date of testimony: January 18th 2018
location of testimony: Lansing, Michigan
age at first abuse: 10
age at hearing: 22
I first would like to thank you for giving me and all of my fellow survivors the opportunity to share our story. I can imagine that sitting for you and listening to all of these horror stories cannot be easy and I commend you for that.
The opportunity to face my perpetrator is terrifying but undeniably empowering.
The first time I sat in Larry Nassar’s exam room I was confused and in awe. Hanging on the wall was a picture of the 1996 Olympic gold medal gymnastics team with every teammate’s signature.
There was a candid photo of Kerri Strug being handed over to him after her iconic medal winning vault. I remember sitting in my living room with my mom and my sister, just a few months prior, watching that vault live on t.v. I couldn’t believe I was being treated by the same doctor. I felt lucky and special. I remember bragging to my friends that my back doctor was the doctor for the US Gymnastics Olympic team.
I was sent to Larry Nassar my senior year of high school, 1997, after my family doctor could no longer help me with my back and hip pain. I was a dancer and an athlete and I was determined to finish my senior year able to practice and compete, so she sent me to Larry Nassar, the best of the best.
After my initial evaluation he determined I had dumb butt. My muscles weren’t firing in the right order which was putting too much stress on my lower back muscles causing my pain. I was sent to physical therapy, given at-home exercises, and continued to see Nassar weekly for treatments.
He called his treatments myofascial release. He would work the knots out of my back and hips, often all the way down my legs. It was uncomfortable and painful. I remember feeling grossed out by his hairy arms sliding up and down my back, down the sides of my legs. I saw Nassar weekly for these treatments and I began to feel uncomfortable and felt that something was off. He made odd remarks about my underwear. My thongs were perfect for these treatments. He amusingly pointed out a pimple near a private area.
He usually had medical students or other staff in the room for the beginning of each appointment but he would send them out before the actual treatments.
I don’t remember exactly when Nassar’s treatments turned into sexual violations but I do remember this, I sat in his exam room half naked and he sat me down, he sat down next to me with a medical book. We were alone. He seemed a little nervous or apprehensive. He wouldn’t look me in the eyes. It felt strange and awkward, something was off. He said something about not being able to get to the right muscles externally and he was going to have to go internally through my vagina. He pointed to some words in this book and he said that the procedure was legitimate and explained what he was going to do.
Because it was a medical text I really had no idea what he was saying. I was 17, maybe 18. I can’t remember exactly when the violations started.
I was a somewhat reserved kid and I couldn’t help but feel intimidated by this man who was so esteemed in the sports medicine community. I told myself he knew what he was doing; doctors were people you could trust above all others.
I laid face down on the table already half naked. He was not wearing gloves when he put his fingers inside my vagina. He did not use lubricant.
I had only one other vaginal exam in my life and I did not understand this was unusual. He did not stop when I grimaced from the pain. I was not sexually experienced. I thought his grunting and odd noises were because he was working so hard to get the knots out of my hip. I told myself that what he was doing must be physically taxing. Now I shake with disgust when I remembered this because I realized, those were the sounds of his own sexual enjoyment.
I continued to see Nassar for periods of time off and on through college at MSU. I was a dance minor so the intensity and amount of time I spent dancing picked up. The dorms I lived in my freshman and sophomore years were in walking distance to the MSU Sports Clinic, so once a week I would trek it to his office, have treatments, and walk back to my dorm room.
At one point he finally had x-rays taken to see if there was anything structurally wrong with my back. There was. I recall wondering why this wasn’t done earlier in the course of my treatment. Why did it take years to further investigate why I never got better? I was so irritated by this.
As Nassar was showing the x-rays to me and the other staff, he seemed excited, like he had made this big discovery. He told me I had abnormalities in my lower spin called spondylolisthesis and explained how it affected my body. I have a gap between two vertebrae that causes my spine to become unstable which causes my hips to become unaligned which causes muscles to cramp and knot. It was something I was born with and would live with for the rest of my life. For me it meant living with pain for the rest of my life. For him it meant an excuse to continue molesting me. It couldn’t be fixed so it meant treatments were needed as long as I was dancing. I usually felt apprehensive walking to his office and usually felt annoyed walking home.
