While no amount of money will ever make a survivor of an incident of sexual assault whole, the $500 million settlement in the Michigan State University case for the young girls assaulted and abused by Larry Nassar is a sign of positive change. Larry Nassar, the Michigan State University (MSU) physician, abused young women under the guise of medical treatment. With dignity, courage and strength many of these young women came forward at a public sentencing hearing and testified about the abuse they suffered by Nassar; someone they thought they could trust. The voices of these strong women led to MSU paying $500 million is what is believed to be one of the largest settlements ever reached in a sexual abuse case involving an American university.
Michigan State University employed Larry Nassar as its sports medicine doctor for over 20 years. Women have made complaints about Nassar’s conduct since the late 1990s to University coaches, trainers and counselors, but nothing was ever done. By ignoring the complaints of the women who came forward over the years, the University was alleged to have enabled the abuse. Now the University is subject to a criminal investigation by the state and federal education departments.
Nearly 100 strong voices came forward in a several day long sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar earlier this year. Nassar was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. He used his position as a sports medicine doctor for the University and for USA gymnastics to assault young teenage women athletes. Nassar claimed to be performing legitimate medical treatments and examinations while violating his young patients sometimes with their parents in the room. He preyed on these young women by positioning himself in a way where their parents could not see what he was doing during a pelvic exam. The fact that he was able to get away with this for so many years, despite complaints, speaks volumes to the alleged systematic failures at MSU. His victims included some of the best gymnasts in the world, and local girls who trained after school at the Michigan clinic where Nassar worked.
Before this MSU settlement, the largest university sex abuse settlement was the approximate $109 million paid by Penn State University as a result of the Jerry Sandusky case involving the abuse of young boys. In that case, the assistant Penn State football coach was convicted of abusing young boys over a 15-year period, and the University paid the settlement to resolve allegations of a systematic institutional failure to act.
Michigan State has promised to change its policies moving forward to prevent future abuse. While this promise won’t help the trauma that has been caused to hundreds of young women, hopefully it will help prevent harm caused to women in the future. The $500 million settlement sets aside $425 million for current claimants and $75 million in a trust fund for future claimants. The settlement only deals with accusations against MSU and does not address lawsuits brought against USA Gymnastics and the USA Olympic Committee. The average payment per claimant is expected to be about $1.3 million, however under the settlement some claims will receive far less than that and others will receive more.
The settlement will help these survivors heal by providing them the resources needed to get counseling and therapy. And the publicity of the settlement will open the doors to further discussion about ways universities can prevent this type of harm from happening in the future.