Nassar: How a predator got away with abuse for decades
“He gave them gifts, invited them to his house, and brought them ice packs and wiped away the blood when they were injured,” said Christine Hauser and Maya Salam in The New York Times. Over the years, young female gymnasts were told to view Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar as a “sports medicine guru” and “magician” who could relieve their pain and improve their performance. But last week, in a Michigan courtroom, 156 “sister survivors” lined up to tell graphic stories of the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of the former U.S. Olympic and Michigan State University osteopath. In the guise of medical treatment, Nassar molested girls and teens in various ways, but his specialty was “pelvic manipulation”—a process in which he aggressively penetrated girls as young as 6 vaginally and anally with his ungloved fingers, sometimes for as long as 15 minutes. In her testimony, Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman stared Nassar down, saying, “Imagine how it feels to be an innocent teenager in a foreign country, hearing a knock on the door—and it was you.” Another Nassar victim, Kyle Stephens, said her father refused to believe her for years—and then committed suicide over his failure to protect her. “Little girls don’t stay little forever,” Stephens told Nassar. “They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.” These brave young women finally received some justice when Nassar, 54, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.
Nassar’s lengthy prison sentence “is just Step One,” said Sally Jenkins in The Washington Post. “Step Two” is establishing why the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), USA Gymnastics, and Michigan State enabled the biggest sexual abuse scandal in sports history. At least 14 Michigan State representatives received reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar as early as 1997, The Detroit News reported. Those complaints weren’t just “ignored,” said Steve Siebold in FoxNews.com. The anger was “redirected at the girls,” who were told they didn’t understand the “nuances” of Nassar’s intravaginal treatments. Meanwhile, McKayla Maroney was paid $1.25 million by USA Gymnastics to keep quiet. The USA Gymnastics board resigned in the wake of last week’s hearing, but they and officials at the USOC and Michigan State should face possible criminal prosecution for protecting this “monster.”
The gymnastics world has long valued “medals over morals,” said Hadley Freeman in TheGuardian.com. Consider “the notoriously brutal regime at the Karolyi Ranch,” in Texas, where Nassar carried out much of his abuse. Under fierce Romanian coaching legends Bela and Marta Karolyi, young female Team USA athletes were “so deprived of food and water they would beg their male teammates to bring them snacks.” These girls were groomed from a young age to ignore pain, and to believe that suffering is the path to greatness. No wonder sexual abuse was rife. A 2016 report found that in the past two decades, at least 368 gymnasts have alleged sexual abuse by coaches and other adults.
If we’re suddenly paying attention to their plight, it’s thanks to “the transformative justice of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina,” said Sophie Gilbert in TheAtlantic.com. Her decision to allow 156 women to detail the agony they endured under Nassar—and live-stream it to the world—was a watershed moment for sexual abuse survivors everywhere. Testifying about abuse can be a harrowing ordeal for survivors; under Aquilina’s guidance, it turned into an empowering act of “catharsis.” Even world-famous athletes like Raisman spoke of how confronting Nassar enabled them to overcome their own self-doubts. “It wasn’t until I started watching...the other brave survivors,” said Raisman, “that I realized I, too, needed to be here.”
We can all learn an important lesson from this terrible story, said Frank Bruni in The New York Times. Nassar’s modus operandi—“grooming” both his victims and the adults around them—is classic pedophile behavior. We saw it with Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, and with thousands of Roman Catholic priests. In all those cases, supposedly “respected” members of the community spent years cultivating their young victims and parents—portraying themselves as altruistic authority figures who could improve kids’ lives. Nassar offered a route to Olympic medals. Sandusky’s victims’ families were “dazzled” by the “football glory” at Penn State. Priests posed as agents of God. In condemning these men as monsters, we shouldn’t overlook that they follow a common technique for gaining intimate access to young people—and looking out for it is the best way “to protect children from the other Nassars out there.” ■