I am a mom who was in the exam room while Dr. Larry Nassar treated my daughter.
She had extreme back pain – to the point that it was difficult to walk. So of course, we called Larry. There was no other option in our minds. He was world-renowned. THE gymnastics doctor. Simply the best. No question. You see, we had been his patients at that point for nearly three years. So, we trusted him implicitly.
Frankly, I had been a bit skeptical of those in the medical profession – for a lot of reasons. We had seen numerous doctors on numerous occasions with the same outcome. No help. From inaccurate diagnoses to no diagnosis at all, our experiences jaded me. I was untrusting. Even cynical. Until I met Larry.
On our very first visit, he gave us an accurate diagnosis and charted a course of action as well. And it worked. And then, when another issue arose, we called Larry again. True to form, he helped solve the problem and put my daughter on the road to healing. This happened off and on for years. No problems. No questions.
And then the back pain came. Desperate for answers and relief, we called our favorite doc, Larry. Due to our mutually busy schedules, we met him off hours. “How nice of him!” we thought. Little did we know that this was a pattern of his behavior. He proceeded to evaluate my girl and then gave her (the) treatment.
She was fully covered – even wearing running shorts. I, unlike others, don’t remember him ‘blocking’ my view, but since she was covered, I was unaware of what he was doing under the sheet. After he was done, he washed his hands and I remember thinking “Did he just do what I think he did? Where are his gloves?” I immediately dismissed the thoughts as there must have been some good reason. This was Larry after all. No need to question him. I trusted him. We all trusted him.
The crazy thing about all of this (in our situation anyway) is the treatment really did help. My daughter went from barely being able to walk to being nearly pain-free. He had done it again! He helped us in what was otherwise a very concerning injury. These treatments went on for six months. No questions. No concerns.
That is, until September of 2016. The news broke (in a story published by IndyStar) that there were accusations of sexual abuse against Dr. Nassar. Our Dr. Nassar. This couldn’t be true. Never in a million years could it be true. But more and more stories started coming out. Stories that were eerily similar to ours. Confusion began to cloud us. But it was a treatment. Or was it? How could it not be? It helped. We couldn’t wrap our heads around it. I couldn’t fathom that this could even possibly be true. I mean, I was in the room. Did I let someone assault my daughter in front of my very eyes? Never would I ever allow that to happen! My children are my world and anyone who knows me, knows that about me. So how could this have happened?
You see, my daughter was a gymnast. In the USA Gymnastics culture, parents learned very early that we didn’t question things (oftentimes for fear of retribution.) Coaches were the ultimate authority and if we didn’t like it? Well, we could find a new gym. But we’d rarely do that to our girls. They were with their teammates upwards of 25 hours per week – more than with their own families. We’d rarely separate our daughters from their gym sisters. So, we just accepted the good, the bad and the ugly.
And then there was Larry. He was a kind, gentle man. He had a warm personality and showed genuine concern for my daughter. He was obviously highly regarded and demonstrated his expertise with accurate precision every single time we saw him. In our world, he was never wrong. If I ever raised any concerns, he was quick to refute them in a calming, reassuring manner. I never feared him or what he’d do to my girl. He gained my confidence very quickly. Coming from so many negative encounters with docs and specialists, I was so relieved to find someone that I could trust to treat my child.
But that trust was manipulated. It was twisted and contorted for Larry’s benefit. We, the parents, unknowingly entrusted our most precious daughters to someone, who on the surface looked like a lamb, but was really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Finally, recently, we came to the full realization that my daughter was indeed sexually abused and she filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. She spoke to detectives retelling her story with every single painful detail. I couldn’t be more proud of her for facing this darkness head on. For taking her own action in order to move past the pain that now torments her.
As sentencing hearings progressed with days and days of countless victims sharing the sordid details of their encounters with our once-beloved doctor, one thing remained constant – the pain-filled eyes of the parents. The weight that we all carry seems suffocating at times. “Why didn’t we stop it?” And in many cases, “Why didn’t we know?”
I had the privilege of representing my daughter at one of the hearings as she could not attend. Her testimony was shared via video, and of course, the tears wouldn’t stop falling. When it was done and I turned to leave, the prosecutor hugged me and whispered, “It’s not your fault.” I wondered how many times, during the course of this case, had she said those words to both the victims and their parents. I wondered how many dozens of times she heard a parent blame themselves for what had happened.
As I was leaving the courthouse, I ran into a mom that I had known years before. She was a fellow gym-mom. Her daughter, too, was a victim of the doctor’s abuse. She proceeded to share that as a result of the trauma, their relationship became so severed she nearly lost her daughter. It is only now, several years later, that they’ve been able to restore what had nearly disappeared entirely. Both mom and daughter are in counseling.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard similar stories countless times.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve read so many angry, uninformed comments, posts and other writings blaming and shaming the parents. Accusations such as “parents should have listened.” “They should have known.” “What were they thinking” or “How could they have let that happen.” I’ve even seen posts suggesting these well-meaning parents be put in cells next to Larry; the very parents that have now come to realize what really happened in the exam room. The crushing guilt that burdens these parents (and me, specifically) is something that can’t be comprehended without walking in the same shoes.
I am here to tell you that not one parent knowingly allowed their child to be abused – in front of their own eyes, no less. We, like our girls, were blinded by the success, accolades, charm and warmth of the doctor. We, like our girls, developed a trust that ultimately was used to manipulate us. And while we were not directly assaulted, we carry the pain of our girls with us every minute of every day. We, more deeply, carry the guilt of not stopping it from happening. The “what-ifs” are overwhelming.
So as one of the parents in the room, I beg you to reconsider sharing your blame and shame opinions. To consider for a minute, “what if it was you?” I can promise you. You would have done the same thing.
Kristen Chatman is the mother of Chloe Myers, who gave a video statement during Larry Nassar’s sentencing at Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Mich., on Jan. 31.