ONE AFTER another after yet another, the young women entered the Michigan courtroom to confront the man who had sexually abused them. As the victims of sports physician Larry Nassar testified about the horror and damage inflicted on them by a man who had been entrusted with their care, one question recurred.
“To this day,” said Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber, wiping away tears, “I still don’t know how he could’ve been allowed to do this for so long.”
Many of those who should have been looking out for these girls — their parents, their coaches — blame themselves for not being aware. They torture themselves with what blinded them: Dr. Nassar’s charm? His credentials? Ambitions of athletic glory?
Not knowing is an excuse that, as has become increasingly obvious, can’t be used by others — notably Michigan State University, where Dr. Nassar worked, and USA Gymnastics, which made him its chief medical coordinator.An investigation by the Detroit News showed that reports of his sexual misconduct reached at least 14 Michigan State University representatives in the two decades before his arrest. The gymnastics governing body waited five weeks before reporting a case of suspected abuse to the FBI and had a gymnast sign a secrecy agreement as part of a settlement to keep a lid on the scandal. Such failures make these people not only complicit in but enabling of Dr. Nassar’s crimes, and so they — like the bad doctor — must be held to account.
Dr. Nassar, already sentenced to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges, is set to be sentenced this week for seven sex crimes he pleaded guilty to last November. His real reckoning, though, is being played out in the wrenching and courageous testimonials from the young women he molested. “The tables have turned, Larry. We are here. We have our voices, and we are not going anywhere,” said two-time Olympian Aly Raisman. Statements from more than 140 women were set to be heard as more women each day decided to step forward, emboldened by the strength of those — both famous and not — who had already spoken out.
As if any more proof were needed, Dr. Nassar showed his absence of any shame when he complained how difficult it was for him to listen to the statements. Good that Judge Rosemarie Aquilinascoffed at his whining. Allowing these sex-abuse survivors to tell their stories uninterrupted shed critical new light on these events. That there have been calls for investigations into the actions of Michigan State and USA Gymnastics (with several top board members of that governing board resigning Sunday) hopefully means some effort will be made to answer the question posed by Ms. Wieber.
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