Moms Reveal How Olympic Doctor Got Away With Abusing Their Girls Right in Front of Them


BRENDAN MCDERMID/Reuters

On Wednesday, January 24, Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for molesting young girls under his medical care. Gymnast McKayla Maroney came forward with viral allegations of abuse in October 2017, and more than 150 victims have spoken out. Over the course of the tumultuous court case, many mothers have revealed the horrific stories of how Nassar abused their girls right in front of them.

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Nearly all of the 150 women abused by Nassar revealed that the doctor used similar, pervasive tactics to get away with abusing them. The most common one centered around gaining the trust of their parents. His image as a trustworthy doctor and family man allowed him to get away with sexually assaulting girls for years, often in the presence of the girls' parents.

Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander told People magazine in 2017, "He would position himself in between my mom and I, so I could not see where his hands were. That was the dynamic that kept me quiet because I didn't realize she couldn't see [either]. The idea that someone could be sexually assaulting me for 30 minutes at a time while holding a conversation with my mother, nobody thinks that's what assault looks like."

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The Chicago Tribune reports that the mother of one 12-year-old victim testified that she confronted Nassar after her daughter mentioned feeling uneasy about Nassar's lack of gloves during an exam. Instead of taking her concerns seriously, the doctor shut her down. "I questioned you about that, to which you answered in a way that made me feel stupid for asking," she told Nassar during his trial. "I told myself, 'He's an Olympic doctor, be quiet.'"

The mother says she also noticed that Nassar put her 12-year-old in positions that made her feel "uneasy." Again, she confronted the doctor, who reacted by using his body to block the mother's view of her daughter and continuing the "treatment."

Anne Swinehart, who claims Nassar began "physically, mentally, and emotionally" abusing her daughter, Jillian, when she was only 8, shared a similar story in court, according to the New York Times. In one particular instance, Swinehart recalled seeing her daughter grimace in pain while being treated by Nassar. In the aftermath, the mother realizes "that it was not a knotted muscle that was causing that."

Like many of the other mothers who experienced moments of doubt about Nassar, Swinehart says that she felt like she may have been overreacting in the moment. "How is it that I misinterpreted your intent so wrongly?" she asked the doctor in court. "I wanted my daughter to get better, to achieve her dreams, to participate and succeed in a sport she loved."

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina of Ingham County Circuit Court, who presided over the case, took the time to assure the parents of Nassar's victims that they had nothing to feel guilty about. "The red flags may have been there, but they were designed to be hidden," she said. "I know how hard-core sports moms are." 

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Anne Swinehart also had a few words for those quick to judge the parents who didn't notice any of those "red flags" during their daughters' time being treated by Nassar. "Quit shaming and blaming the parents," she said. "Trust me, you would not have known. And you would not have done anything differently."

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