I once said that I would not write about crimes such as sexual assault in the opinion section of this paper. I was aware it was all over the news section of this and every other newspaper and felt that writing about it would not add or change anything about these events. However, I would like to apologise for my ignorance on the matter. It has occurred to me that I should write about it because these issues matter and any voice that helps is better than silence. To fight against these horrific acts of violence we need to take a stand and shout louder against these people or institutions that are perpetrating or covering up the abuse suffered by innocent individuals. Again for my ignorance I would like to offer my deepest apologise.
In previous articles, I wrote about how social media aims and targets people being accused of sexual assault. Unfortunately, the events throughout the rest of the world has not changed how some people act. I would like to draw your attention to the United States of America athletics scandals that have cropped up recently.
It was revealed that Larry Nassar, D.O., a former USA Gymnastic national team osteopathic physician had been accused of assaulting over 140 women during his career. These allegations were first made public in September 2016 and Nassar faced immediate investigation. Nassar was found guilty on all accounts of assault and sentenced to 175 years in prison.
“His sentence was seen as effective and has opened several investigations into a whole new area of assault within sporting institutions.”
Over the years several female athletes came forward regarding their experiences. Unfortunately, not all of Nassar’s victims were athletes; Kyle Stephens’ parents were family friends of Dr. Nassar’s and stated that she was assaulted in her family home from kindergarten. The Huffington Post quoted Kyle Stephens as saying that; ‘Little girls don’t stay little forever. They turn into strong women that return to destroy your world.’ Stephens has also admitted that when she first shed light on the abuse, her family were quick to shoot her down. According to people.com, ’[Nassar] tore us apart. He labeled me within my family as someone that was just a vile person,’ Stephens said of Nassar during a Thursday appearance on Megyn Kelly Today, alongside fellow victims, Rachael Denhollander and Mattie Larson: ‘My dad had spent time in his life defending abused children. So the fact that his child would make such a heinous accusation with no pretense, really made me a target for [Nassar].’ Through the entire history of Kyle Stephens’ encounters with Nassar, she was a child, yet to walk into her teenage years, trusted in the company of a monster and when she finally spoke out about it, she was ignored and labelled a liar.
For all of his crimes, as of 2017, Nassar has pleaded guilty, including to the performance of sexual acts on three children under the age of 16. His sentence was seen as effective and has opened several investigations into a whole new area of assault within sporting institutions. In response to the events that have unfolded following these allegations, the US Senate has issued a statement saying they will look into any and all allegations of abuse and sexual assault within the USA Swimming and USA Taekwondo and any others that may come out still against Nassar himself. US Senator, Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that would require National Governing Body (NGB) Members overseeing Olympic sports to issue reports immediately regarding sexual assault allegations to law enforcement or designated child-welfare agencies. Former gymnasts testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning the bill, these included Dominique Moceanu, Jamie Dantzcher and Jessica Howard. Chief of Paralympic sports for the United States Olympic Committee and head of organisational development for the NGBs, Rick Adams, stated at the hearing: ‘We do take responsibility, and we apologise to any young athlete who has ever faced abuse.’ U.S.A. Gymnastics were asked to testify or give a comment at the hearing, though they declined.
“A lot of young, aspiring athletes will most likely not enter into the sport because there is too much uncertainty around how the governing bodies treat and react to such allegations.”
An article in the New York Times stated that the U.S.A. Gymnastics values medals over the safety and responsibility of the athletes they should be training and caring for. AT&T pulled their sponsorship from the U.S.A. Gymnastics team, along with Kellogg’s, Under Armour and Hersheys, to name a few others. However, why have the organisation not done similar seeing as how they knew of these allegations from 2015?
As soon as claims against Nassar came forward in 2016, Michigan State university (which hired Nassar as a physician as well as a faculty member) and the USA Gymnastics team both suspended Nassar before firing him from the institutions shortly after. Yet Nassar was not the only person to have faced allegations of assault; a 2016 IndyStar investigation revealed that over 20 years, at least 368 gymnasts had claimed some form of sexual abuse by their coaches, gym owners or other adults, which is almost certainly a vast undercount of victims. This could not have happened without gross negligence on the part of U.S.A. Gymnastics. Aly Raisman, in an interview with Outside the Lines, said last week; ‘Their biggest priority from the beginning and still today is their reputation, the medals they win and the money they make off of us…’
“How exactly did U.S.A. Gymnastics treat the athletes who said they had been abused? It bullied them to be silent.”
Throughout all of these failings on the part of U.S.A. Gymnastic, it is clear that a lot of young, aspiring athletes will most likely not enter into the sport because there is too much uncertainty around how the governing bodies treat and react to such allegations. There is also a large scale clear-up operation that will have to go underway in order for people to feel as though they will be able to come forward more often about these situations.
So how exactly did U.S.A. Gymnastics treat the athletes who said they had been abused? It bullied them to be silent. We now know that Steve Penny, the president of U.S.A. Gymnastics at the time, called the mother of Maggie Nichols the day after her coach overheard Nichols discussing Dr. Nassar’s treatment— to dissuade them from reporting the doctor directly to law enforcement officials. The confidential $1.25 million settlement the organisation struck with McKayla Maroney required her to remain silent. It was not until the model Chrissy Teigen offered to pay the $100,000 fine Ms. Maroney could be subject to for violating a nondisclosure agreement that U.S.A. Gymnastics decided it would not seek money from her if she chose to give a victim impact statement.
In all of these cases, these young women were not only let down by Dr. Nassar, who they should have felt safe with. They were also let down by U.S.A. Gymnastics as a whole, as the group now has to acknowledge the role it played in trying to survive the acts of Dr. Nassar in a very public way. These women have shown strength and are an inspiration to people everywhere. They are no longer silent victims, but survivors with a voice.
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