Since Rachael Denhollander went public with her accusations against former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar in September, more than 80 women and girls have come forward with similar complaints.
Now, a week ahead of testifying against Nassar in court, Denhollander has written two open letters criticizing MSU's response to the scandal: one to President Lou Anna K. Simon, and the other to Dean William Strampel of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.
President Simon says child predators are difficult to detect and stop
“I have been told it is virtually impossible to stop a determined sexual predator and pedophile, that they will go to incomprehensible lengths to keep what they do in the shadows,” Simon told MSU’s Board of Trustees during their April meeting. “That may be true, but we at MSU must do all we can not only to ensure the safety of our patients but to protect youth who come to our campus in all capacities.”
That statement about sexual predators being “virtually impossible to stop” was picked up by the Washington Post in a recent article.
When Denhollander read that article, she says, she decided to write President Simon an open letter.
“‘Virtually impossible to stop a determined predator and pedophile?’ President Simon, if this is what you have been told, you need new advisors,” Denhollander writes.
“Over the last several decades research into pedophiles and serial child abusers has grown vastly,” she says, adding that evidence shows abusers are often reported, only to have victims be disbelieved.
“They were not stopped because adults in authority didn’t properly respond when children and young adults reported abuse to them. President Simon, does this sound familiar?”
Denhollander points to the multiple reports of abuse allegedly made to MSU staffers as far back as the late 90’s. The school also cleared Nassar of sexual misconduct in a 2014 Title IX investigation (though in recent months, new investigations found Nassar responsible for violating school policy, including in Denhollander’s case.)
“Abuse goes unchecked not only because adults are not properly trained to recognize signs of abuse,” she writes, “but because adults ignore or dismiss the signs of abuse, because they do not want to believe it.”
So for Simon to say that repeated sexual abuse is “virtually impossible to stop,” Denhollander says, sends the message that “officials who are willfully indifferent to abusers can wash their hands and walk away, because men like Nassar are ‘virtually impossible to catch.’
“Except that’s not true. It has never been true. But it does shift the blame. That makes it feel better, doesn’t it? Better, at least, for those who failed to protect the children,” Denhollander writes.
“For those of us who were victims of this man, it’s a bitter reminder that our voices counted for nothing. And it makes every one of your condolences ring hollow.”
Simon repeatedly emphasizes MSU’s response to Nassar allegations
President Simon has made several statements about how seriously MSU is taking the investigation into Nassar. The school fired him eight days after Denhollander’s accusations were published in the IndyStar, and has hired an outside legal firm to conduct an internal review of Nassar’s work and alleged abuse at MSU, among other efforts.
“Finally, while determined sexual predators and pedophiles – people who often exploit positions of personal and professional trust – are very difficult to detect and stop, we at MSU will do all we can not only to safeguard our patients but to also continue to protect youth who come to our campus in all capacities,” Simon said in a letter to the “Spartan Community” in April.
“…I recognize sexual assault and child sexual abuse are societal issues; however, we cannot dismiss them as insurmountable. We are committed to continuing our work to improve our response, education and prevention efforts at MSU. We are determined to be better tomorrow than we are today.”
The Washington Post article also quoted emails between Nassar and his boss, Dean William Strampel, which the Post says it received through Freedom of Information requests.
“Good luck,” Strampel wrote to Nassar on September 6th, after an IndyStar reporter reached out about Denhollander’s sexual abuse allegations. “I am on your side.”
“I understand that you knew Larry well, and you didn’t know me,” Denhollander writes in her open letter to Strampel. But, she says, this is the kind of automatic assumption of innocence that’s too often made when abuse is reported.
“Have you thought at all about the little girls who walked into Larry’s exam room since you welcomed him back in 2014 [when MSU’s Title IX investigation cleared him of wrongdoing] without putting any accountability or follow-up structure in place to make sure he followed the guidelines of his reinstatement?”
Asked for comment, MSU spokesperson Jason Cody issued the following statement on Tuesday.
“While we respect Rachel Denhollander’s opinion, many of the things discussed in her open letters are either part of an ongoing criminal investigation, our pending internal review or potential litigation.
“But as the president has said, we will do all we can to ensure justice is served for all of Nassar’s victims, as well as safeguard our patients and continue to protect youth who come to our campus in all capacities. Sexual violence has no place at Michigan State University.”