Twenty years ago, former Michigan State University softball star Tiffany Lopez told three of her trainers that she was being sexually abused by one of the university's team physicians. His name was Larry Nassar.
It would be 19 years before Nassar — who has been accused by at least 265 women with sexually abusing them in his role as a doctor to young athletes at MSU and USA Gymnastics — would be arrested for his crimes.
Lopez says she stopped playing the sport she loved and left MSU after her claims went unheard.
"My name is Tiffany Lopez, and I was sexually abused by former Michigan State University team doctor Larry Nassar," Lopez announced in an unwavering voice as she took the stage at the United State of Women summit in LA on May 5. "I reported my abuse in 1998. Nassar wasn't arrested until 2017. Michigan State University failed me in 1998. I feel they continue to do so. Two of the team trainers I reported to are still on staff at the university. My voice is no longer silent, and I'm taking back my power."
Then a student athlete on a softball scholarship at Michigan State University, Lopez has said her first visit with Nassar was routine, but that over time, he began regularly touching her sexually and penetrating her with his fingers.
"If I had been heard and believed 20 years ago," Lopez told the crowd gathered at today's summit, "the women standing beside me — all of the 265 young women who have now bravely come forward as victims — would have been spared from the horrors of sexual abuse."
Lopez was joined by other elite athletes who are survivors of Nassar's abuse on stage at USOW, including Aly Raisman, Jeanette Antolin and Jordyn Wieber.
Raisman, the former captain of the USA women's gymnastics team, become one of the leading voices in the case against Nassar. Today, she once again held those responsible to account. "If the adults at USA Gymnastics, the United States Olympic Committee, Michigan State University had been educated and had the character to do the right thing," she said, "I and so many others would have never — never — met Larry Nassar."
After the athletes spoke, musician Fletcher took the stage to sing her Me Too-inspired song "I Believe You." The three athletes wiped away tears as she performed.
Backstage, Lopez told POPSUGAR it was in many ways cathartic to have her claims validated following Nassar's arrest and conviction. "It was just a sense of validation, a sense of the sisterhood that we have known to be by," she said. "Thinking I was standing alone for all these years, and finally being able to have someone stand tall next to me and help me fight for the cause feels amazing."
Antolin, who joined her for our conversation, addressed some of the victim blaming she has faced as a survivor of Nassar's abuse.
"A lot of people are asking me, how did you not know [it was wrong]?," Antolin told POPSUGAR. "I never knew, first of all, that I wasn't supposed to be in a room alone with an adult, and no one told me people I thought were safe could hurt me. And Larry Nassar, our doctor, was a safe person for me. He was someone I considered my friend, someone I trusted, and he was the last person I thought was going to hurt me. Kids need to be educated on what grooming processes are, what to look out for, and adults need to [know] what are the signs of a child predator?"
The conversation about what happened at MSU and in USA Gymnastics had particular resonance this week in light of new reports about sexual abuse in USA Taekwondo. Four young women are suing the organisation for abuse they say they suffered at the hands of two brothers, Steven and Jean Lopez, who were top brass in the American sport. Antolin says their stories are further proof that Nassar was not an isolated incident.
"There are stories in swimming and diving and now taekwondo. It's all of amateur sports," Antolin said. "When you deal with young children, it's just like being a teacher. You have certain expectations as a teacher to take care of those kids. Especially being an elite athlete, you spend much of your time and much of your childhood with your coaches and with national team staff, and these people are supposed to be protecting you. And when they don't, that's a huge problem."
Clearly, those problems remain. Lopez told us that she believes MSU is failing not only her, but other young athletes in their programs, by allowing adults she reported abuse to all those years ago to remain employed.
"To my knowledge, there has been no action taken," Lopez says. "There's another sister that is currently a student at MSU, affiliated with the gymnastics team still, and sees the young ladies frequenting the training room still as though this is not relevant — as though this is not still going on."
Still, Lopez — who continues to advocate for sexual abuse victims — believes things can change. "It's saddening," she said, "but I'm hopeful that things will happen."