Elite Gymnast on How Dr. Larry Nassar Allegedly Preyed on Young Girls: 'I Thought He Was My Friend'
Dominique Moceanu also joins three of the gymnasts who have accused Dr. Larry Nassar of abuse – Jessica Howard, Jamie Dantzscher and Jeanette Antolin – on Dr. Oz
Several of the women allegedly sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar are speaking out in a new The Dr. Oz Show special, blaming, in part, leadership of the team and the sport’s culture for allowing the incidents to occur.
“You know, honestly, the culture of fear, intimidation and control that you already lived with as a gymnast just stopped you from saying anything ever to rock the boat,” former U.S. rhythmic gymnast Jessica Howard, who has accused Nassar of abuse, tells Dr. Oz on Monday (Nassar has pled not guilty). “Like, you just did what you were supposed to do. You wanted to be perfect all the time with everybody you dealt with. And it was very much out of line for anybody to on any issue whatsoever, you know.”
Howard is among the hundreds of young women have come forward and claimed abuse by the doctor since he joined the sport’s governing body in 1996. Along with Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher and former national team member Jeanette Antolin, Howard previously told 60 Minutes that Nassar began abusing them as teenagers in the ’90s.
“This has brought up so many memories and this is why it’s so difficult – because it wasn’t back then. I trusted Dr. Nassar,” Dantzscher says in the new interview. “I didn’t think he was doing anything wrong back then … I thought he was my friend and he was helping me. He was good to me. I wasn’t uncomfortable with it because of how much I trusted him.”
She adds, “So to realize just last year in July that I was sexually abused, too, it’s almost like just add it to the list.”
Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu – who has previously spoken out against the sports’ governing body – also appears on the show.
“Dr. Nassar was kind of a nice guy in the culture that was cruel around us,” Moceanu says. “And so he was the one to sneak us candy and snuck[sic] us food when we were starving at times, when weren’t able to get the proper nutrition. And he would come in and massage us and, you know, help with our aches and pains.”
She adds, “And he was a nice guy amidst a lot of cruel treatment, so it’s pretty sad to me that in the elite world of gymnastics, especially for the women, that really, the environment made us go into the arms of a predator.”
Last August, Moceanu spoke critically of former USA coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi to PEOPLE, claiming that they used emotional and physical abuse in training. In addition, Howard, Dantzscher and Antolin told 60 Minutes the alleged abuse by Nassar happened while they were training at the Karolyi ranch.
John Manly, a California attorney, is suing the Karolyis and the USA Gymnastics on behalf of the three women for failing to protect the athletes, 60 Minutes reported – one of several lawsuits related to USA Gymnastics and Nassar.
In a statement to PEOPLE last month, a lawyer representing the Karolyis said, “We are ethically limited to how we can respond due to the pending litigation. However, the Karolyis vehemently deny the allegations made against them – including that they physically abused gymnasts and deprived them of food. The Karolyis did not have any knowledge of any complaint from anyone concerning any athlete’s alleged mistreatment by Dr. Nassar until they learned of his dismissal from USA Gymnastics during the summer of 2015.”
“At the National Training Camp, the Karolyis encouraged the attending athletes to eat well, sleep well, and train with heart. The Karolyis deny the existence of a ‘toxic’ environment. In addition, the Karolyis were never aware that Dr. Nassar would be performing any procedures which are now the subject of the present litigation. Finally, the Karolyis will not offer an opinion on any complaining athlete’s veracity considering the pending litigation.”
Moceanu tells Dr. Oz that U.S.A. Gymnastics and the organization’s former president, Steve Penny – who resigned last week – “dismissed a lot” of her claims against the Karolyis.
“I was ostracized by the organization. It was really, you know, disappointing because I’ve been talking about this since 2008,” she says. “There’s abuse going on in our culture that needs to be addressed.”
Nassar is currently in jail without bail on the criminal charges, including counts of sexually abusing a family friend and possessing child pornography, the New York Times reported.