Gymnastics doctor shakes as sex-abuse victims bare their pain

Image: Kyle Stephens, a victim of former Team U.S.A. doctor Larry Nassar, g
Kyle Stephens gives her victim impact statement. Copyright Geoff Robins AFP - Getty Images
Copyright Geoff Robins AFP - Getty Images
By Tracy Connor with NBC News
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Nearly 100 women will give statements against gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar at a weeklong sentencing.

"Little girls don't stay little forever."

Kyle Stephens stood in a Michigan courtroom on Tuesday and practically spat those words at Larry Nassar, the former gymnastics doctor who began molesting her when she was just six years old and who now faces a life in prison for his serial sexual assaults.

"They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world," Stephens said as Nassar, wearing blue jailhouse clothes, buried his forehead in his hand.

Weeping at times, she recounted how her accusation against Nassar, a family friend, tore her family apart. She said her father's belated realization she was telling the truth helped drive him to suicide.

"You convinced my parents I was a liar," she said to Nassar, who did not meet her gaze.

Stephens was the first of nearly 100 victims who will give statements at an extraordinary marathon sentencing hearing for Nassar, who has pleaded guilty to molesting 10 girls but is accused by scores more — including Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney.

Image: Kyle Stephens, a victim of former Team U.S.A. doctor Larry Nassar, gives her victim impact statement
Kyle Stephens gives her victim impact statement. Geoff RobinsAFP - Getty Images

The famous athletes were not in the courtroom — Raisman said she couldn't bear to see Nassar — but a cavalcade of the less celebrated braved the spotlight to bare details of sleepless nights and feelings of shame.

Hour after hour, they stood at a podium with tears in their eyes and rage and sadness in their voices to tell the court how Nassar, 54, had violated them with ungloved hands under the guise of examinations and treatments.

"I often think of suicide," said Annette Hill, who saw Nassar for an injury two decades ago.

Donna Markham spoke on behalf of her daughter, Chelsey, who committed suicide in 2009, the end of a downward spiral that began with a single visit to Nassar's office when she was 10 years old.

"Every day I miss her and it all started with him," she said, racked with sobs. "It all started with him."

Some said they did not realize they had been assaulted until Nassar was unmasked in 2016 as a prolific predator or until he was arrested months later for a massive collection of child pornography.

"I knew... I knew after months of defending the mastermind, I knew I was one of them," said Alexis Moore, who began seeing Nassar when she was nine years old.

Some victims condemned USA Gymnastics, which made Nassar its team physician, and Michigan State University, where he had his sports medicine practice, for failing to acknowledge the mistakes they made before and after the scandal broke.

Olivia Cowan, tears dripping from her face at times, was outraged that MSU's president and trustees skipped the hearing, which is expected to last through Friday.

"How convenient that you decided not to attend today," she said scornfully. "You are a coward."

Through it all, Nassar sat in the witness box with his head down. At times his body shook, and he occasionally seemed to be crying. He has already been sentenced to 60 years on the federal child pornography charges, and he could get double that on the state sexual abuse charges.

Stephens asked the judge to ensure that Nassar would never be free to hurt again.

Standing tall with a prosecutor wiping away tears behind her, she described how the doctor 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," said Stephens, the only accuser who was not molested as a patient of Nassar's medical practice.

She was 12 years old when she finally told her parents about the abuse. They confronted Nassar and he denied it.

Stephens' voice cracked as she said: "My parents chose to believe Larry Nassar over me."

Her allegation fractured her relationship with her parents, she said. Every time she and her father got into an argument, he would tell her, "You need to apologize to Larry."

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."

Stephens paused and asked the judge if she could address Nassar directly. Then 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."

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