How the Jerry Sandusky & Larry Nassar Events Unfolded: A Timeline of the Child Victims Act Movement

Former Penn State football defensive coordinator Gerald “Jerry” Sandusky and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar made headlines and brought institutional child sexual abuse to the attention of the nation. These stories encouraged other survivors to come forward and open up about what happened to them. Unfortunately, many survivors felt like their windows for justice had closed because the abuse they endured happened decades ago.

Now, the California Child Victims Act has removed a “significant legal hurdle” to holding such abusers accountable in civil court, along with any institutions that enabled them, news reports say. The California Child Victims Act became law on Jan. 1, 2020, following similar laws in other states across the U.S.

These cases and related lawsuits have stayed in the news, both for their hefty settlements and allegations of cover-ups. The Larry Nassar & Jerry Sandusky victim sexual abuse lawsuits are now coming to light.

Jerry Sandusky: How the Victims Came Forward

Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for the sexual abuse of young boys over 15 years from 1994 to 2009.

  • From 1994 to 1997, according to a grand jury report, Sandusky engaged in inappropriate conduct with boys he met through The Second Mile, a group foster home in State College, Pa. (Sandusky had established the foster home in 1977.)
  • In 1998, the mother of one boy reported to Penn State Police and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare that Sandusky had showered with her son. Two psychologists disagreed on whether any abuse occurred. No charges were filed.
  • In 1999, Sandusky retired as a coach from Penn State under emeritus status, retaining access to the campus and facilities.
  • In 2000, a campus janitor reported to his supervisor and another janitor that he’d seen Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in the showers. No one reported the incident to the police or university officials.
  • In 2002, a graduate assistant told late Penn State Coach Joe Paterno that he’d seen Sandusky sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy in the campus showers. Paterno said he reported the matter to Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley, who later testified he was told nothing. Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz also denied learning of the incident. There was no police investigation.
  • From 2005 to 2008, Sandusky abused another youth through the Second Mile program. This abuse formed the basis of a multi-year grand jury investigation, which released its report in 2011. Sandusky was arraigned on 40 criminal charges. Curley and Schultz were arraigned on felony perjury charges and resigned. Paterno also resigned.
  • In 2012, a jury found Sandusky guilty on 45 counts.

Larry Nassar: How the Victims Came Forward

Convicted in 2017, Nassar is serving a 60-year federal sentence on child pornography charges. He also received 40 to 175 years related to seven sexual assault charges in Ingham County, Michigan, and 40 to 125 years related to three sexual assault charges in Eaton County, Michigan.

  • In 1986, Nassar joined the USA Gymnastics national team medical staff as a trainer. Two years later, he began working with Twistars USA Gymnastics Club in Dimondale, Michigan.
  • Abuse allegations against him date back to at least 1994.
  • In 1996, Nassar became the national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics.
  • In 1997, he became an assistant professor and team physician at Michigan State University.
  • In 1998, Nassar began sexually abusing a 6-year-old girl, court records show. The same year, a student-athlete at MSU reported concerns about Nassar. MSU “failed to take any action,” according to these records.
  • In 2016, after an Indianapolis Star investigation into how USA Gymnastics has handled sexual abuse complaints for decades, the case against Nassar gained traction once former gymnast Rachael Denhollander filed a criminal complaint against him with MSU Police. She stated that Nassar sexually abused her in 2000, when she was 15. Nassar was fired.
  • Later that year, Nassar was charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person under 13, spurring additional reports of abuse.
  • By the time Nassar pleaded guilty in 2017 to various charges as part of plea agreements, authorities said he had molested more than 250 girls and young women. His victims include Olympic gold medalists McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Gabby Douglas.

How Much Are These Cases Worth?

As of 2017, Penn State had paid $93 million in combined settlement payments to 33 of Sandusky’s victims. The NCAA also fined the university $60 million and ordered it to vacate all wins from 1998 through 2011, among other penalties.

In 2018, Michigan State University agreed to a $500 million settlement with hundreds of women and girls who filed lawsuits in state courts in California and federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, saying that USA Gymnastics, MSU, and others failed to protect them from Nassar’s abuse. The university held back $75 million of the settlement in case of future lawsuits.

Overall, more than 500 women have sued USA Gymnastics, accusing Nassar, their coaches, or someone else affiliated with the sport of sexual abuse. USA Gymnastics filed for bankruptcy in December 2018 and offered the survivors $215 million in January 2020 to settle.

What Were the Institutions Involved, and How Did They Hide the Abuse?

The FBI conducted an independent inquiry into Penn State’s response to the Sandusky allegations. In July 2012, the investigation concluded that former leaders at Penn State showed “total and consistent disregard” for child sex abuse victims while covering up Sandusky’s attacks.

As for Nassar, 18 victims in 2017 filed a federal lawsuit against him, MSU, USA Gymnastics, and Twistars gymnastics club, alleging that victims raised concerns to the university’s coaches and trainers in 1999 and 2000, but the university conducted no investigations. The lawsuit also said that a parent raised concerns about Nassar to the owner of Twistars in 1997, with no results.

Also in 2017, MSU suspended gymnastics coach Kathie Klages after a woman said in court records that Klages had discouraged her from filing a sexual assault complaint against Nassar in the late 1990s. Klages retired. Also that year, an MSU Title IX investigator found Nassar had sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl during medical appointments in 2000.

These cases illustrate how many individuals and institutions can be involved in covering up abuse. Across the nation, institutions as powerful as the Catholic Church and the Royal Rangers have been found to be hiding devastating allegations of child sex abuse.

Could the Victims Remain Anonymous in Their Civil Suits?

Some victims have identified themselves in telling their stories, but survivors can choose to remain anonymous. Several current and former gymnasts, including Denhollander and Raisman, have spoken out against Nassar and USA Gymnastics about the criminal and civil cases.

Several lawsuits in the Sandusky case have identified victims only by a number or as “John Doe.” However, Aaron Fisher, who identified himself as “Victim 1,” wrote Silent No More: Victim 1’s Fight for Justice Against Jerry Sandusky, published in 2012.

It’s important for survivors to understand that they control how they tell their story. If they want to remain anonymous, they can.

What Can We Learn from These Cases as Related to the Future Cases of Victims in California? 

Before the California Child Victims Act was enacted in January 2020, California allowed victims of childhood sexual assault to file civil lawsuits against their alleged abusers only until the victims were 26 years old. The new act allows the filing of such lawsuits until the victims are 40.

Furthermore, the law allows adult survivors of any age to file a civil lawsuit within five years from the point they discovered such abuse. The previous limit had been three years.

About a dozen survivors with pending civil lawsuits in California against Nassar, USA Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee stand to benefit from this legislation, ESPN reported. The legislation removes any defense that their claims are outside the statute of limitations.

In addition to opening up opportunities for justice in the Nassar and Sandusky cases, the law also empowers survivors of abuse in the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), the Royal Rangers, the foster care system, and other abuse-riddled institutions. Although there is still work to do, this is a step in the right direction for protecting individuals against sexually abusive coaches and teachers.

“It takes a lot of courage to step forward. To even pick up the phone and call a lawyer, it took me close to three months,” Jeanette Antolin, a Team USA member from 1995 to 2000 and one of Nassar’s survivors, told ESPN. “Extending the statute of limitations is really important because it takes a really long time and maturity to feel like you want to do something about it.”

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