At one particular appointment I had a sinus infection. He insisted that he could help me by massaging my face. He said he was going to mess up my makeup but it would help.
I tried to refuse the treatment but he was not someone who was easily refused. He forcefully insisted I lay down so he could massage my sinus infection away. I walked back to my dorm room furious because I had to redo my makeup. Until recently I have always looked back at that incident and laughed at myself. How vain I was to get so upset about my makeup getting messed up? Now through therapy I realize that I was so angry because it is much, much safer to get angry about this violation of my face rather than all the times he violated me sexually.
I never accepted that I was abused. I only told two people before September of 2016. The first was my sister, and it was a casual conversation. The other was a friend and a fellow dancer who had been referred to Nassar. I felt a duty to explain what his treatments were like to prepare her.
As an adult I would sometimes stop and think, hm, that was weird. The next time I see a doctor I need to ask about this. Then I would quickly and subconsciously repress it to the back of my mind and continue on with whatever it was I was doing. I could never think about it for long. It was almost as if it would suddenly pop into my mind and then just as quickly pop back out.
This is what I did to cope. I repressed my memories. I repressed my feelings. I began to drink to numb myself. I know now that I was self medicating. I always thought my drinking was normal. I was a normal college kid because college kids drink. It was funny that I was known for being able to finish a fifth of Bacardi Limon in a weekend.
At the beginning of my freshman year I usually reserved my drinking to just Friday and Saturday nights. Then Thursdays became party nights as well. By the time I moved out of the dorms my junior year I was drinking three to four days a week.
I never scheduled a morning class or a Friday class because I knew I would be too hung over to make it there.
When I turned 21 and was able to go to the bar my drinking increased to four to five days a week. I scrambled nightly to find someone who could go out with me. I had friends I could count on to party with me on the weekends but finding people during the week wasn’t as easy. I’d find myself going out with people who mere acquaintances just so I could drink. I needed to go out. I needed to drink. I had to find someone to go with me.
If I didn’t have plans to go to the bar, I panicked. Still, I retained the assumption that I was just a normal college kid. I ignored my sister’s scornful comments about going out again. I thought my friends were wimps that they couldn’t keep up with me. I got angry with my brother when he expressed concern about my drinking.
I graduated from MSU in 2002 with tens of thousands of dollars in tuition debt. I also graduated with thousands of dollars of credit card debt, almost exclusively from bar tabs.
I continued to drink into my teaching internship and into my teaching career but I cut back to Friday and Saturday nights. I immediately began to struggle with depression. I wasn’t able to numb myself properly anymore. Spring break for me as a teacher meant I could spend more time at the bar, not catching up on grading like my colleagues did.
I met my husband, Scott, at the bar. When our relationship became more serious, we stopped going to the bar every weekend. My depression worsened and then the anxiety kicked in. I didn’t have a word for what I was feeling at the time. I just recall saying to him, I feel like I can’t relax, like I’m always wound up. I smoked a lot. I exercised a lot, but I could never get the knots and dead weight out of my gut. I could never rid myself of a constant sense of unease. Honestly, I still can’t.
I had my first mental break down during the summer of 2006. I snapped into a state of panic and spiraled out of control. I lost touch with reality. I had no idea what was happening to me. I thought I was dying, but I didn’t know why. I paced, I ran, I walked, I biked, but I couldn’t shake myself out of this frightening mess of alarm and confusion. I meditated. My husband — or soon to be husband tried soothing me and calming me, but I couldn’t return to reality. I couldn’t sleep. I took an exorbitant amount of Benadryl but still lay wide awake for hours not being able to sleep. I called my mom. I called my sister. I called a suicide help line. I was caught in this psychological state for weeks.
This began a 12 year journey of coping with crippling anxiety and depression. My general practitioner had me try several different anti-depressants and anxiety medications. They didn’t help. My doctor finally sent me to a psychiatrist. I was put on multiple antidepressants and stronger anxiety medications. Some of my anxiety and depression was alleviated. I was able to function day-to-day but I wasn’t really living.
It wasn’t long before she told me I was too reliant on my anxiety medications. I took them too often, I took too much, and they were only meant to be used lightly or for extreme situations. I took them multiple times daily.
