Reporters that broke US Olympics sexual abuse story speaking at WKU
Reporters from the investigative team that broke the United States Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal discussed their situation with students as a part of the Sexual Assault prevention Month activities at Western Kentucky University.
The reporters spoke as part of the Gaines Lecture Series that was started in 2004 to bring successful journalists to speak at WKU. The April 4th part of the series, held inside the auditorium at Jody Richards Hall, featured two of three Indianapolis Star reporters Tim Evans and Marisa Kwiatkowski who broke the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case that eventually brought justice to hundreds of victims.
The third reporter was unable to attend the lecture.
Nassar, a convicted serial child molester, formerly served as the United States Olympic doctor and an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University. In July of 2017, Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. On January 24, 2018, he was sentenced to 40-175 years in a Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors, according to online reports.
"We ran the story on the Eve of the 2016 Olympics," recalled Tim Evans, a member of the investigative reporting team at the Indianapolis Star.
Evans has been a reporter at the Indianapolis Star since 1997 and has served in a variety of roles since. His reporting history dates back to as far as 1977. Evans spent a large amount of his time at the Star on the investigative team, the one that broke the Nassar story.
Evans and Kwaiatkowski spoke to a nearly full auditorium as they recalled when the story began. The investigative team was looking into sexual abuse inside area schools and gyms. they discovered several records and police reports that revealed multiple sport coaches that were sexually abusing children.
"When we went into it, we knew it would be more than one [story]," said Kwiatkowski.
Upon further investigation, the team found a specific number and exact names of those coaches.
"We discovered 15 coaches who had multiple violations against them," Kwiatkowski added.
After running the original piece, the team received calls in the coming days, tipping off other coaches who were accused of sexual abuse.
One of the calls, from former Louisville gymnast Rachael Denhollander, provided the team with the information that Nassar was sexually abusing Olympic team members on a daily basis, according to the Indianapolis Star.
"Not on our radar whatsoever," said Tim Evans about if they had heard of Nassar's abuse before the call.
After hearing the exact story from multiple other gymnasts, the reporters faced the decision of whether or not to believe and possibly run a story on the gymnasts claims.
"We had to have some sort of standard that we felt we could defend in court if it came to that," said Evans on how they deciphered true and false information.
The reporters told the audience at WKU that every word in all of their reports were fact checked multiple times.
The story that broke on the Indianapolis Star's website eventually led to the sentencing and conviction of the former U.S. Gymnastics doctor.
Many national media outlets claim that the investigative story is what led to so many of the survivors finally getting justice.
When asked what would've happened if they weren't able to run the story, Kwiatkowski quickly responded, "I think he would've continued for a long amount of time,"
As the audience participated in a question and answer portion of the forum, the reporters answered questions about how they handled certain information and offered advice for young journalists.
Amanda Crawford, an assistant journalism professor at WKU, helped facilitate the event. She described the overall message of the event as extremely beneficial to the young journalists in attendance.
"I think it was important to have a conversation with these journalists both about the role of investigative journalism and helping to shine light in the dark places of society and to expose wrongdoing," said Crawford.
Crawford also mentioned the importance of recognizing the #MeToo movement that is a social media effort to encourage victims of sexual abuse/harassment to come forward. The important thing is to hold those abusers accountable, she said.
Kwiatkowski said that seeing the Nassar sentencing was very rewarding for everyone on the investigative team.
"Watching the Larry Nassar sentencing for us was really just an overwhelming feeling that these survivors that we'd been interviewing were finally being hard and finally getting justice, in some cases it took them decades to be able to get justice for what had happened to them," she said.
The reporters will continue speaking to universities across the country in the coming months.