Amanda Thomashow who reported Nassar in 2014: 'It destroyed me but I lived'
LANSING - Amanda Thomashow's phone rang 16 months ago. It was an East Lansing number she didn't recognize.
She answered, as she was getting into her car in a parking lot, and heard the voice of a Michigan State University police detective.
Larry Nassar, then still a famed MSU and USA gymnastics doctor, was being investigated for sexually assaulting a patient.
Thomashow got this call because more than two years earlier she had told police and MSU the same thing, that Nassar sexually assaulted her during a medical appointment in his university office.
Her report, in April 2014, prompted investigations by both MSU police and the university. MSU's Title IX investigation cleared Nassar. The police investigation, which lasted more than a year, ended when prosecutors declined to charge him.
Thomashow spoke to the State Journal in 2016 for a story about how MSU handled its investigations of sexual assault and harassment. At her request, the story did not identify her. Now Thomashow says she's ready for people to know who she is, because she won't let what happened to her define her.
"What defines me is where I go from here and how I use my scars to help strengthen myself and other women, and not letting it be this horrible thing that just destroyed me," she said in an interview on Monday. "Instead, it's this horrible thing that destroyed me but I lived and I'm here to tell my story. And I'm here to lift while I climb."
Since Thomashow got that call from an MSU police detective, more than 140 women and girls have said Nassar abused them. He's been convicted on federal and state charges. He was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison. And by the end of this week, Nassar will be sentenced on seven sexual assault charges, following several days of victim-impact statements from Thomashow and 87 other women and girls.
"It's nice to not be alone, but also, I kind of wish I was alone in this," Thomashow said. "I don't want all these people suffering all of the time."
MSU 'allowed it to happen'
In early 2014, Thomashow, who was then a recent MSU graduate, walked into Nassar's university office seeking treatment for hip pain.
During that appointment, Nassar cupped her buttocks and then, about an hour into the appointment, he sent the only other person present, a female resident, out of the examination room. Then he massaged her breast and vaginal area.
She told him to stop, but he didn't. He only stopped when she physically removed his hands from her.
Thomashow reported to MSU what happened. The university started a Title IX investigation and its police department started a separate criminal investigation.
Relying on the medical opinions of four MSU employees who had close ties to Nassar, the Title IX investigator determined Thomashow received an appropriate medical procedure and likely misinterpreted it as sexual assault because she wasn't familiar with osteopathic medicine and wouldn’t know the "nuanced difference."
When the university cleared Nassar, he and the dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine agreed on new protocols required for Nassar to return to clinical duties, including that he wear gloves and fully explain what he was doing. However, those protocols included no mechanism to ensure Nassar's compliance, and Nassar's boss later told police he never intended to follow up to make sure Nassar followed them.
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On the day Nassar began seeing patients again, he was still under criminal investigation by the university's police department. He would be for another 16 months, until prosecutors declined to charge him.
At least a dozen women and girls later told police they were abused by Nassar at MSU after the university allowed him to resume seeing patients, police records show.
The university has been criticized by many for the way it handled the 2014 investigation into Thomashow's complaint, which included Nassar recommending one of the four MSU colleagues whom the investigator used as experts to determine if Nassar's actions were indeed part of a medical treatment.
Some also have questioned why the investigator wrote two final reports, with one for Thomashow having less information than one prepared for Nassar and the university. Although the documents are not public, the Lansing State Journal uncovered the existence of two reports while reviewing emails about Nassar sent between the investigator and the dean.
Thomashow said this week that the university simply didn't want to believe her.
"Though they did not sexually assault me personally, they allowed it to happen," she said. "And they allowed for an environment that covered for this doctor. Just because, what, he brought in a lot of money to the university or he was a big name?"
Jason Cody, an MSU spokesman, reiterated on Monday that the university vehemently denies any accusation that MSU covered up Nassar's sexual assaults or looked the other way. He said that the 2014 investigation followed university procedures at the time.
Thomashow is among the women and girls who are suing MSU and others in federal court. Last week, the university moved to dismiss those lawsuits. Among its arguments is that MSU "retains absolute immunity from liability" for Nassar's actions.
MSU spokesman Kent Cassella said last week that insurance companies require a vigorous defense against lawsuits, but that's "in no way a reflection of our view of the victims, for whom we have the utmost respect and sympathy."
MSU's response to her report and those the other women and girls, Thomashow said, "is a good example of what is wrong with our world today."
Thomashow wants the university to acknowledge its mistakes, apologize and change the environment on campus.
"It's going to have to be a big culture shift, but I think that MSU still has an opportunity to fess up and acknowledge what they've done and help the victims. But the longer that they keep on fighting and saying that they had nothing to do with this, it's just hurting the people who have already been hurt."
Thomashow hopes victim-impact statements to be 'a chorus that makes change'
When Thomashow walked into Nassar's office in 2014 she was thinking about enrolling in medical school.
That changed after. She found herself struggling to trust men and doctors. She shifted her career path to one where she'd mostly be around women. She no longer trusted the systems put in place to protect women and bring predators to justice.
These were among the scars that were healing, when she got that call from an MSU police detective. They've now been joined by fresh wounds.
Thomashow expects to be one of the 88 women and girls who give victim-impact statements this week during a four-day sentencing hearing for Nassar, who will face another sentencing hearing in Eaton County later this month.
Preparing her statement has forced her to acknowledge her feelings and all the ways this has affected her, things that are just easier to ignore.
"I'm just so frustrated by this whole situation and that this is still happening," she said. "I know there's no way to change the past and all we can do is move forward and try to make positive change from here on, but I'm just so frustrated.
"How is this still my life? How do I still have to go and talk about this? Wasn't me talking about is enough back when it happened? Why do I have to continue to relive this horrible thing that happened to me just because they didn't believe me the first time? How is that fair to me? Have I not been traumatized enough? But here we are."
For all the trauma, frustration and loss of faith, Thomashow said she still has hope.
She has hope that the systems will improve to protect women, girls, men and boys from abuse. She has hope that one day she'll no longer feel like a victim, even though she admits she doesn't think that will happen.
But she has to have hope, it's what gets her up and into the world, and what led her to tell her story once again.
"My voice didn't matter four years ago," she said. "But maybe this time, at least my voice can be part of a chorus that makes change."
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