By now you’ve probably heard about the downfall of serial sexual predator Larry Nassar. Once a celebrated doctor and physician, the abuser is now sentenced to many more years in prison than he has left on this earth.
I first heard some accounts about Larry Nassar last year and it made me sad. Here is this man who was so celebrated for so many years who abused his authority and, when he should have been helping women heal from their physical wounds, instead created mental and emotional ones.
I wasn’t only sad, though. I was angry. How could he get away with it for so long? How could so many people be complicit in covering up his abuse when they clearly knew he was not only breaking the law, but committing heinous acts of violence?
If you haven’t read the NY Times piece in which many of his survivors share in their own words what happened, I encourage you to do so. And if you haven’t watched the testimony of these brave women, PLEASE WATCH IT. I was especially moved by Aly Raisman’s statement. I cried and nodded my head vigorously and felt such a sense of empowerment that these women could stand in the courtroom and not only look their abuser in the eye, but bravely tell their story to millions of people.
And all of this comes in the middle of the #MeToo movement, which has already toppled the careers of famous men across many industries. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that our culture is finally having this moment. We’re hearing women’s (and men’s) voices and listening instead of speaking. We’re believing survivors and holding abusers accountable. It’s been a long time coming and this is only the beginning.
I may be a little late, but I have a lot of thoughts about all of this. Here are my top five takeaways (some are obvious but I wanted to highlight them anyway):
Sexual predators thrive on secrecy
How do you get away with abusing dozens of children? Create an environment of trust and become a master manipulator. Get the backing of the organizations you work for and become the best at what you do. Larry Nassar was lauded as an amazing doctor and gained the trust of each of his victims and their families. A mother of one of the victims even said that before she found out that he abused her daughter, “He was a kind, gentle man. He had a warm personality and showed genuine concern for my daughter…I never feared him or what he’d do to my girl. He gained my confidence very quickly.” This is a big reason why so many people are shocked at the terrible crimes he committed during his career. Sometimes the kindest and most seemingly genuine people can commit the most terrible acts. This isn’t to say that all kind and genuine people are like this, but those who abuse often hide under a veil of kindness and care.
Money is often the bottom line
At least in the case of institutions like the US Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and MSU, covering up allegations of abuse and failing to investigate is a result of not only a lack of accountability, but a priority to protect reputation over kids. So many people seemed to either know about the abuse or had at least heard allegations and yet it took over twenty years and dozens of victims coming forward before anything was done about it. How does something like this happen and why did it take so long? Victims in cases like this often don’t come forward because who would believe them over someone so celebrated and lauded like Nassar? And until the public demands a reckoning, institutions like USA Gymnastics, despite their assurances that their top priority is protecting their athletes, will seek first to protect their reputation.
Even celebrated community members can be sexual predators (see #1)
Larry Nassar was such a well-known and celebrated doctor that most people didn’t think twice about his medical skill. He was there to heal athletes and help them compete. The thought that he could be abusing his patients when even their parents were in the same room probably seemed ludicrous to most people. He was so good at manipulating and grooming his patients (and their families) that he often conducted his abuse when parents and family members were in the same room. In the same room? That’s absolutely crazy, yet it happened.
Kids should be able to talk to their parents
Sexual abuse is an uncomfortable topic. You’ll hear it again in this post, but it is never easy to talk about. But this is especially true for kids. When you’re told to keep something a secret by an authority figure or don’t even have the words to describe what’s happened to you, it can be difficult to disclose if you’ve been abused. And it’s especially difficult if you don’t even realized you’ve been abused. Many of Nassar’s victims have said that they questioned themselves on whether he really abused them because they thought maybe it was part of his treatment or they didn’t know what constitutes abuse and what isn’t okay. Survivor Jamie Dantzscher said: “Late summer of 2016 was when I began to understand Larry had sexually abused me all those years and that his treatments were not legitimate medical procedures.” That’s why it’s important to teach kids from a young age what sexual abuse is and that it’s okay to talk about it. And it should start with kids even as young as two or three years old. If children are taught to recognize abuse at an early age and that it’s okay to tell their parents or another adult if it does happen, and if parents and caretakers are taught to recognize the signs of abuse or of abusers themselves, then maybe we can start to protect kids and open up a dialogue about this difficult topic.
Always, always, always believe survivors
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that we should believe survivors when they tell their stories. Rarely do reports of sexual assault turn out to be false. While there may be reasons why someone would lie about something like this, it happens in such a small percentage of cases that it’s not likely to be the case. There are a lot of reasons why someone wouldn’t falsely accuse another person of sexual assault. Police investigations can be lengthy and are often re-victimizing, those around the survivor may not believe them, and the survivor could potentially lose their job if they’re going against a high-profile person. In my opinion, there are a lot of reasons NOT to disclose if you’ve been sexually assaulted. And at the top of that list? It’s not easy talking about something so personal. Any kind of sexual assault, whether it happened once or dozens of times, is painful to remember and think about, let alone traumatic. If we want to change our culture’s view of sexual assault and those who’ve survived it, we need to give people a space to talk about their experiences, free of judgement and shaming.
What about you? What do you think about the Larry Nassar case? What do you think about the #MeToo movement?