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Victims Confront Larry Nassar Over Sexual Abuse


All right. An extraordinary scene is playing out in a Michigan courtroom this week. Scores of women are confronting the man who abused them. He's Larry Nassar, a former doctor for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. He's pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting patients. Many of the women were girls when the abuse happened. And now, as Kate Wells of Michigan Radio reports, they are taking control of their own stories. And just to warn you here, over the next few minutes, you could hear some language that disturbs you.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: Larry Nassar sits in the witness stand wearing a blue jail jumpsuit and orange Crocs. He looks thin and shrunken after months behind bars. The judge placed him so he is forced to look at the more than 100 women and girls who, one after another, say he abused them. Many of them are like Jennifer Rood-Bedford, athletes who went to Dr. Nassar's sports medicine clinic at Michigan State University. But the treatments she received there were not medical.


JENNIFER ROOD-BEDFORD: I remember laying there wondering, is this OK? This doesn't seem right. Should I say something? What's happening? I didn't know what to do.

WELLS: Nassar was seen as a miracle worker. His walls were plastered with pictures of his patients on the Olympic gymnastics team. Rood-Bedford's teammates told her he was a little touchy, but in reality, he was inappropriately touching their genitals without wearing gloves or getting consent. Laying on that table, Rood-Bedford told herself, it must be OK.


ROOD-BEDFORD: He's a world-renowned doctor who's treated so many athletes. Everyone knows he treats down there and they don't complain. So just stop being a baby.

WELLS: Nassar often performed this procedure with parents in the room. He positioned his body or a towel so they couldn't see. Christy Lemke-Akeo was a neighbor of Nassar's and their families were close. Her daughter Lindsay is a gymnast and saw Nassar for treatment starting at age 9.


CHRISTY LEMKE-AKEO: We have many sleepless nights over the guilt we feel for missing this. It truly has been gut-wrenching and will be embedded in our minds forever.

WELLS: Another mom, Donna Markham, says before her daughter Chelsea was abused, she was this fun kid who loved gymnastics and going to the movies.


DONNA MARKHAM: I hate to admit it, but on a rainy day, we went to see four movies and only paid for one (laughter).

WELLS: But after the abuse, Markham says, Chelsea changed.


MARKHAM: For my daughter, it just became a serious, serious bout of depression. And so in 2009, she took her own life.

WELLS: Several of these women and girls initially wanted to remain anonymous, but after seeing so many others come forward, they did too. Gwen Anderson is a middle school teacher who says, at first, she did not want to go public with her story.


GWEN ANDERSON: Because I was scared that my students would see me at my weakest moment. They would see me as a victim. But I've come to realize that this is my moment of strength and that standing here today facing the man who molested me as a child is my time.

WELLS: And Amanda Thomashow told Larry Nassar that now she is ready to go from being a victim to a survivor.


AMANDA THOMASHOW: And, Larry, the thing you didn't realize while you were sexually assaulting me and all of these young girls and breaking our lives is that you were also building an army of survivors who would ultimately expose you for what you truly are - a sexual predator.

WELLS: Nassar is expected to be sentenced tomorrow, but already, the judge has assured these women - Larry Nassar will die behind bars. For NPR News, I'm Kate Wells in Lansing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist and co-host of the Michigan Radio and NPR podcast Believed. The series was widely ranked among the best of the year, drawing millions of downloads and numerous awards. She and co-host Lindsey Smith received the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Judges described their work as "a haunting and multifaceted account of U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s belated arrest and an intimate look at how an army of women – a detective, a prosecutor and survivors – brought down the serial sex offender."
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