By Steve Friess
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 medalists recounted abuse at his hands in an emotionally wrenching week-long hearing.
The current Eaton County 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.
Michigan’s attorney general has launched a criminal investigation into the school, and the university’s president and top sports official resigned last week following Nassar’s sentencing. The entire USA Gymnastics board also stepped down last week after U.S. Olympic officials threatened to decertify the governing body.
The U.S. 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 both its own conduct and that of USA Gymnastics.
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.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday asked a state law enforcement agency to investigate Karolyi Ranch, a training facility where female athletes said they were molested by Nassar.
In an interview on Wednesday with NBC’s “Today” show, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, who has disclosed that Nassar molested her, said Nassar’s abuse had stayed with her years later.
“It feels like he took a part of me that I can’t get back,” said Biles, considered one of the greatest gymnasts in history.
(Reporting by Steve Friess; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Will Dunham)