Survivors of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar said Wednesday they were grateful they’d reached a settlement with MSU, but stressed that their ongoing fight to change the culture of a university that allowed Nassar to flourish is not over.
On Wednesday, attorneys for the more than 300 Nassar victims suing the university announced a settlement that includes $425 million to be paid to the 332 current claimants and $75 million set aside in a trust fund to protect any future claimants had been reached.
There will be no confidentiality agreements or non-disclosure agreements attached to the settlement, the press release said. Additionally, the parties must act to address items necessary to finalize the agreement.
Nassar, who is currently serving a 60-year federal prison sentence on child pornography charges, was a longtime MSU sports-medicine doctor who pleaded guilty to state charges of molesting patients for years under the guise of medical treatment.
Nassar also served as team doctor for U.S. gymnasts at four Olympic games, and his victims have included a number of former Olympians.
For Morgan McCaul, one of the women who spoke out at Nassar’s sentencing hearing, the settlement news brought “incredible relief,” as well as disappointment that the promise of money didn’t come with victims’ non-monetary demands, such as an apology or significant structural changes.
“We truly can’t afford to stop now,” she said. “This has never been about money, and money will never fix what happened.”
Rachael Denhollander was the first woman to go public with allegations of abuse against Nassar in September 2016. In a written statement, she said she’s thankful the litigation phase is over so she and other survivors of Nassar can move forward.
But she said the settlement represents a “missed opportunity for meaningful reform at the university,” and said she will continue to advocate for change at institutions where Nassar was a frequent presence, including MSU, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic committee.
“‘Moving forward,’ for myself and many others, means continuing to advocate, call for accountability, and stand for those who have yet to have a voice,” Denhollander said. “The litigation phase is over, but the fight for change and accountability, the fight to give survivors a voice and protect the next generation, has only just begun.”
Lawyers who represented the victims in settlement negotiations said victims are interested in continuing to participate in protecting future generations from similar instances of sexual abuse.
“As I talk to all of them, they were very hopeful, not just for the economic part of the resolution, but also that educational and awareness part will continue, and they are hopeful this will never happen again,” attorney David Mittleman said.
Amanda Thomashow, who filed a Title IX complaint against Nassar in 2014, said there is a lot more work to be done.
“I think the fact that they were ready to settle without an apology speaks volumes about where their board and administration stands,” she said. “This fight is not over.”
Student groups and faculty have long called for more significant action from MSU’s administration regarding the Nassar scandal, including asking members of MSU’s Board of Trustees to resign so the university could move on and recover and strengthening university policies regarding sexual abuse.
The settlement does not end the conversations happening about culture change at MSU in a post-Nassar environment, said Natalie Rogers, an MSU student and communications coordinator for the group Reclaim MSU.
“We’re very happy for the survivors, and glad there is some monetary justice – it’s a huge settlement,” Rogers said. “We’re going to keep advocating for the real policy changes that we need.”
Rogers said if the attitude towards sexual abuse victims doesn’t change at the highest levels of the university, “I don’t think they’re going to be able to recover.”
McCaul said she hopes the Nassar case represents a shift in how sexual abuse cases are handled in the future.
“I just hope that people look at this and see a marked change in how we treat survivors,” she said.