"My monster is gone," said Kyle Stephens.
After Nassar's sentencing, which followed a searing, heartbreaking week of victim impact statements, ABC News magazine 20/20 talked to 20 survivors — so many that a bus had to be chartered to shuttle them from the courthouse to the studio area. Elizabeth Vargas noted that the group only represents a "drop in the bucket" of total victims.
One survivor said that amount of known victims (over 160 at press time) was both "incredibly comforting and incredibly horrifying." Rachael Denhollander, the first survivor who went public about the abuse, and the catalyst for the Nassar trial, estimates that the actual number could reach in the thousands.
The survivors all had ambitions of becoming the best they could at their sport. Akemi Look said she was "riveted" by rhythmic gymnastics and wanted to try it after seeing it at the Olympics at age 10. Mattie Larson said gymnastics was her "calling." But, as Vargas notes, injuries are common in the highly athletic sport. They were sent to Nassar for treatment — after all, he was the US Gymnastic team doctor and provided care to Olympians.
Many of them said they initially found Nassar to be "warm and engaging," "competent," and "charismatic." This friendly demeanor, of course, was a method of grooming — Nassar obtained the trusts of the gymnasts, their families, and the gymnastics organization in order to abuse his patients. One survivor even said that her pain did not get better until she stopped seeing him.
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Then, McKayla Maroney's social media post in which she described how Nassar abused her at the London Olympics in 2012 went viral. Her teammates, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, were also victims of his abuse. "I'm so angry that after they realized we were abused, they let him continue to molest other gymnasts," said Raisman.
When Vargas asked how the survivors feel knowing that Nassar will be imprisoned for life, they were ambivalent about Nassar's 175-year sentence. "I'm grateful," said Denhollander, "but it feels very incomplete." Another survivor agreed, telling Vargas that she doesn't think it "really represents the pain, and all of the emotions that all of us have gone through."
Many of the survivors are angry that the US Gymnastics organization continued to allow Nassar to practice after multiple reports of abuse. Larrisa Boyce reported abuse to her coach, Kathy Claygus, who reportedly told her there would be "serious consequences" if she filed a complaint. Lindsey Lemke's mother also reported the abuse to Claygus, who also assured her that Nassar was practicing legitimate medical procedures. "So she knew this was going on," said Lemke. Claygus has since retired from coaching.
Institutional enablers kept Nassar close to athletes, and that infuriates the survivors the most. Many of them aired their pain and anger at Nassar's trial as they read victim impact statements. "Little girls don't stay little forever, they grow into strong women that return to destroy your world," said Kyle Stephens; her words have since become a rallying cry for other women.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).