A former doctor who treated the U.S. women’s gymnastics team has been charged with sexual assault over allegations he abused nine athletes, some as young as 13.
Lawrence Nassar, who was fired in 2015 after working with USA Gymnastics (USAG) since 1986, faces 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. The alleged assaults reportedly took place at Nassar’s home treatment room and in medical facilities at Michigan State University Sports Medicine Clinic and Twistars Gymnastics Club.
According to the charges, the victims were between 13 and 16 at the time of the alleged assaults.
“Dr. Nassar preyed on these young girls, he used his status and authority to engage in horrid sexual assaults under the guise of medical procedures. He violated the oath that every doctor takes to do no harm,” said Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette.
“The girls abused by Dr. Nassar were so young, so innocent that they didn’t fully understand what Nassar was doing to them until many years later.”
In an affidavit, Michigan State University police said one victim said she was as young as 10 when she was first assaulted by Nassar. The gymnast said the other young athletes would talk about Nassar and how he was “touchy,” however, she said she didn’t question his actions because “he was doing the same thing to other gymnasts she knew,” read the affidavit.
Another alleged victim told police there was immense pressure on the gymnasts to recover from any injuries that may set their training back, adding she trusted Nassar because “he was like a god to the gymnasts.” The athlete added Nassar often tried to connect with athletes and offer support when coaches were being mean.
According to The Washington Post, Nassar already faces charges of criminal sexual conduct in relation to allegations from someone outside of the gymnastics community. The report said he was originally arrested in November on pornography charges. Since then multiple girls came forward with complaints about the doctor.
WATCH: Ex-USA gymnastics doctor charged with sexual abuse
“The allegations of sexual assault against Dr. Nassar continue to increase nearly every day, and we remain constantly in contact with the victims as we move forward,” said Michigan State University Police Chief Jim Dunlap, who encourged other victims to come forward.
In August 2016, the Indianapolis Star published an investigation into USA Gymnastics, the only governing body for the sport in the U.S., alleging the organization wasn’t doing enough to protect athletes from sexual abuse.
The investigation highlighted four cases involving coaches accused of abusing child athletes, three of which resulted in lengthy prison sentences; the fourth accused coach killed himself before going to trial. According to the publication, USAG didn’t “initiate a report” to police in any of those case.
The USAG maintained it was “committed” to protecting its athletes after the report was published.
In October, a former gymnast who was on the national team from 2006 to 2011 filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles, alleging Nassar repeatedly sexually abused her and renowned husband-and-wife coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi turned a blind eye to molestations. The USAG, which has been named in two civil lawsuits, said previously that it cut ties with Nassar after learning of athlete concerns about him in the summer of 2015.
— With files from The Associated Press