My second break down was when my husband and I decided to have children. I couldn’t take the antidepressant I was currently on while pregnant so with the guidance of my doctors I decided to stop. I spent days crying, angry at the world, or curled up on my couch. I had to take a few days off work because I could not function.
My OB agreed to let me take a safer antidepressant but I still was not going to be able to take my anxiety medication while pregnant. Even though I knew I couldn’t take it while pregnant, I wasn’t able to stop taking it to prepare for pregnancy. I could not exist day-to-day without something to ease my anxiety.
When I became pregnant with our first child I tried to stop taking the anxiety meds. After spending an entire day pacing and shaking and feeling myself slipping away, I had my husband take me to the emergency room. The doctor sent me home telling me that my mental health was more important than my baby’s health and I just needed to take the pills so I did. My psychiatrist and my OB disagreed and so I began the excruciating process of weaning off. I spent my entire pregnancy anxious and worried that I had harmed my baby because I had taken this medication, and I was ashamed that I wasn’t strong enough to be without it.
My psychiatrist often suggested and encouraged me to seek counseling and therapy. From then until now I have seen six different therapists but I always became frustrated and I broke up with them because, although they did their best to help me with my symptoms, no one could help me figure out the why behind my symptoms. Why was I so messed up? Why couldn’t I go a day without anxiety medication? Why was I so emotional? Why did I get angry so easily? Why did I get so nervous to leave the house? Why did I always feel like I was fighting to stay connected to the real world?
Through counseling I have analyzed my life over and over. I have had a good life. My parents were good parents. They’re great parents. I could not have asked for a better childhood. I have good relationships with all of my siblings who are all here with me today. Nothing traumatic ever happened to us, to me, that would cause my depression and anxiety problems. I began to accept that my brain was just wired differently.
About five years ago I started seeing a new psychiatrist and he diagnosed me as bipolar and I started mood stabilizers. He upped my anxiety medication. When I described how unceasingly tense I am and how I struggle to focus and to complete simple tasks, he diagnosed me with ADHD. Adderall was added to my medication cocktail.
My sense of well-being and normalcy would ebb and flow but I’ve never been able to get through one day feeling simply content.
I did not admit to myself that I was sexually abused until September 2016 when I stumbled upon an article a friend had posted on Facebook. I sat frozen on my couch thinking, oh, my God, I was right. I was right. I was right. I called my sister and I said, remember that one time I told you about my back doctor? I didn’t realize it then but that was the moment that my life would truly begin to unravel.
Over the next few weeks I numbly began the process of telling my family and a few close friends that I, too, had been sexually abused my Larry Nassar. I began every conversation with, I have tell you something but I need you first to know that I’m okay. I told myself that I was okay. But I’m not. I wasn’t.
My parents were two of the first people I told. Remember the back doctor? Remember the doctor I used to see for my back, I said to my mom? She immediately knew what I was talking about. They had read the article as well. What did he do to you, Nicole, she said sharply? I will always remember the sound of panic in her voice. She called to my dad and I spent the next half hour explaining and trying to convince them I was okay.
I could not bring myself to answer with specifics about the abuse. When I told my husband he was numb and stoic. He was matter-of-fact and made sure I knew what I wanted my next steps to be and ensured me that he would be there every step of the way. My best friend cried and shook. I’ll never forget the look on her face. The few other close friends I told were shocked and saddened.
The hardest people to tell were my brothers. Listening to my big brother cry I finally allowed myself to cry.
Even though I had only told a few people about the abuse, I felt like everyone knew, everyone understood that I was damaged. Every time I had a conversation with someone who knew or I spent time with my family or my husband’s family, I knew this was the only thing they could be thinking about. It was the only thing I was thinking about. I let this abuse define who I am.
I was afraid if too many people discovered my secret, my job would be in jeopardy. I am a teacher of small, innocent, wonderful little people. Sadly and furiously there is a stigma attached to victims of sexual abuse. What would my students’ parents think of me if they found out about this? Would my co-workers shame me or pity me?
For the past year and a half I have been on an emotional roller coaster. I began by telling myself that being abused wasn’t really a big deal. I asked myself if this abuse could be the source of my anxiety and depression, the reason, the why I had been searching for my entire adult life? When I posed this question to my psychiatrist he confirmed that, yes, of course, sexual abuse is the root of my struggles.
