Like the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal at Penn State that broke in November of 2011, the signs that something may be wrong were written all over but everyone chose to turn the other cheek when it came to the activities of nationally recognized sports physician Larry Nassar. As early as 1994, young victims began to come forward with allegations of inappropriate touching and penetration at the hands of Dr. Nassar. Allegations that would later be silenced, allowing Nassar to have his way with aspiring Olympic gymnasts on the grounds of Michigan State University with little to no repercussions for his actions.
Nassar’s career in sports medicine grew its roots in 1986 when he worked as an athletic trainer for USA Gymnastics, the governing body over the sport within the US. Nassar later advanced within the organization, taking rank as not only the chief medical coordinator but the USA team doctor between 1996 to 2015.
Nassar made a name for himself as the official doctor of the USA Olympic team and those aspiring to make it there. His services were so sought after that he attracted the attention of Twistars, a highly revered gymnastics club located in Lansing, MI, and Nassar would become the official doctor associated with the company. After completing his residency in 1997, Dr. Nassar’s work would also catch the attention of Michigan State University, where he worked until 2016 when the scandal broke.
The first charges brought against Nassar were in 2014, when a young woman who attended the University sought out Nassar for medical advice on a hip injury. During the examination, the unidentified young woman alleged that she found Nassar’s behavior highly inappropriate, asking a resident to leave the exam room and becoming visually sexually aroused during the examination. MSU eventually cleared Nassar of these allegations, claiming the woman did not understand the difference between a medical procedure and a sexual assault.
Though this would be the first instance of an alleged victim bringing up charges against Nassar, there had long been whispers of Nassar’s inappropriate and unprofessional activities dating back to the early stages of his career. The nagging question that begs to be answered behind this whole scandal is Why did it take so long for Nassar to be brought up on criminal charges? To answer that question, we first have to understand the conspiracy of silence that takes hold and allows men like Nassar, Sandusky, and others to carry out their inappropriate activities undetected or even ignored.
According to witness statements, many of Nassar’s victims, whose ages ranged from as young as 6-years-old to their early 20s, had been vocal about the abuse they had suffered at the hands of Nassar. In nearly every instance until 2016, when Nassar was brought up on charges in regards to these allegations, the victims were either not believed or told to keep quiet for fear it would impact their career.
We’ve seen this pattern occur time and time again in these sexual abuse scandals. Men like Jimmy Savile and Jerry Sandusky were allowed to continue on with their inappropriate behavior because they were well-respected members of their communities and many feared that if the allegations against them came to light then there would be negative consequences to be suffered, such as funding cuts or the deterioration of charitable programs.
Like Sandusky at Penn State, MSU is currently embroiled in the charges that have been brought up against Nassar, which not only include sexually abusing his patients but a federal inditement for receiving or attempting to receive child pornography while he had been employed by the university. In both of these instances, it is clear that the institutions that had been aligned with both Sandusky and Nassan were more concerned with protecting their brand and reputation than protecting the victims of these predators.
Until individuals or institutions have the empathy to recognize that the needs of the victims in these cases are more important than their own reputations, then we will continue to see these scandals come to light many years after the inital allegations are made against the perpetrators in these cases.
We also have the obligation to give victims, especially child victims, the benefit of the doubt in these cases and to file reports immediately in order to see that a thorough investigation is conducted, in spite of what negative consequences may come out of those actions. While it may be hard to sacrifice a possible career, it is far more detrimental to a victim to not be believed and to never see justice for the abuse they have suffered at the hands of a trusted individual.
Currently, the trial against Nassar is underway. In spite of many attempts by Nassar’s victims to speak out, it wouldn’t be until detectives, who had been investigating Nassar for possible ties to child pornography, found a hard drive full of images that any charges were brought against the former doctor. As many as 49 women have since come forward to testify against the disgraced sports physician. Nassar has denied all of the allegations against him but has failed to offer any reason why anyone should believe in his innocence.