While watching the brave young gymnasts recount the horrors of sexual abuse that Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, inflicted upon them, I had immediate flashbacks.
Watch Aly Raisman’s powerful speech at the sentencing of serial sexual harasser and former USA gymnastic doctor Larry Nassar. https://t.co/CUZV2BSpB6
At nine years old, I was sexually abused for six months by a family friend.
The abuse lasted as long as it did because I was unaware that what was taking place was sexual abuse. I never received education on what type of behavior was appropriate or what to do if someone took advantage of me.
So, the abuse continued – until one day, I snapped. There are few memories in my childhood that I vividly remember so clearly. And the day I told my father about the touches under my shirt, the grinding of Gilberts 70 year-old body against mine, or the vulgar language he would use to describe my genitals, was the day I became free.
But that freedom came at a cost with the understanding that the world doesnt care about sexual abuse survivors.
The latest case involving over 150 gymnasts who came forward to share their #MeToos in response to Larry Nassar, demonstrates the callousness in which sexaul abuse is addressed.
Nassars behavior didnt just come to light. His unwanted touches and abuse were brought to the attention of the organizations he worked for long ago. Still, they continued to employ him and put him in charge of the care of young women who he would later abuse.
With people like Nassar, theres never just one person that he or she will victimize. Its a repeated behavior, and one that can only be put to an end when people in authority take claims of abuse seriously instead of sweeping them under the rug.
Given the remarkable scope of the years of abuse, several days of court have been set aside for victims or their parents to speak out about Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor for about two decades, pleaded guilty in November to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in Ingham County in Michigan — and the systems of power that protected him.
When my father took me to the police to press charges against Gilbert, I remember sitting in a dark office as a male police officer took notes and asked me one question:
Can you tell me what happened that day?
The officer never asked me if the abuse happened on multiple occasions. He was fixated on the events of that particular day, and failed to investigate if this was repetitive abuse. As it would later come out during the trial, Gilbert had been fired for inappropriate behavior as a school bus driver, as a janitor at a McDonalds, and had a known history of preying on young girls.
Despite this, no one took action.
And as a result, I suffered at his hands and almost lost my fathers life for being a whistleblower.
One night, as my father was coming home from work, Gilbert was lurking in the shadows with a shotgun in hand that he had purchased that day. As my father got out of his car, Gilbert jumped out and pointed the gun at my fathers face, demanding that he drop the charges. My father stood his ground, and in response, Gilbert pulled the trigger. Miraculously it misfired. After two more attempts, the gun misfired again, and Gilbert took the butt of the gun and beat my father with it. Thankfully, my father survived.
I often wonder how different my life would have been had I remained silent. How much longer would the abuse have taken place? Would Gilbert have eventually raped me? Would I have spared my parents the shame and pain they endured for feeling like they hadnt protected me? If my father had decided to drop charges in order to spare his life that night, how many more girls would have been victimized by Gilbert?
While theres no knowing of how differently my life might have panned out, Ive come to an understanding that adults before me who knew of Gilberts behavior are just as responsible for the suffering I endured.
At a remarkable sentencing hearing in Michigan, more than 100 girls and women have confronted the man who abused them sexually for years about the lasting psychological scars. Larry Nassar worked for USA Gymnastics for 29 years, including as a team doctor for four Olympic Games, and at Michigan State University.
And those who enabled Larry Nassar should be held equally accountable. This is where the law often fails the most vulnerable. A bigger focus must be put on those who knew, and those who didnt value the girls who initially came forward.
People often call me brave for telling my father about the abuse, but when I told my dad what had happened, I had no idea why it was wrong. The only thing I knew is that it felt wrong, and I wanted it to stop.
Im no more brave than the young women who remained silent. Their bravery is centered in continuing to compete in a sport they loved, despite knowing they would be victimized or taken advantage of. Their bravery is rooted in carrying the shame they were forced to because adults in power dismissed previous claims about Nassar, causing these young women to believe that should they share their story it wouldnt matter and nothing would change.
John Barr joins OTL to report on the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, the doctor accused of sexually abusing athletes during his time as a physician, is “highly emotional for everybody.”
Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics should not have the freedom to walk away from this unscathed. Their culpability in completely overlooking the abuse, and in some cases, paying for a survivors silence on the matter, demonstrates just how much they knew, and how little they cared for those who put their trust in protecting them.
There is carnage in this. A young woman shared a story about her father killing himself for not protecting her when he learned about the sexual abuse. This account affected me deeply as I know my father felt suicidal as a result of my abuse, and that easily could have been him.
Then there are the girls who quit gymnastics and whose love for a sport was tainted by the abuse, and families who were deeply affected by the actions of Nassar and the inaction of MSU and USA Gymnastics.
The side effects of sexual abuse often go unseen. Survivors seldom wear their scars for those to see. Instead, we bury the pain and try to find a place for it where it cant resurface. The consequences of abuse stem from performing poorly in school, being at a higher risk to engage in risky behavior, and being three times more likely to become dependent on alcohol and drugs. These are just a few examples of the impact sexual abuse can have in ones life.
Because we cant directly see the long-term effects of abuse, it becomes out of sight – out of mind. But MSU and USA Gymnastics should be reminded daily of what they allowed to happen to innocent girls, who paid the price of their bodies being violated to chase their dreams.
How many more survivors of sexual assault will it take to come forward for us to be valued and heard? When will the law begin to appropriately punish those who directly enable abuse?
When will we matter?