The abuse I suffered under the guise of treatment by Larry Nassar is my why. I am not bipolar. I have been suffering from PTSD for the last 20 years. I am so incredibly angry, angry that this happened to me, enraged that it was allowed to happen to me, furious that I have been dealing with this trauma for over 20 years and I didn’t even realize it.
Someone once said to me that I must feel relieved to have the answer to my why I’ve been searching for for so long. Relief is definitely not what I feel. I am so depressed. There are days, sometimes multiple days in a row that I cannot get off the couch. I have no trace of energy. I sleep a lot. And even though I’m always tired, sometimes debilitating so, I have to take medication to fall asleep. I’m afraid if I don’t, I would think too much lying in bed. I panic if I’m not out as soon as my head hits my pillow. I felt sorry for myself. I questioned my self worth. I have holed myself up in my bedroom to cry so my kids can’t see me.
I found myself lying on the bathroom floor sobbing after everyone has gone to bed. I’m always anxious, always tense. Generally I am too anxious to get out of the house and spend time with family and friends. I rarely leave my house on the weekends. I turn down lunch dates with friends or come up with an excuse last minute not to go. Sometimes the thought of grocery shopping has me panicking. Most days I fight a constant state of dread.
I don’t enjoy my hobbies like I used to. I can’t summon enough energy to make it into my sewing room. I can’t focus to make it through an entire book. Anyone knows anything about me knows that sewing and reading make up part of who I am, and I have been struggling to hang on to them.
My physical health has also taken a toll. Self care is hard to manage when your soul has been scarred. My body hurts from head to toe for days on end for no reason. It is rare I go a day without a headache. I stopped counting the pounds I’ve gained at 25, and that’s just since last September. I was put on blood pressure medication just a few months after reading that article in September 2016.
Over the past year and a half there have been moments where I have sunk so low that I have wondered if enduring all of this is really worth it. I have wondered if my family would have it easier if I just wasn’t here. I haven’t necessarily wanted to die, but occasionally I don’t want to exist either.
When I feel myself sliding in this direction I think about my children and I remember that I want to exist for them and I need to exist for them. They have been my tether to this world.
Since this is a victim impact statement I need to point out that even though I was the one that was physically abused, there are important people in my life who are also victims. My friends are victims. They have cried with me, listened to me, and helped me bear this burden even though I am no longer ashamed. I still wonder if sexual abuse defines who I am to them.
I began my fight to not allow sexual abuse define who I am and who I am yet to become when I decided to speak today.
My parents, Chris and Marla, are victims. I cannot begin to comprehend how I would feel if one of my own children told me they were sexually abused. I wonder if it would be worse than having been abused myself?
Then since September 2016 my parents have both struggled with their physical health. My mother has lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and the weight of this stress has caused horrible flares which have led to other health issues. Last spring she was hospitalized for over a week for pneumonia and sepsis. She was hospitalized right before Thanksgiving again for pneumonia. She has serious vision and eye problems because of her diseases and they have worsened despite multiple procedures and surgeries. At one point we thought she might lose her eye. She only lost her vision and she had to abruptly retire.
My father has a mild heart condition that has been under control for the last 15 years.
However, in the last year and a half his heart is suddenly acting up again. He has also spent his own fair share of time in the emergency room, doctors’ offices, or hospitalized. He also retired recently.
My parents are both in their mid 60s, far too young to have such serious health complications. Of course, they adamantly refuse to admit that any of this has anything to do with the trauma of finding out that their daughter was molested. However, I think most of us would not hesitate to deny the connection between the mind and the body.
My brothers, Chad and Adam, are victims.
My older brothers have always been fiercely protective of me. They are angry that they could not protect me from Larry Nassar’s abuse and they carry that anger with them daily.
My sister, Brooke, is a victim. She has always been my best friend. I know she feels my anger, my sadness, my exhaustion from having to battle through this ordeal that was unfairly handed to me.
My husband, Scott, is a victim. I am no longer the person he married. I did not used to shy away from his touch. I feel broken and unlovable. It’s laborious for him to love me. I think I make it difficult for him to love me for reasons I can’t quite comprehend yet.
I don’t recognize the person he has become either as he sometimes retreats into his own depression. Hearing that his wife has been sexually abused, seeing her suffer and being helpless to ease her pain has damaged his spirit. Because of my depression and anxiety, there are roles in our family that have been imposed on him. He is burdened with grief, anger, and resentment. He is tired.
