Jessica Kourkounis for HuffPost

Larry Nassar's First Known Victim Is A Mother Figure To Hundreds Of Young Survivors

Sarah Klein feels it’s her duty to take care of the girls Nassar abused, even though she was only 8 when the disgraced doctor first molested her.

This article is the second 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 | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven

By all appearances, Sarah Klein leads a relatively ordinary life.

The 39-year-old lives outside Philadelphia with her 3-year-old daughter, Genevieve. A former attorney, she travels a lot for her work as a consultant for a firm based in Florida. She’s driven and passionate, but has a relaxed way about her that would make anyone feel at home.

What most don’t know is how Klein’s life has been shaped, especially in the past few years, by the scandal of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University trainer now serving a life sentence for child sexual abuse. Klein is Nassar’s first known victim. She says he began sexually abusing her in 1988. She was only 8 years old.

Up until this past summer, Klein was only known in court documents as “Victim 125.” Her choice to keep her identity private through Nassar’s various trials and sentence hearings was a “deliberate decision” to maintain privacy while she sifted through and unpacked years of trauma.

Over three decades after the abuse began, Klein tells me these last few years have been a complicated mix of sadness, anger and exhaustion.

It’s so sad to find out that somebody you loved so much was capable of harming so many people and breaking so many lives,” she said.

As a young gymnast, Klein spent the majority of her childhood with Nassar, a family friend first and sports trainer second. She was 8 years old when she began training in John Geddert’s gym and getting taped up by Nassar. She knew Stephanie Anderson when she was Nassar’s girlfriend. Later, she attended their wedding.

Klein described Nassar as one of the most important male figures she knew. “We lived a lot of life together,” she said.

WAYNE, PENNSYLVANIA: JAN 10, 2019 Sarah Klein, an attorney, in her Wayne, Pennsylvania home on January 10, 2019. She is the f
WAYNE, PENNSYLVANIA: JAN 10, 2019 Sarah Klein, an attorney, in her Wayne, Pennsylvania home on January 10, 2019. She is the first known victim of former Olympic Women's Gymnastic Team doctor Larry Nassar and an advocate for victims of sexual abuse. (Jessica Kourkounis)

It was during that first sentence hearing last January in Lansing, Michigan, that Klein was finally able to turn her sadness and anger and confusion into strength.

“You chose to take from me, from all of us, something that was simply not yours to take. A shaken, if not irreparable, sense of self. A grave inability to trust,” she told Nassar in her impact statement, published here for the first time. “What you took was sick and psychotic and disturbed and, bottom line, a robbery.”

Klein is a few decades older than most of Nassar’s victims, many of whom are still, today, in their teens. As a mother with a young daughter of her own, Klein told me she feels an obligation to protect and support the hundreds of girls Nassar abused.

A clip of Klein’s impact statement, which she delivered last January. To listen to her full statement, scroll to the end of the article.

“Seeing these beautiful little girls who don’t have that wisdom and strength on their side,” she said, “I felt a sense of duty and responsibility to take their hands like I had taken my own younger self’s hand and say, ‘Come here. I’ve got you. Your life will be OK. You will do great things. I will stand with you.’”

The earliest reported victim of Nassar has now become a mother figure to the hundreds of survivors reeling in the wake of the disgraced doctor’s crimes. Klein regularly texts young survivors who can’t get out of bed in the morning, and takes calls from the mothers of survivors begging for her help and guidance. She does this all while lobbying for better protections for survivors in her home state and in Washington, D.C., in addition to living her everyday life as a business consultant and a mother. She also hopes to return to practicing law soon to help abuse survivors through the arduous legal process.

At times, she says, it all becomes overwhelming, delaying her own processing and healing.

Part of her also recognizes that this desire to help comes from a deep sense of guilt. “What would’ve happened if I had spoken up when I was 8 years old?” she said. “These girls wouldn’t have even been in that courtroom.”

I felt a sense of duty and responsibility to take their hands like I had taken my own younger self’s hand and say, "Come here. I’ve got you. Your life will be OK. You will do great things. I will stand with you." Sarah Klein

It was last year’s sentencing, presided over by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, that made Klein realize her guilt was unfounded.

“At one point during the sentencing, there was a 14- or 15-year-old woman speaking and we were all like, ‘Wow, she’s so young,’” Klein said. “And then I realized I was half her age when Larry started abusing me.”

Much of the blame, she added, lies with USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

“Larry traumatized us and harmed us, but Michigan State and USAG’s actions this past year ― that’s a second level of abuse,” she said.

WAYNE, PENNSYLVANIA: JAN 10, 2019 Sarah Klein, an attorney, in her Wayne, Pennsylvania home on January 10, 2019. She is the f
WAYNE, PENNSYLVANIA: JAN 10, 2019 Sarah Klein, an attorney, in her Wayne, Pennsylvania home on January 10, 2019. She is the first known victim of former Olympic Women's Gymnastic Team doctor Larry Nassar and an advocate for victims of sexual abuse. (Jessica Kourkounis)

Both institutions have consistently fallen short in their attempts to course-correct after Nassar. Dozens of former employees of both organizations have resigned or face criminal charges over their handling of the Nassar accusations. Survivors have repeatedly railed against USAG and MSU in hopes of actionable change, but many feel that simply hasn’t happened yet.

The dust, Klein said, has not even begun to settle. For now, she remains focused on returning to her relatively ordinary life as a consultant and a mother ― though her children now include the hundreds of survivors she will forever be linked to.

Listen to Klein’s full impact statement below. 

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. 

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