The downfall of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing at least 250 girls, brought to light one of the country’s most persistent and far-reaching child sexual abuse scandals. Netflix has helped expose the abuse with its documentary, “Athlete A.”
Filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk followed a team of investigative journalists from the Indianapolis Star, the news outlet that first shed light on the scandal. Along with victim interviews, the documentary depicts how the gym team fostered a corrupt and abusive environment that was allowed to continue for years.
But to understand how the USA Gymnastics team facilitated the abuse, one has to go back to the 1980s. It was in that decade that coaches defected from Romania and brought their strict training methods to the United States. Winning at any cost became the only goal, so much so that parents were not even permitted to contact their children during their training. Nassar befriended many of the female athletes and profited from a culture that encouraged gymnasts to stay silent to win medals.
Numerous survivors stepped forward to lend their voices to the documentary. They explained, for example, how Nassar would molest girls under the guise of administering medical examinations. Nassar was ultimately sentenced for a number of sex crimes in 2018.
“Athlete A” also details the difficulty victims had in convincing anyone to take their stories seriously. The team didn’t do so initially, and it took a concerted effort of victims, journalists, attorneys, and others to expose Nassar’s wrongdoing. But that was after years of irresponsible decisions by people who were in a position to stop the abuse much sooner. Too often, accusations were ignored or passed along to others who passed them along again.
A multimillion-dollar settlement was ultimately reached with victims. The USA Gymnastics team has filed for bankruptcy protection, and its entire board of directors and most management staff have been replaced. Despite the reforms, many victims are still trying to understand how Nassar was allowed to abuse girls for so long.
Nassar is a prime example of how abusers take advantage of institutional culture to further their assaults on children. He used the “win at any cost” environment that discouraged speaking up to engage in deliberate grooming of children. Many victims would later explain how, as children, Nassar complimented them on their looks. But as young victims, they didn’t recognize that this was all part of the grooming process.
The tragedy that these girls experienced is a reminder of how important public awareness is to putting an end to abuse. Even now, the concept of sexual abuse is often associated with isolated deviants and criminals who suddenly and violently strike at their victims.
Nassar presented the complete opposite of this picture. He was trusted, well-respected, and worked on behalf of a highly esteemed organization that produced gold medal winners and earned the admiration of an entire country. His position enabled him to be far more dangerous and to escape justice for much longer than he should have.
Attorney Paul Mones fights to hold institutions civilly liable for permitting and helping child sexual abusers. Paul recognizes the challenges that sexual abuse victims face, and he works to ensure they receive the justice they deserve. Reach out to Paul today if you’re a victim of child sexual abuse who wants to know more about your legal rights.