What we learned from the abuse scandal in USA gymnastics

For the past couple of weeks, Larry Nassar and the sex abuse scandal at Michigan State University and USA gymnastics were everywhere. My Tumblr dashboard was overflowing with links to newspaper articles, videos from victims in court, tweets from prominent people, opinion articles and so on. All these new pieces of information answered two basic questions: “How did this happen?” and “Why didn’t the girls just say something?”

 

Larry Nassar didn’t act alone. He had an army of people protecting him.

Because an atmosphere of pressure and fear dominated national team training camps and international competitions, it was easy for Nassar to gain the gymnasts’ trust. He presented himself as the good guy, when Marta Karolyi and the coaches were tough on them. He complimented them and bought them gifts and food, so they even felt ashamed for thinking badly of him.

The parents were not allowed to visit the ranch or stay in the same hotel when travelling to competitions. They only knew what their daughters told them, and they trusted the organisation to take care of them.

Some girls didn’t even realise they were being molested. The adults they trusted assured them that Nassar was the absolute best doctor and it was an honour to be treated by him. They basically had no choice but to go and visit him when they were injured.

Those who did, were not believed. Numerous adults, often in positions of power, turned a blind eye to the accusations at MSU. They even tried to convince the victims they were wrong and Nassar was performing a legitimate medical practice. When two elite gymnasts spoke up in 2015, USAG did not believe they were sexually abused. When they finally did, they chose to keep quiet about it and pressured the victims to stay silent.

Both MSU and USAG kept the claims secret and enabled Nassar to abuse dozens and dozens more.

 

It is clear that the system at USAG needs to be rebuilt. But the people in power can only do that properly by recognising where they made mistakes. Until they acknowledge that they did, the changes they proclaim to be making are not convincing anyone that gymnastics is a safe sport again.


Note: Why none of the personal coaches had suspicions is still a mystery to me.

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