Three former USA Gymnastics national team members joined an increasing list of young women to say they were sexually abused by Dr. Lawrence Nassar, the former team physician now facing criminal charges of possession of child pornography and criminal sexual conduct.
2000 Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher was one of three gymnasts to describe their treatment by Nassar in interviews with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday. The other two were Jessica Howard, a former rhythmic gymnastics national champion, and Jeanette Antolin, a women’s national team member from 1995-2000.
Dantzscher said that from the age of 13 through 18, in what he described as a treatment for her back pain, Nassar would insert his ungloved finger into her vagina.
“It happened all the way to the Olympics in Sydney, ’till I was 18,” she said.
Howard described similar treatment and said she “remember(ed) thinking something was off but I didn’t feel like I was able to say anything because he was, you know, this very high-profile doctor.”
Nassar, in a statement to CBS News through his attorneys, defended his treatment involving vaginal penetration and massage as legitimate. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him in Michigan.
In addition to the criminal charges against him, Nassar, who was a team doctor for several Olympic teams, is the subject of a state court lawsuit in California accusing him of sexually assaulting young women under the guise of medical treatment.
The suit also says that USA Gymnastics officials allowed him to treat young athletes without chaperones or supervisors present.
In most cases, according to the lawsuit, Nassar’s actions took place at the Karolyi Ranch, the USA Gymnastics women’s training center in the Sam Houston National Forest that was owned at the time by longtime coaches and national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi, who also are named as defendants in the California civil lawsuit.
John Manly, a Los Angeles attorney who represents the three gymnasts interviewed by CBS News and more than 40 others with similar complaints about Nassar, said he believes Nassar’s victims probably number “in the hundreds and possibly more.”
“This is somebody who is a serial predator,” the attorney said, “but the story here is that no one was watching to protect these girls.”
In his lawsuit, Manly claims Nassar was enabled in his actions by what he describes as the high-pressure, emotionally abusive atmosphere at the national team camps fostered by the Karolyis.
“Yelling and screaming, that was, like, normal,” said Dantzscher, who was a critic of the Karolyis during her days as a competitor. “It was never good enough. ‘You’re not good enough.'”
In that atmosphere, Nassar “acted like he cared about” the gymnasts, Manly said, enabling the doctor to engage in abusive behavior.
Bela and Martha Karolyi declined to speak with “60 Minutes” but told CBS News they were not aware that Nassar was using the technique described by the former gymnasts and that he was doing so in their living quarters at the ranch. Dantzscher, however, said the couple “had to know” that Nassar performed medical treatment without a chaperone present.
Also interviewed by CBS News was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said she will introduce legislation that would require an amateur sports federation to report immediately to local police and federal authorities if they receive allegations or complaints of sexual abuse.
USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny, who also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Manly, declined to speak on camera with CBS News. The federation said in a statement Friday that it was “appalled that anyone would exploit a young athlete or child in this manner.”