Michigan lawmakers who led an investigation into Michigan State's oversight of convicted sexual predator Larry Nassar say there is "absolutely no doubt" that the university failed to adequately protect students and patients on its campus.
The committee that was appointed to investigate the university's response to complaints about Nassar published its findings Thursday in a 35-page report. The report said state representatives uncovered flaws in Michigan State's culture that allowed Nassar to sexually abuse young women for decades while working as a doctor on the school's campus and for its athletic department. It also suggested several policy changes that will be laid out in a package of proposed bills in the coming days.
"Our inquiry confirmed this was an institutional failure with multiple lapses in policy, procedure and culture at Michigan State," said Rep. Kim LaSata, who spearheaded the investigation along with Rep. Klint Kesto. "That must change."
The representatives found that since 2014 at least 243 people told Michigan State University police that Nassar abused them. Most were minors at the time of the abuse, and most say they were seeking medical treatment from Nassar, who was a renowned osteopathic doctor and the former national medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics.
Michigan State recently started a mediation process in hopes of working toward a settlement with hundreds of complainants who have sued the university and others in civil court as a result of Nassar's abuse. Attorneys for the university previously sought to have those cases dismissed and have maintained that no one at Michigan State believed Nassar was harming his patients prior to September 2016, when he was fired.
Thursday's report said Nassar exploited loopholes in the university's policies to abuse his patients by performing vaginal and rectal treatments that he said would relieve pain in other parts of their bodies. Michigan State, the report says, did not have an adequate policy for informing patients about these treatments and getting their consent. The school also had no official policy about having a chaperone in the room during exams of sensitive areas and did not require its doctors to keep detailed medical records of those treatments.
Many of those issues were raised during a 2014 Title IX investigation into Nassar's behavior. The university cleared Nassar of wrongdoing after a panel of his colleagues and friends testified that what he was doing was medically acceptable. The house report said the way that investigation was handled indicated a culture that was more focused on protecting the institution than survivors.
Nassar's boss, former medical school dean William Strampel, told Nassar after the 2014 investigation that he needed to use gloves, gain consent and have a chaperone present whenever treating a patient in a sensitive area. Strampel failed to implement any measures to make sure Nassar was following those steps. Strampel was arrested last week and charged with two counts of neglect of duty, along with other crimes.
In Thursday's house report, the authors cited several issues they had with the 2014 Title IX investigation and said, "We feel compelled to note MSU appears to defiantly and wrongfully maintain it did not mishandle this investigation."
Michigan State spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said she was still reviewing the report when contacted by ESPN Thursday evening so could not yet comment on anything specific within it.
"Our hearts go out to the survivors of Larry Nassar, and we are truly sorry for any way that the university failed to protect its student," Guerrant said. "MSU will continue cooperating with lawmakers to create improvements and changes with the hopes of preventing the tragedies like this from ever happening again."
The lawmakers recommended several changes to prevent future would-be predators from abusing patients in similar ways. They suggested that intravaginal treatments for minors only be used in rare, necessary situations. They also suggested that the state create a uniform consent form to be signed by any patient before taking part in that type of a procedure and to make a law that requires doctors to note such procedures in a patient's medical record.
Among other recommendations, the report also suggests providing better training for mandatory reports and expanding the list of mandatory reporters to include coaches and physical therapists; creating a Title IX ombudsman position to make sure justice is served in those cases; and requiring an outside investigation to take place when multiple Title IX complaints are made about the same employee.
LaSata and Kesto intend to propose new legislation that would turn these recommendations into law in the near future. Their legislation would be in addition to the package of bills already passed by the state senate in March aimed at making it easier to hold enablers of sexual abuse accountable, among other reforms. The House of Representative is expected to vote on the bills passed by the senate in the near future.