Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor and an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University faces allegations of sexually abusing more than one hundred girls.
More than two dozen of his victims reported their abuse to someone (teammates, parents, or other coaches). Nevertheless, the abuse continued.
It’s troubling to know that he get away with it for so long. Why?
Unfortunately and sadly, sexual abuse isn’t uncommon. One in five girls is a victim. That's according to a 2010 report by the Crimes Against Children Research Center. Additionally, one in twenty boys is a reported victim. These numbers may be even greater for girls and particularly for boys due to a lack of reporting.
That lack of reporting is just one reason that people like Larry Nassar get away with their abuse.
What other factors are involved?
Sexual Abusers Groom Their Victims
Sexual abuse typically doesn’t just happen overnight. Instead, there is a long process of grooming.
Establishes friendship, trust, and an ongoing relationship with their victims
Also establishes trust with friends and family members
Comes from a position of power and authority
Sets up situations that limit parental oversight
Fills a child’s needs and wants with attention and gifts
Desensitizes the child with talk about their bodies and sexuality
Larry Nassar was in the perfect position to groom his victims. They were away from their parents. He was a respected doctor who had stepped in as a parent figure. And gymnasts naturally have to talk frequently about their bodies.
In essence, sadly, the entire situation facilitated victim grooming.
Sexual Abusers Groom Others
Perhaps you were already aware of how abusers groom their victims. What you may not realize is that abusers groom others as well.
Larry Nassar is, unfortunately, a perfect example of this. He was able to groom parents, trainers, and even other doctors to unwittingly go along with his sexual abuse.
To groom others, abusers generally:
Come across as charming
Address accusations as though they have nothing to hide
Ask other professionals to vouch for them
Use their credentials to justify their behavior
For example, Larry Nassar claimed to be a doctor trained in specialized healing for gymnasts. He said that his unique pelvic exams were accepted in his line of work.
Moreover, he got other doctors to agree. He assured them that he was performing the same types of exams that they were. They trusted him, and therefore, they vouched for him.
His credentials, his professional network, and his air of confidence all groomed others. And that allowed him to continue his abuse.
There Is Systemic Collusion for Sexual Abuse
Each of us participates in a number of systems throughout our lifetimes. For example, we are part of schools, clubs, teams, religious groups, and professional associations. Those systems themselves, sometimes unknowingly, often allow sexual abuse to happen.
Historically, we have seen this with Catholic priests. The priesthood closed ranks around accused perpetrators, allowing abuse to go on for years. Similarly, thanks to the Time’s Up movement, we have recently become aware of the same pattern in Hollywood. In like manner, victims of sexual abuse were silenced for years. And individuals and groups worked to keep the industry protected from criticism.
Larry Nassar shows how this happened in the gymnastics industry as well. Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman is just one victim who has said that several institutions ignored her complaints about Nassar. She names Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and the United States Olympic Committee as perpetuating her abuse.
If there is a reputation to protect, people within the system will usually work to protect it.
This can lead to:
Repression of information
Intimidation of victims
Under-the-table compensation to make allegations “go away”
In that way, the system perpetuates the abuse and allows it to last longer and to affect more victims.
We can help end the cycle by keeping the lines of communication and trust open between our children and ourselves. Listening and talking to our children on a regular basis helps them feel heard and understood. Additionally children should be taught about good touch and bad touch and feel comfortable asking parents questions during those discussions.
Speaking out about sexual abuse helps to end the cycle. Learn more about how therapy can help by reading about my approach to sexual assault therapy.