My children, Miles, my bright, energetic, sassy seven year old, and Emmett, my gentle but fiercely loving four year old, they are victims too. Some days I have to remind myself I have two beautiful little humans to take care of, and although I take solace in loving them, sometimes I must force myself to make dinner, give them baths, read and sing with them, help with homework, put them to bed, or simply be with them. Hearing, mom, why are you so grouchy, or, mom, you’ve been really lazy this summer, it’s hard, especially because I cannot explain to them why. They don’t know what has happened to me, but I know that they can feel my hurt even if they may not realize it.
Children are incredibly intuitive beings. Some day I will tell my story and I’m hoping it will be one of survival, strength, and courage so that they will not be burdened with my trauma.
And last, but certainly not least, my Spartan pride is a victim. I was nine when I decided I was going to college at MSU. It was the year the football team won the 1988 Rose Bowl. I didn’t know much about football and still don’t, but the excitement and pride my dad showed me — showed inspired me. My family has a long history of bleeding green. It was at MSU where my grandparents met as music majors and fell in love. My dad, my sister, and many of my aunts and uncles and cousins all have MSU degrees. It was the only college I applied for.
My kids learned to chant go green before they could walk. They were taught the fight song along with Itsy Bitsy Spider and the ABCs.
MSU’s response or lack of response has compounded my pain. I am disgusted and outraged at the administration’s inability to take responsibility for handing over young girls and women to Larry Nassar, a known sexual predator for over 20 years. I might not be here talking to you today if MSU would have listened and acted in an ethical and moral manner. I have two degrees from MSU but I can no longer say that proudly. I no longer bleed green.
I consider myself an incredibly strong woman by standing up here today sharing my journey. I feel more courageous than I ever thought possible. I am a fighter. I am formidable. I have an amazing support system. My family, my friends, my co-workers, even people on social media whom I never met have helped me battle through this. They’ve compelled me to begin my journey away from being a victim and towards becoming a survivor. Otherwise, it would not be implausible to say that the abuse I suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar has ruined my life. I have spent half my life, my entire adult life, clawing my way through the aftermath of being sexually abused. It seems just to me that Larry Nassar should spend the rest of his adult life locked away in a prison cell. Thank you, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Thank you, ma’am. I know that testifying is difficult. I hear that from many victims, but it is also empowering, and I think you’ve just discovered that.
I know that when you prepared that you likely had reservations, given the history you’ve told me, but I am hoping that it is the right medicine for you to actually heal, to be able to get back to what you love, your family, first and foremost, and one stitch at a time your sewing and one word at a time your reading, and I want you to know that only defendant — only defendant would be better off if you were not here. Please stay with us.
MS. REEB: Thank you.
THE COURT: Stay with your family. Your children need you. The community needs you. Your voice along with your sister survivors needs you. It is bolder. It is stronger. It is bigger. Hewithers while your voices get stronger. He will be behind bars for the rest of his life with the combined sentences. There’s no question of that. Regardless of what I do, that’s already been written. I haven’t made my final decision but your words certainly help, and I’m hoping that your words spoken publicly release once and for all the knots and dead weight that you’ve been feeling. I hope you feel free now. You need to be free to live the happy life that you deserve. You are not defined by this, never have been defined by this.
MS. REEB: Thank you.
THE COURT: Never. You are defined as a strong, beautiful mother, woman, citizen, voice. You are defined by empowering other women. I don’t think you realize how invaluable that is. You will never be defined by anyone by what this predator has done. You need to release yourself from that. I hope your words publicly spoken have done that for you. I know it’s not an easy journey, but I think really this was the best medicine.
MS. REEB: I agree.
THE COURT: I see that from so many victims. And I hear from victims years later, I run into them all over the place, and so I hear the outcome of what all of this means, about our discussion, about my words to you, about your public words, and I’m hoping in the long run that is what the outcome is for you. I feel it. I already see the rocks on your back lifted. I hope you feel that.
MS. REEB: I do.
THE COURT: I wish you and your family much happiness and, again, want to thank you so much for being here.
MS. REEB: Thank you.
THE COURT: I’m proud of you.
MS. REEB: Thank you.