Larry Nassar shouldn’t be the only one going to jail
by Michael Dolce
The Guardian, 1.26.18
Survivors reported Nassar’s abuse to coaches, trainers, parents, therapists, a training facility owner, and even law enforcement officials – but all in vain.
It is tragically ironic that in the same month we applauded the courageous young survivors confronting Larry Nassar in court for his horrific abuse, we also celebrated the wisdom and legacy of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. One of King’s great lessons was that justice can be hindered by “the appalling silence of the good people”.
Indeed, so many survivors of Larry Nassar’s atrocious acts asked one question time and time again: why was he not stopped sooner by the good people who had reason to know of his crimes?
Gymnast Larissa Boyce, runner Christine Achenbach and softball player Tiffany Lopez all recounted their complaints to otherwise “good” people at Michigan State University about Nassar between 1997 and 2000, many years before his relentless abuse of children was stopped.
I have represented child sex abuse victims as a lawyer for many years and in virtually every case the survivor takes a huge risk in speaking up at all. I repeatedly see child sex abuse survivors, just like most adult sex crime victims, disbelieved by numerous people – especially those who were in positions of power to stop the abuse in the first place.
It seems easier for them to reject survivors and stifle their voices than to accept responsibility for not protecting them or having the courage to act to protect the next vulnerable child the abuser targets.
In one case, I even saw a child abuse investigator testify that she closes all cases of child sex abuse and takes no further action if the victim is under six, unless there is confirming physical proof (which is rare). She does not even bother interviewing all known witnesses and does absolutely nothing to monitor the perpetrator thereafter.
Too often, people in a position to help turn away from this horror pretend it does not exist, or simply refuse to believe that someone as charming and talented as Nassar could be capable of such crimes. With all we know about child sex predators, there is no excuse for such ignorant inaction.
After-the-fact arrests and so-called internal investigations can do nothing to make amends for the harm to children whose abuse could have been prevented in the first place. Nassar is now known to have sexually abused some 140 young girls, and he probably abused many more. It appears the overwhelming majority of them never would have been abused at all, if the more than a dozen “good” adults who were told over the years about Nassar’s crimes had acted decisively to stop him, just like other cases we have seen in the news, from the Catholic Church to Penn State.
And if organizations, like USA Gymnastics, steadfastly enforced common sense methods to deter and prevent child sex abuse, like prohibiting examination and treatment of children alone in a private room – an opportunity for abuse that Nassar favored – numerous children would be spared such crimes.
These organizations, which predators purposefully infiltrate to access potential victims, must be proactive in preventing the opportunity for abuse before it happens. They must not believe, as many of their officials have testified in cases I have handled, that you just can’t stop it from happening in the first place – that there must always be a first victim. That is simply not true, and it is an immoral abdication of the sacred duty to protect children to act as if it is.
I myself am a survivor of child sex abuse, and I join my fellow survivors in saying that those who fail to act in the face of a child’s cry for help is to be complicit in the crime and, most certainly, to be responsible for what happens to the next child the abuser targets.
I join my fellow survivors in saying that institutional actors who fail to implement and enforce measures to prevent abuse in the first place are responsible for the harm that results. And I add to the cries for such inaction to be treated in all respects as a crime. Nassar should not be the only one going to prison.
Born in 1963, Larry Nassar was but a very young child when King was taken from us in 1968. There was plenty of time for those “good” adults who ignored and silenced Nassar’s child victims when they cried out for help, over many years, to take Reverend King’s lessons to heart before Nassar struck even once. But they did not.
As a child sex abuse survivor, as an advocate for other survivors and as a parent, I pray society will realize that the appalling silence of the good people is absolutely intolerable in the face of any evil – especially evil that threatens defenseless children. I pray we finally learn this time.
Michael Dolce, a victim of child sex abuse, is now a victims’ rights attorney at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.