inspiring to many people around the world.

  7. Avatar

    It is so terrible to now learn of how many reports and complaints there were that were never even addressed. That is not okay. I think that the people at MSU who did not stop him or report it to the police should also be punished. They could have prevented this man from hurting other innocent girls. It is so crazy to think that he got away with abusing children for this long. I am so inspired by Gonzcar for speaking out as well as all the other women. It is such a hard thing to face and talk about and I am so glad that they were able to stop him from hurting other girls.

  8. Audrey Uribe

    Reading this article has made me sick to my stomach. Having sexually abused over 200 girls while they were hurt and defenseless just makes me sick. Larry Nassar got tons of girls to trust him and he manipulated these young athletes and took advantage of them. Some didn’t even know the abuse they were enduring due to the trust they had for this man. It disgusts me that he would even think to hurt Trinea Gonzcar along with her mother being in the room. This is a very important topic as sexual misconduct needs to be formal addressed to young children. Sad to read he had been reporter earlier and yet his reputation was more powerful then a voice. Beyond glad that he is no longer apart of society and that every girl abused by him is free.

  9. Courtney Pena

    It is unfortunate how many people are affected by sexual abuse. Especially in this case, these young girls did not know that they were being sexual abused by a man that they would go to for confort and for healing. They just thought that Nassar was fixing them up and they never suspected any sexual abuse. Even though Nassar lost everything once he was sentenced to life in prison, the girls will never forget the trauma that they faced.

  10. Avatar

    This story is absolutely heartbreaking to hear. I had briefly heard about this sexual abuse scandal recently but had not heard exactly what had happened. This article was well written, it had factual information and it also had direct quotes from Trinea Gonzcar. Larry Nassar is a disgusting individual, he took advantage of over 200 young girls that we know about. What is awful about this situation is that these young girls looked up to Nassar, they trusted him. It is a relief to hear that Nassar will be in prison for the rest of his life, but these girls still have a long way to go. These young women that were affected will live with this for the rest of their lives. My heart goes out to these young women and hope that they can cope with how they are feeling. I could not imagine what they are going through. This story just shows you can’t trust all those that you meet.

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