Olympic Games | The Guardian
ANew reports of unchecked serial sexual abuse pop up almost daily as the terrible story of Larry Nassar continues to evolve. Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had decided not to prosecute FBI agents who were dealing with allegations of sexual abuse against Nassar, the former Olympic gymnastics team doctor who pleaded guilty in 2018 and is now one Served life imprisonment, botched it, reconsidered. The Justice Department’s willingness to reconsider charges against the FBI agents follows last month’s Senate Judicial Committee hearing where elite gymnasts gave burning testimony to Nassar’s abuse and its aftermath – a widespread government failure to respond to the athletes’ allegations.
This failure was devastating, not only for the young women who were laid off, but also for those who would endure Nassar’s continued abuse. Between July 2015, when the FBI became aware of the allegations, and September 2016, when an Indianapolis Star report exposed the abuse, Nassar molested at least 40 girls and women. An explosive report from the DOJ’s inspector general’s office outlines the many ways the FBI agents fell short.
But the FBI alone was hardly alone in its utter disregard for the victims. Holding agents responsible for their mistakes – as important as accountability is – shouldn’t obscure this reality. As Simone Biles told the committee, “To make this clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that made his abuse possible and perpetuated.” who he molested them reported repeatedly. They reported to parents, coaches, doctors, psychologists, and USA gymnastics. Each time the allegations were dismissed as less credible than Nassar’s claim of medical justification, however absurd they might be. When the FBI failed with the young women, they had been fired time and time again. In fact, the FBI wasn’t even the first law enforcement agency to assist Nassar with his victims.
Local police officers became aware of Nassar more than a decade earlier. In 2004, Brianne Randall, a high school athlete in Meridian Township, Michigan, made an appointment with her mother to see Nassar, who was then a well-known osteopathic doctor and exercise coach. They wanted help with Randall’s scoliosis. On the first visit, Nassar performed a series of routine tests with her mother in the room. On the second visit, without her mother, the examination was very different.
According to Randall, Nassar began the exam by massaging Randall’s spine. From there, he pulled her underwear aside and began “pressing the outer area along her vagina”. Then he tried to stick his finger in her vagina (unsuccessful because she was wearing a tampon). He continued massaging her vagina for about 20 minutes before reaching under her dress and placing his hands on her breasts, “rubbing” and “squeezing” her while she was on her stomach. After Nassar told her he would visit her for an hour once a week, he asked Randall for a hug. He hadn’t worn gloves during the exam.
Randall felt “scared” and “uncomfortable” and immediately told her mother what Nassar had done. The next day, Randall and her mother went to the police station to file a complaint.
About a week after police questioned Randall, they spoke to Nassar. The notes for this conversation are short. Nassar claimed he was performing a procedure to relieve Randall’s lower back pain and that he had to “touch” and “palpate” the area near her vulva. Describing the technique as Sacrotuberous Ligament Release, he told the investigating detective that “this technique has been published in medical journals and training tapes giving the same guidance are available to doctors across the United States.” Nassar provided the detective with a 26-page PowerPoint presentation to accompany the report.
The interview notes contain no indication that Nassar was ever asked if he was stroking Randall’s breasts or attempting to penetrate her vagina with his finger. Nor was he asked why he did not wear gloves during the exam. Her absence is only mentioned in relation to a later conversation with Randall’s mother, who “was concerned that Dr. Nassar did not wear latex gloves, ”as the report says. “I could not influence whether the doctor wore gloves or whether someone else was present during the procedure,” the detective wrote, adding that he “expressed his concerns to Dr. Nassar would forward ”. The report concludes that the officer informed Randall’s mother that the case was “based on the information I received from Dr. Nassar facts presented “will be concluded.
The PowerPoint presentation does not contain any indications of touching or palpating the vagina, let alone penetrating it. It says nothing about rubbing a patient’s breasts or the need for bare hands. But police officers didn’t investigate any of these discrepancies (if they even identified them). Nor did they seek the opinion of any other doctor in the field. Instead, Nassar’s far-fetched statement was taken at face value.
Many years later, the investigating detective, who had since been promoted to sergeant, said simply, “Nassar declared the trial to be legitimate, not a crime.” The detective decided not to continue the case because he believed this fiction – the only time in his career that he ended an investigation without referring it to prosecutors.
If Meridian Township Police were just an outlier, Nassar wouldn’t have been left mistreating his patients for decades. But every time the girls got in touch – to parents, coaches, doctors, psychologists, USA Gymnastics, and the FBI – the allegations were dismissed or taken less seriously than they deserved to be. Dozens of girls were abused after Nassar caught police attention. Fourteen years later, more than 150 women described their abuse at the former doctor’s hearing in a criminal court.
Protecting Larry Nassar at the expense of his victims is a story of what I call the “credibility complex” – a collection of forces, including culture and law, that influence our judgments about what to believe, who to blame, and whether we are , distort care. The credibility complex creates undue distrust of the victims, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. And it gives predators an unwarranted advantage of the doubt. Those who receive the most generous credibility gains are powerful men who hold positions of status and authority.
Our tendency to assume competence and reliability when these men plead their innocence ensures that perpetrators are rarely held accountable. All of this can seem natural and persistent. Credibility inflation is such a deeply ingrained thought pattern that it often disappears completely from view. But it’s an integral part of the credibility complex and allows the systems that tolerate abuse to go on as usual.
The Justice Department has just signaled that this status quo is unacceptable. While the reopening of the investigation into the FBI’s failures is considered a promising development, this is just the beginning. What remains is nothing less than a collective reckoning with the forces that lead too many of us, if unknowingly, to dismiss accusers and protect perpetrators.