Preventing A Predator: How to stop the next Larry Nassar at local schools

Preventing A Predator: How to stop the next Larry Nassar at local schools

BOWLING GREEN, OH (WTOL) - The unthinkable happened, over several years: Girls as young as 11 or 12, or even in their early 20s, were abused by a man they trusted.

Larry Nassar duped them and their parents, and victimized young gymnasts before finally paying the price.

In a special report, "Preventing a Predator," WTOL 11 investigates what must be done to stop another tragedy from happening again.

One by one, they took the witness stand.

"We are here. We have our voices and we are not going anywhere," Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman said in court.

She was one of more than 150 gymnasts from Michigan State University and the USA Gymnastics program who testified in January about what famed doctor Larry Nassar had done to them while under his care.

"He engaged in degrading and humiliating sex acts without my consent or permission," gymnast Rachael Denhollander also said in court.

Nassar was convicted of molesting young gymnasts as he treated their injuries and was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.

One of Nassar's local victims is Kate Hall, from Tontogany in Wood County. She went to Otsego Local Schools.

"I was 12 when it first started happening, so I didn't know anything and now, looking back at it, yeah you're mad that I was such at a young age, that I had no clue what was going on and he took advantage of it," Hall said.

The abuse continued until she was 16.

Hall says there's justice in Nassar's conviction and sentencing, but she doesn't want this to ever happen again.

It's something they're trying to prevent at Bowling Green State University, where the gymnastics team's season ended in late March.

Gymnastics coach Kerrie Turner was asked if it made her angry, what Nassar did to the USA and Michigan State gymnasts.

"Furious, furious," she replied.

Coach Turner closely followed Nassar's trial, as difficult as it was to see and hear.

"I know I would just go into my office and just have to shut the door because it was just tears, you know, in just thinking these are names of student athletes that maybe we had recruited or had talked to one the phone at one point," Turner said.

Coach Turner knew her gymnasts were talking about it too. Wondering if they would be safe.

One solution to prevent any possible abuse at BGSU was that the coaches had to make sure a dialogue was opened with the student athletes, encouraging communication so any signs of trouble would not be swept under the rug.

"If a student athlete comes to you, you need to get them help. You can't go, 'Oh well, I don't know, if that's true,' or maybe that person is just being dramatic. You take every concern seriously and you pass those concerns on to the professionals that can help them," Turner said.

And what about that training room for an exam or treatment of injury? BGSU requires someone else to also be in the room with the trainer and athlete, like a sports medicine staff member.

Senior Associate Athletic Director Lauren Ashman said athletes' safety at BGSU is job number one.

"We need to make sure that those that are working with our student athletes and our students, regardless of what role we have on campus, that you're here for the right reasons," Ashman said.

BGSU also requires criminal background checks for doctors and trainers, something that is not mandated by the NCAA. Staffers also have to follow human resource policies in terms of appropriate relationships and boundaries when working with students.

"We not only have to sell academics, the athletics environment as well, but we really have to sell what a safe community that we have here at Bowling Green. And we really believe that, but we really have to live that every day," Ashman added.

With these specific steps in place, there are signs of hope. For example, at a recent "teal meet," BGSU gymnasts wore teal ribbons in their hair to show support for sexual assault victims.

It's still visible in Anderson Arena, the team's current gymnastics center, with a sign that hangs in support, saying, "We stand by you." There are teal ribbons surrounding the sign.

Hall likes what BGSU is doing to protect athletes. While she's not on the gymnastics team, she just finished her freshman year as a student there.

She wants other colleges and schools around the area to adopt similar measures, and she believes they can stop the next Larry Nassar.

"They need to fix some things and hopefully after this gets through, that gymnastics goes back to the sport that a little girl can fall in love with, like I did," she said.

The University of Toledo does not have a gymnastics team but has several other sports for women and men. A UT spokesperson says the university conducts criminal background checks of employees and mandatory Title IX training for all student-athletes, coaches and staff.

Last fall, a task force finished an assessment on sexual misconduct and determined UT is one of the safest campuses in Ohio.

The task force also developed 27 recommendations to make student athletes even safer at UT, including the creation of a Title IX committee to coordinate comprehensive implementation of programs and services across campus, ensuring full implementation of university procedures that require incoming students to disclose criminal or student conduct complaints filed against them, and strengthening communication with targeted messaging that promotes a no tolerance climate for sexual misconduct and encourages students to report such acts.

Read here for the University of Toledo's statement on the task force from August 14, 2017.

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