This article is the fourth installment of “One Year Later: Larry Nassar And The Women Who Made Us Listen,” a seven-part series that commemorates the seven days women stood in a Lansing, Michigan, courtroom last year and faced their abuser, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State trainer Larry Nassar. “One Year Later” was produced by reporter Alanna Vagianos. Read more installments: One | Two | Three | Five | Six | Seven
Amanda Thomashow stepped up to the microphone and took a deep breath.
Her pixie-cut bleach blond hair stood out in the sea of women waiting their turn to read victim impact statements in a Lansing, Michigan, courtroom on a dreary January day last year. More than 150 of them had shown up to deliver gut-wrenching statements to their abuser, the once-famed USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University trainer Larry Nassar.
Thomashow, steely-eyed and unwavering, seized the moment.
“You might have broken us,” she told Nassar, “but from this rubble we will rise as an army of female warriors, who will never let you, or any man drunk off of power, get away with such evil ever again.”
Thomashow was a 24-year-old student at Michigan State University when she first encountered Nassar. It was the spring of 2014. Thomashow’s mother had recommended the renowned sports medicine doctor for Amanda’s ongoing hip and back pain attributed to some high school cheerleading injuries. After all, her younger sister, Jessica, saw him too, and he seemed to be helping her.
That appointment with Nassar changed the trajectory of Thomashow’s life. In the two to three hours she spent with him, Thomashow says, the former doctor fondled her breast and touched her vagina. Despite her protests, Nassar continued to assault her and even made her book a follow-up appointment.
“I remembered being in his exam room, after he assaulted me, and there were all of these photos on the walls of the women who we found out later he had abused,” Thomashow, now 29, told me. “I just remember sitting in there with all these little girls in these photos smiling at me, and thinking, ‘If he’s abusing me, is he abusing you too?’”
Thomashow, who was studying to become a neurosurgeon when the encounter occurred, filed a Title IX report, adamant that what Nassar had done was wrong. A little over a month later, MSU concluded that Nassar’s conduct was not of a sexual nature. Thomashow, they said, simply mistook a medical procedure for assault.
“I felt really embarrassed and ashamed of myself for some reason,” Thomashow said, recalling the moment she read MSU’s conclusion. “I felt stupid and small for having reported something that I was so sure was sexual assault, and then to be told that it wasn’t ― I started to doubt myself, for years.”
It wasn’t until two years later, when a second woman filed a Title IX report with MSU complaining about Nassar’s behavior, that the school took a better look at her accusations. The university found that Thomashow had been right about Nassar all along.
“Given what we know now, it wasn’t a question of MSU believing me,” Thomashow said. “It was a question of them taking action.”
The Michigan native grew up just a few blocks from the MSU campus. As a kid, Thomashow said, she ran around in a green-and-white Spartan cheerleading uniform and could often hear football games from her bedroom window on Saturday afternoons.
“They were in my DNA,” she said. “It was the place that, when I was assaulted, I trusted them with the information and thought they would do the right thing. That’s how much I looked up to that university. But I didn’t matter to them. MSU saw dollar signs instead of a human being.”
“I lived for years wondering if I was alone, if he had hurt other people.”
Reached for comment about Thomashow’s case, a spokesperson for MSU said the school’s Title IX office came to its 2014 conclusion “based on the information available at the time.”
“While ultimately there was no finding of a policy violation, the report did note several areas of concern, including the failure to adequately explain a sensitive procedure or give the patient the option of having someone else in the room,” spokesperson Emily Guerrant told HuffPost. “These concerns, as well as recommendations for new practices, were communicated to Larry Nassar and his leadership. When it was later discovered that these concerns were not adequately addressed, Nassar was terminated.”
“We can understand how Amanda Thomashow and other Nassar survivors feel that their safety was not prioritized by the university,” Guerrant went on. “We are extraordinarily sorry for all the harm Nassar committed and to all the people who were hurt, and for the ways the university failed them.”
Thomashow’s Title IX complaint was one of the key catalysts that led to Nassar’s demise. MSU fired Nassar and USA Gymnastics cut ties with him. Shortly after, he was indicted on multiple counts of child sexual abuse and child pornography charges. After three sentencing hearings ― two of which saw a historic number of survivors read impact statements describing their experiences and their trauma ― Nassar is now serving life in prison. The once-famed sports medicine doctor has been accused by nearly 500 young athletes of sexual abuse.
It was during that January 2018 sentencing hearing, in front of Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, that everything changed for Thomashow.
“Being in that courtroom, I felt the purpose of my life shifting,” she told me, a year almost to the day after the historic sentencing that put Nassar behind bars for 40 to 175 years.
“I lived for years wondering if I was alone, if he had hurt other people, hoping that he hadn’t,” she said. “But then, all of a sudden, I was sitting there with hundreds of other survivors and I thought: I have to stop this. I have to do everything I can to stop this from ever happening again.”
Today, Thomashow is a campus sexual assault coordinator for the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board. She collaborates with colleges across the state to create sexual violence prevention programming, and works on centering survivors in each project she pursues. Fittingly, Thomashow works with victims from Michigan State, the same campus where she was assaulted.
“It appears that we as a society favor money over human lives, and our rules reinforce that,” Thomashow said as our conversation veered toward Betsy DeVos’ new Title IX guidelines, which the education secretary proposed in November.
The proposal prioritizes schools and institutions over sexual assault victims by making it harder to report gender-based violence. One of the key provisions many have criticized is that universities would only be responsible for misconduct that occurs on campus.
Under these new guidelines, Thomashow would not have been able to file her 2014 Title IX complaint, one of the key developments that led to Nassar’s downfall.
“I was a block away from campus in an MSU building, with an MSU doctor, as an MSU student, with an MSU resident that was asked to leave the room right before I was assaulted,” she said. “But it wasn’t in the capacity as a student, and it wasn’t on campus, so the university would have been able to shirk responsibility for my abuse under the new guidelines.”
Nassar could still be practicing medicine today if those guidelines were in place while she was a student. And that’s why, Thomashow said, she continues to do the work she does.
Looking back on the last few years, Thomashow is understandably tired. Dealing with her own trauma ― and finding out that Nassar also abused her younger sister ― has taken a toll on her, and on the family.
“There’s really no word in our dictionary to describe how this last year has been,” she told me. “It’s been both a mix of really, really difficult things and a mix of change, good change.”
Nevertheless, she finds solace in her work and the promise she made to herself to always trust her gut. Before we said our goodbyes, I asked her what she would tell another survivor, after everything she’s been through.
“This doesn’t mean you’re broken ― you’re not damaged. You’re just a different you, and you gotta survive it,” she said. “Make it through the fire, and then help other people through the fire, too.”
“One Year Later: Larry Nassar And The Women Who Made Us Listen” is a seven-part series that commemorates the seven days women stood in Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s Lansing, Michigan, courtroom last January and read powerful victim impact statements to former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State trainer Larry Nassar. Their words made history, forcing the country to finally listen and confront the abuse Nassar perpetrated. This series highlights the people who helped take Nassar down, as well as those he hurt for so long.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.