BRENDA BLAGG: Justice long delayed

Questions about who else failed Nassar’s victims lingers

Posted: February 7, 2018 at 1 a.m.

Larry Nassar's fate is sealed.

The former sports doctor will live out his days in prison.

Under the guise of treating his victims for sports injuries, Nassar admitted he penetrated young athletes with ungloved hands.

The life-changing impact on a single victim would have been bad enough. But the list of victims alleging abuse by Nassar now tops 265, including many on U.S. Olympic teams. The incidents date back as far as the 1990s.

When all of the recent court proceedings were done, the 54-year-old Nassar had racked up sentences of 40 to 125 years in one Michigan court and 40 to 175 in another. He had previously been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

He must first serve the federal time, then the two state sentences, which will run concurrently. That assumes he will survive incarceration, where other inmates may try to exact other punishment from the confessed child molester.

Nassar, who gained the trust of unwitting children and of their parents, so often violated the physicians' Hippocratic oath to "first do no harm" that it took days on end for his victims to tell their stories in court.

Female judges in both of the Michigan courts forced Nassar to listen as victims recounted the impact on their lives. Any who wanted to confront him in person or to submit statements got that chance.

One after another, the women Nassar molested when they were young athletes stared down the man they once respected. They talked of psychological scars from his abuse, including depression, suicidal thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks, problems being around other men and difficult relationships with family members.

Nassar had robbed them of their innocence and their trust in an environment that should have nurtured their welfare.

He will be punished.

The reckoning for those who should have discovered the abuse -- and stopped it -- is really just beginning.

Nassar worked for Michigan State University and for USA Gymnastics, the governing body that also is responsible for training Olympians.

The president and athletic director at Michigan State have resigned.

The Olympic coach has been suspended and all of the members of the USA Gymnastics board have left their posts. The organization's long-time leader quit last year.

The U.S. Olympic Committee is itself being scrutinized to determine how that organization may have responded to allegations against Nassar.

What did any of these people in oversight roles do, if and when they learned of allegations against the doctor?

One of the young athletes filed a police report in 2004 that has famously caused the officers who didn't follow through then to apologize to her recently.

Nassar explained away having touched the 17-year-old's genitals and breasts as part of a legitimate technique. The police said they were deceived.

How many other athletes might have been spared Nassar's "treatment," if police and prosecutors had taken that victim seriously?

Other victims told parents or coaches but Nassar, the renowned physician, escaped scrutiny.

As one of his eventual prosecutors explained, Nassar fooled lots of parents, including some who were police officers and doctors themselves. He apparently fooled plenty of others, too, in his decades-long practice that included abuse.

Another victim reported Nassar to Michigan State's gymnastics coach in 1997. Police didn't investigate until 2004 and the investigation yielded no criminal charges.

Again, how many others might have been spared Nassar's abuse had the response been different.

And why didn't Michigan State, USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee -- anyone -- ferret out the truth of Nassar's behavior?

Until such questions are answered, the scandal won't be over.

So you know, investigative reporting by The Indianapolis Star is credited with the start of Nassar's downfall.

The newspaper began publishing an investigative series on child abuse in 2016, which triggered tips from former gymnasts, some of whom named Nassar as their abuser.

Among them was the young woman mentioned above who had reported Nassar to police. She went on record with the reporters, who followed leads in 23 different states.

It was that investigative reporting, according to the Michigan assistant attorney general who prosecuted Nassar, that finally launched the legal reckoning with this decades-long cycle of abuse.

Without The Star's reporting, she said Nassar "would still be practicing medicine, treating athletes and abusing kids."

Commentary on 02/07/2018