As It Happens

'It felt like I was back in control': Why dancer Morgan McCaul faced Larry Nassar in court

Dancer Morgan McCaul, 18, says confronting former sports doctor Larry Nassar in court was one of the scariest things she's ever had to do — but it left her feeling empowered.
Morgan McCaul confronts Larry Nassar in court during her victim impact statement. Nassar was sentenced Wednesday to at least 40 years behind bars. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via Associated Press)

Story transcript

Dancer Morgan McCaul, 18, says confronting former sports doctor Larry Nassar in court was one of the scariest things she's ever had to do — but it left her feeling empowered.

Nassar, a former Olympic gymnastics team doctor who admitted molesting some of the nation's top gymnasts for years under the guise of medical treatment, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison by a judge who proudly told him, "I just signed your death warrant."

The sentence capped a remarkable seven-day hearing in which more than 150 of Nassar's victims offered statements about the physician who was renowned for treating athletes at the sport's highest levels.

McCaul was one of the survivors who confronted Nassar face-to-face in the Michigan courtroom. She spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about that experience. Here is part of that conversation.

How did you feel when you watched the judge sentence Larry Nassar today?

I felt like she had heard us and she had taken our statements into account with her sentencing. For that I'm grateful. I felt sad that this is where I found myself when I'm 18-years-old. I felt a little bit of closure because finally my predator will be behind bars for the rest of his life for these crimes.

How do you feel about him at this point?

I don't feel sorry for him. I don't know if I feel anything for him any more, to be honest, besides maybe a little bit of disgust.

Larry Nassar looks at the gallery in the court during the sixth day of his sentencing hearing on Tuesday in Lansing, Mich. Nassar has admitted to sexually assaulting athletes when he was employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. (Dale G. Young/The Associated Press)

You should limit to what you want to tell us about what happened, your encounters with him. It's up to you. But I know that it did begin, you encountered him, when you were 12 years old.

I met him when I was 12. I stopped seeing him in 2015 at the age of 15. I believe I had 15 appointments with him and I believe that he molested me at multiple appointments. And I will never forget the first time that it happened.

And you sought advice, didn't you? 

I asked one of my fellow dancers if that was normal, if that was appropriate conduct, if he did that to them, if he had to do that. And the girl that I asked assured me that it was normal, it was a medical procedure, he did it to her, he did it to all of her friends, so I shouldn't think twice about it. And I never did.

Victims and others look on at the sentencing hearing. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina allowed more than 150 survivors to read victim impact statements. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

You also had trouble when the story broke believing that this had happened. 

I didn't disbelieve that this had happened, but I was still holding onto the myth that this was medical in nature and not for his own sexual gratification. 

At what point did it finally hit home for you what he was and what he was doing?

Upon finding out that he possessed 37,000 images of child pornography, I realized that this wasn't medical treatment and that he was a pedophile and what he was doing was so inappropriate

You were there on Friday with your statement and telling the court what happened to you in front of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. What was it like to face him?

It was scary. It was nerve-wracking. I thought I was going to be sick that morning. I took a Zofran because I was so nauseous.

And when I got up there and I looked him in the eye, I just knew that I had a lot to say and that whatever happened, I was going to make him look at me and make him listen. It felt like I was back in control.

Did he look at you?

He did look at me. In fact, he cried during my statement.

And what do you make of that?

The optimistic part of me wants to say that I got through. However, knowing what I know about Larry Nassar and knowing what he wrote in his letter and what he continues to spew, I can't even say that I got through to him, that he heard a word I was saying.

McCaul said she is grateful to Judge Aquilina, who she says empowered her to share her voice. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Well, it seems the judge certainly heard what you had to say, and she had invited all those women to come and give their statements even though they were not the cases that were part of his conviction. What were her words? What did they mean to you when Judge Aquilina spoke so strongly about the victims?

She told me that even if I'm not dancing today, that my words dance through the courtroom, which gives me first a little bit of a giggle 'cause it's kind of funny. But the more that those words sank in, it made me realize, you know, that a lot of survivors of sexual abuse never get the opportunity to face their abusers in court. 

I think that we were really lucky to have her. I think that she was the perfect judge to handle this case. And what she did — listening to each and every woman that wanted to come forward, even statements written by people who weren't there, who were states away, countries away — she really impacted me and empowered me to share my voice. And I believe she did that for a lot of women.