GRACE FRENCH, PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER OF THE ARMY OF SURVIVORS
The story of how I started seeing Larry Nassar for medical treatment is unusual in the fact that I did not go to him for a sports injury. The first appointment I vividly remember was for a wrist injury I got from playing a rough game of Red Rover on the playground. That day I sought treatment for a sprained wrist and ended up with a grown man, a doctor, with me on the medical table, massaging my breasts and thighs. I was only 12 years old. But it didn’t stop there. I continued seeing Larry well into 2014 for dance-related injuries, and soon his “treatments” progressed to include penetration.
Larry’s treatments weren’t confined to the doctor’s office. He “treated” me in the basement of my dance company’s performance venue, behind pulled curtains, as I prepared to go onstage for the Nutcracker. I saw nothing wrong with this; my only goal was to get back on stage so I could live my dreams.
Larry Nassar was my doctor. But I did not see him as my abuser. After all, my mom had been in the room at every appointment, he was an Olympic doctor, he treated all of the great gymnasts, figure skaters, and dancers…I wanted to be just like them. Even if I had told people I was uncomfortable with some of the treatments, would they have understood why they bothered me? Would they even believe me?
After trying to ignore the news articles about my former doctor, I found myself watching the victim impact statements at his sentencing hearing. I saw girls march one after another to tell their stories. Stories so similar to my own, in so many ways. I watched as people not only believed them but cheered them on.
Connecting the dots in my own story was devastating. I felt my whole world and reality crash around me. The weight of his abuse and his control over the way I, my family, and my community viewed him was too heavy even to comprehend.
As I began to share my story, I realized how impactful it was. Within days of sharing the truth of my abuse with my friends and family, multiple people came to confide in me about their own experiences. I even had a mother come to me saying “thank you.” Because of me sharing my story, she decided to have a conversation with her daughter about what abuse looks like, and what to do if it happens. I am so grateful to have been able to inspire that necessary conversation.
This only happened because my family, friends, and community were ready and able to believe in me and my story.
Because of experiences like these, I found a new purpose in sharing my story and advocating for others. I’ve attended multiple bill hearings at the Michigan State Legislature offering my support to help them pass, I have spoken at the MSU Board of Trustees meeting regarding my concerns about crass leadership at MSU and the harmful culture it has created, and I traveled to Washington, D.C., to lend my support as a survivor at a U.S. Senate hearing involving Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and U.S. Olympic Committee leaders.
Last but not least, I have led the movement to form The Army of Survivors.
Created by the survivors of Larry Nassar, The Army of Survivors is a nonprofit in the making, enabling us to stand together to create a culture where sexual assault and abuse survivors feel safe and supported when speaking their truth. We support survivors and work to change society through resources, advocacy, and education. We strive to erase the stigma attached to sexual assault and abuse.
My journey through the hurt, devastation, and finally anger has led me to this. I feel incredibly empowered, listened to, and heard. My story would have been entirely different had I not been believed.