Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Perfect Ten? On US Women's Gymnastics And Sexual Abuse.

Lawrence G.  Nassar was the sports physician at Michigan State University.  He was also the physician of the US national women's gymnastic team, and a serial abuser of children and young women, with more than 130 girls and women alleging him of abuse.   His sentencing hearing was held today.

Nassar has abused more children and young adults than Jerry Sandusky in the Pennsylvania State University child abuse scandal, but until now the Nassar scandal has not received the attention it would seem to require, perhaps because the American attention pendulum is swinging back on the #metoo movement.*

Here is how an actual rape culture operates:  It protects the culprits, tells the victims that they are not telling the truth, and enables the continued career of a molester:

Reports of sexual misconduct by Dr. Larry Nassar reached at least 14 Michigan State University representatives in the two decades before his arrest, with no fewer than eight women reporting his actions, a Detroit News investigation has found.
Among those notified was MSU President Lou Anna Simon, who was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and a police report had been filed against an unnamed physician, she told The News on Wednesday.
“I was informed that a sports medicine doctor was under investigation,” said Simon, who made the brief comments after appearing in court Wednesday to observe a sentencing hearing for Nassar. “I told people to play it straight up, and I did not receive a copy of the report. That’s the truth.”
Among the others who were aware of alleged abuse were athletic trainers, assistant coaches, a university police detective and an official who is now MSU’s assistant general counsel, according to university records and accounts of victims who spoke to The News.
Collectively, the accounts show MSU missed multiple opportunities over two decades to stop Nassar, a graduate of its osteopathic medical school who became a renowned doctor but went on to molest scores of girls and women under the guise of treating them for pain.

Bolds are mine.  Do read the whole linked article, to see how very badly the institutions involved in this failed the children and young women.

Today has been the day of victim statements at Nassar's sentencing.  The statements are difficult to read.  Many of the top gymnasts in the country are among his victims, including McKayla Maroney.

In 2016 USA Gymnastics paid Maroney $1.25 million in a private settlement of her abuse claims.  As part of that deal, Maroney signed a nondisclosure agreement which meant that she could have been fined $100,000 for speaking out.  USA Gymnastics decided to revoke that fine, and Maroney was able to speak at Nassar's sentencing.

Such private settlements make sense for individual survivors who may have no idea that they are not the only ones.  But they are yet another way for institutions to protect their powerful insiders and for any abuse or molestation to continue for much longer and with more victims.

I write this full of fury.  It reminds me of the Catholic Church child abuse cases and also those #metoo cases where the organizations clearly protected the abusers.  This, my friends, is rape culture.

Why are so many bystanders willing to protect abusers in such organizations?

The answer to that, I believe, is that there are no financial rewards from taking the side of those who allege that they have been abused, that the institution itself will be damaged by the allegations which can threaten the employment of many inside it, and that telling the appropriate authorities about the abuse will burst the soap bubbles of our lives.

Or, more precisely, the answer is the same which explains why so few walk away from Omelas in Ursula leGuin's short story. 


*  The Pennsylvania State University case seems to have received more attention, despite the fact that this case has a much higher count of victims.  If I am correct about that, the reason just might be found in the stage of the #metoo public attention pendulum:

It has begun to swing backward, with many stories asking if the movement has gone too far, if the legal rights of the accused are ignored, if fairly innocent men's (read: Al Franken) careers are now destroyed and if, indeed, we now have a witch hunt (though of powerful people, something rare in actual witch hunts).

There's nothing inherently wrong in asking nuanced questions about sexual abuse allegations or about the legal rights of the accused.  The problem, rather, is the way the public attention pendulum in the US seems to swing:  from one extreme to the other, without stopping its swing at the correct position.

The other difference between the two cases is in the sex of the victims Sandusky and Nassar selected.