A marathon sentencing hearing for gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar got off to a searing start Tuesday when a young woman who was molested by him as a child described how it tore her family apart and helped drive her father to suicide.
Kyle Stephens was the first of nearly 100 girls and women who are expected to give statements against Nassar, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and a physician at Michigan State University.
In recent months, Olympic gold medalists including Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney have gone public with accusations against Nassar. Most of the women testifying in a Michigan courtroom are not well known, but their stories are horrifyingly familiar.
Standing tall at a podium while Nassar buried his forehead in his hand in the witness box, Stephens described how he repeatedly assaulted her in his basement for years: masturbating with lotion in front of her, rubbing her foot on his genitals and violating her with his fingers.
“Without my knowledge or consent, I had engaged in my first sexual experience when I was in kindergarten,” Stephens said.
Nassar was a family friend. Stephens is the only accuser who was not molested as a patient of his sports-medicine practice.
She was 12 years old when she told her parents about the abuse. They confronted him and he denied it.
Stephens’ voice cracked as she said: “My parents chose to believe Larry Nassar over me.”
Her accusation against Nassar, a family friend, fractured her relationship with her parents. Every time she and her father got into an argument, he would tell her, “You need to apologize to Larry.”
Simone Biles accuses former Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse
When she was about to leave for college, she tried to convince her father once again that she was telling the truth. This time, he believed her — and watching that realization creep over him only deepened her pain.
She and her father tried to patch things up, but he killed himself in 2016. He was coping with serious health problems at the time, but Stephens has no doubt that wasn’t the only factor.
“Had he not had to bear the shame and self-loathing that stemmed from his defense of Larry Nassar, I believe he would have had a fighting chance for his life,” Stephens said.
“Larry Nassar wedged himself between myself and my family,” she said. “For a long time, I told people I did not have a family.’
But Stephens couldn’t get away from Larry Nassar’s family. She worried about his daughters and continued to babysit for them, acting as their protector and to pay for counseling.
The situation was so surreal, she sometimes wondered if she had imagined the abuse. So she would replay the encounters over and over again to maintain her grip on reality.
Her life became a cycle of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other compulsive conditions. She lay on the floor for hours, pulling out her hair and would take out her gun to remind herself that she had some control over her life,
Many mornings, she said, she woke to the thought: “I want to die.”
Ex-Olympics doctor: ‘I’m so horribly sorry’ for abusing girls
Stephens paused and asked if she could address Nassar directly. The defendant, wearing blue jailhouse clothes, did not meet her gaze.
She reminded him that after her parents first confronted him, he sat on their living room couch and spoke to her.
“I listened to you tell me, ‘No one should ever do that and if they do, you should tell someone,'” she said.
“Well, Larry, I’m here, not to tell someone — but to tell everyone.”
“I still get sick at the smell of that lotion.”
Nassar, 54, will almost certainly spend the rest of his life in prison. He has already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography, and prosecutors want him to get 40 to 125 years in the two state sexual assault cases.
Stephens said she has to live with the heartache and memories for the rest of her life, too.
“You convinced my parents I was a liar,” she told Nassar.
“I still get sick at the smell of that lotion,” she continued.
“I still flinch when my feet are near someone’s lap.”
“You used my body for six years for your own sexual gratification. That is unforgivable,” she added.
As the prosecutor standing behind her wiped tears from her eyes, Stephens asked Ingham County Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to make sure Nassar is never free to harm again.
“Little girls don’t stay little forever,” she told Nassar. “They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”