One of the more than 140 alleged survivors of Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse claimed on Friday that the school’s interim president, John Engler, offered her a payoff in late March.
“Right now, if I wrote you a check for $250,000, would you take it?” Kaylee Lorincz said Engler, a former governor of Michigan, asked her when she ran into him at the MSU offices. “When I explained that it’s not about the money for me, and that I just want to help, he said, ‘Well, give me a number.’ ” Lorincz has said that Nassar sexually assaulted her by putting his fingers in her vagina under the guise of medical treatment soon after she turned 13.
Lorincz made her statement at an MSU Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, where her revelation about the alleged settlement offer was met with gasps and indignant yells from the audience. Lorincz said that her lawyer was not present for the conversation with Engler but that her mother was, in addition to Carol Viventi, MSU’s special counsel to the president. Engler allegedly told Lorincz that Rachael Denhollander, Nassar’s first public accuser, had “given him a number”; Denhollander denies ever meeting with Engler.
Lorincz claims that when she repeated that she wasn’t meeting with Engler to ask for money, Viventi replied, “Well, you’re in civil litigation, aren’t you? That’s what a civil case is about: money.”
An MSU spokeswoman told Lorincz’s mother on Friday that she believed Engler wasn’t offering Lorincz a settlement, but merely entertaining a “philosophical discussion” about how much money would be warranted for a victim in the case. The spokeswoman told the Lansing State Journal that a settlement “was not on the table” at the time.
Lorincz’s allegations add disturbing details to the already nightmarish story of the institutional response to Nassar, who was sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges and 40 to 175 years for sexually assaulting underage girls, some under the age of 13. MSU officials have known about Nassar’s pattern of abuse since 1997, when two young gymnasts allegedly told a coach that Nassar had violated them. Several others said they came forward in the years that followed. The school launched a Title IX investigation into Nassar in 2014 and cleared him, with the help of three doctors and a trainer who said his “techniques”—often, inserting ungloved fingers into patients’ vaginas and anuses— were medically sound. MSU didn’t fire Nassar until 2016, when the Indianapolis Star published abuse allegations against him.
If Engler did offer Lorincz money to drop her civil suit against Nassar, he used the same tactic as USA Gymnastics, which paid $1.25 million to Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, another alleged survivor of Nassar’s abuse, in exchange for her silence. (Maroney’s lawyers are suing to get her out of that settlement because confidentiality agreements related to child abuse are illegal under California state law.) The organization, which is the gatekeeper to the Olympics for young gymnasts, offered the settlement while it was under public scrutiny for ignoring allegations against more than 50 coaches, four of whom have since been incarcerated for sexual abuse.
MSU and USA Gymnastics have demonstrated what it looks like when powerful institutions make money off the bodies of young girls, prioritize that money and reputation over safety, then switch gears and throw a lot of money at the problem when it all blows up in their faces. Neither organization wanted to spend the time, energy, and human capital it would have taken to thoroughly investigate Nassar and other abusive coaches, slog through any legal challenges the men brought, and replace the offenders with nonabusive employees. Now, they’re on the hook for more money, more legal challenges, and more public scorn than before—plus, it bears mentioning, hundreds of girls were abused in their respective periods of inaction.
Offering Lorincz money to stop talking about how a trusted medical professional put his fingers inside her “13-year-old vagina,” as she put it on Friday, might be seen as just part of Engler’s job, insofar as his job is to protect the university. If any good comes of the well-deserved public shaming of MSU, it will be that leaders tasked with the development of young people might see the logic in protecting girls and young women instead—or realize that protecting those young women and protecting the university are one and the same.