In 2005, Marisa Kwiatkowski graduated Grand Valley State University with a degree in journalism, only to realize 13 years later that she’d uncover a tragic secret that would give 156+ girls their power back. She unveiled the alarming truth about Larry Nassar thanks to the profession of journalism.
Former Olympic gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar, has been charged in the state of Michigan with criminal sexual conduct and will spend the rest of his life in prison for abusing the young, female athletes he was supposed to be treating.
Kwiatkowski works for The Indianapolis Star newspaper, where sexual abuse stories were unfortunately a familiar news topic. She received a tip to look into USA gymnastics and the possibility of sexual misconduct. Nearly one thousand court documents later, Kwiatkowski noticed two significant findings that confirmed that a journalistic investigation was necessary:
- USA Gymnastics’ policy for handling sexual abuse allegations
The policy stated that an allegation would be marked as hearsay unless documents had been signed by a victim, a victim's parent, or an eyewitness. From Kwiatkowski’s experience with the issue she stated: “It’s extremely rare to have an eyewitness to sexual abuse, likewise, it is rare that a victim is willing to come forward to sign legal documents at age 7 or 8...” This was the first flaw in the system.
- There were 54 sexual misconduct files over a 10-year period
“In some cases they would get a complaint about a sexually abusive coach, they would look at it, and they wouldn’t investigated it nor report it, they would just file it away.”
After the first story was written and published by the Indy Star, floods of emails rolled in from girls reporting abuse from different gyms across the country. With a staff of three reporters, Kwiatkowski included, how do you thoroughly investigate each case and shed light on the issue while hopefully bringing justice to the perpetrators? There was one email that didn’t match the theme of the others; instead of making a complaint about a coach, there was one complaint about a doctor.
Kwiatkowski backgrounded hundreds of coaches and took testimonies from survivors. When she contacted Larry Nassar for an interview, he first said: “Sure, you can come to my house, there must’ve been a misunderstanding. Let me show you how I run my practice.” Shortly after, Nassar called back and said “my wife feels like it’s a good idea to meet in my lawyers office.”
Nassar was a prominent figure in the world of gymnastics. At the time of his arrest, he was working at Michigan State University. Some survivors explain they were afraid to speak up because he had such an impact on their gymnastics career.
It was Kwiatkowski’s job to unveil another side of Nassar through truthful, hard-hitting journalism. Kwiatkowski and her two partners played a tremendous role in acting as a voice for survivors. Uncovering this story took two years to accomplish, but Kwiatkowski isn’t done yet. There are still a handful of almost identical stories out there waiting to be told.
Bri Olson is a Senior Ad/PR major at Grand Valley State University. Originally from the Chicagoland area, she’s loving all that West Michigan has to offer. She is passionate about photography and fashion which plays a huge roll in her creative mindset. She serves as the President of Grand Valley's PRSSA chapter and was previously an Account Associate for GrandPR. Bri is currently interning for Lambert, Edwards, & Associates. Although she keeps busy, she loves being so involved with her career as a future PR pro. When she’s not making to-do lists or sending emails, you can find her snuggling up with her cat, Bella, or exploring unknown areas of Grand Rapids.