On January 24th, 2018, Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for multiple sex crimes committed against more than 160 young women.
His first victim, however, dates back to 1997.
The reaction of the public went as follows: people were horrified by the growing list of young women who were victims of Nassar’s indecency, they vocally supported the young women for bravely coming forward, and then they did the math and noticed just how long Nassar has been getting away with this.
21 years of children suffering.
21 years of a perverted man benefiting from it, unpunished.
How did this happen? Although some are quick to blame USA Gymnastics, the parents of the victims, or even the victims themselves for not speaking up sooner to end the cycle, not as many seem to consider the culpability of the authority-valuing culture we purvey as a society.
Instead of asking which individuals falsely placed their trust in Nassar or believed his word over that of the victims, maybe it’s time to ask why such an unwavering trust for a man they did not have close relations with existed in the first place.
In other words, how was Nassar able to keep all of the individuals around him, even some of the victims, under his “good-intentioned” spell for so long, despite the accusations against him rising years ago?
A Ph.D. A piece of paper. A white coat.
Victim after victim dismissed his actions because they were part of the “routine physical,” and they felt they simply had to believe the doctor. Parents, after being confronted by their kids about the issue, were convinced to place their trust in Nassar’s medical jargon and professional title rather than their children.
Even officials within USA Gymnastics discouraged victims from publicly discussing the issue, although potentially for selfish reasons, because of the greater credibility doctors have over the victims in the public eye when it comes to a “he said, she said” situation.
Is our culture’s trust in doctors so great that it can subconsciously support their innocence in cases of assault? Do authority figures commonly get away with acts of assault because we all place trust in their flashy credentials, blinding people to the fact that doctors, policemen, CEOs are also flawed, scaring victims from speaking out about their experiences?
I did some digging.
Sexual assault within the medical industry did not begin with Larry Nassar. The Atlantic Journal-Constitution found that over 3,000 doctors were sanctioned in a fifteen-year span for sexual misconduct, including assault of patients.
Only half of these had their medical licenses revoked. The newspaper also revealed that only 11 of 50 states require medical professionals to alert the authorities of incidences in which doctors sexually assault patients.
As quoted in the Chicago Tribune article, Vann Craig, the former executive director of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure, compares sexual assault to an addiction that can be recovered from, such as alcohol or drug addiction.
Craig, supported by other medical professionals, argues that one incident of a doctor committing sexual assault should not immediately result in him losing his medical license, as he has put so many years into studying to become a doctor. It seems ethics have been regarded as less important than educational experience in their eyes, supporting the argument that authority stemming from a Ph.D. seems to be a reasonable excuse in many eyes for sweeping incidences of assault under the rug.
There is no excuse for anyone, regardless of their profession or educational background, to commit acts as reported in these studies of doctors who have committed assault.
The aforementioned Chicago Tribune article refers to doctors across different specialties of the field committing these sex crimes, including “psychiatrists seducing the emotionally fragile; family practitioners fondling minors; anesthesiologists molesting sedated patients; obstetricians raping women who had come to them for care.”
A medical degree implies a level of trust to be placed in a medical professional, but how much trust is too much? Sexual assault is sexual assault.
These effects are not contained to the medical field.
As found by the Associated Press in 2015, around 1,000 police officers within a six-year span lost their badges after committing sex crimes, including rape and sexual assault—and this only includes the officers who were caught and disciplined for their actions. There is a vicious cycle of authority present in this situation, from the officers’ use of their power to force individuals into sex acts to the many victims’ fears of calling the police to file a suit against a fellow police officer.
“It had never occurred to me that a person who had earned a badge would do this to me or anybody else,” said Diana Guerrero, a victim of a sexual assault interviewed by AP.
Trust is a double-edged sword. Victims do not see the crime coming, but they also fear the consequences of reporting their experiences.
“It’s so underreported and people are scared that if they call and complain about a police officer, they think every other police officer is going to be then out to get them,” Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Sarasota Police Department told the Associated Press.
When victims are afraid to report assault because of the authority they are up against, it is time to question who is in power and why we trust them so blindly as a society.
Like doctors, many police officers get off without punishment, too involved and connected within the system of justice to be found guilty for their crimes. They know the attorneys, they’ve met the judges, they’re experts on how to win over a court, and they know how to make a defendant look crazy.
In a system that is supposed to be balanced and equitable, does everyone truly get a fair chance at justice?
Even CEOs and company owners, the less trusted of the authority figures mentioned in this piece, get away with assault simply because of their power.
Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein.
Sexual assault accusations against these men have been swirling around within the public sphere for years.
Even when Cosby was finally put on trial with plenty of victims to support his guilt, the women who stepped up with their experiences were accused of lying, fishing for attention, or being money hungry.
Harvey Weinstein got away with his actions for over three decades by threatening to ruin women’s careers with his power, and it worked, because the victims were aware that his power gave his word more value over theirs.
Donald Trump is the President of the United States.
As stated in an article published by Vox, “We often don’t want to do the work of reevaluating our personal heroes, of accepting that a powerful man who is a pillar of the community, or a world-renowned artist, or even the leader of the free world, could secretly be a monster.”
So we believe the man. Or at least enough of us do that victims feel afraid of speaking out against a powerful figure who has sexually violated them.
The good news is that in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, victims are feeling more confident in using their voices against powerful assaulters. This reflects a culture moving away from blind trust and moving towards belief in victims. A culture filled with people supporting people, including victims.
And luckily, blind faith in authority is generally declining with each generation. Although there are downsides to this trend, it hopefully will reflect a culture that is prepared to question each person individually, rather than judge them based on generalized assumptions or societally valued credentials.
This does not diminish the pain they’ve experienced, but rather poses the question of how much progress society has truly made in the recent months.
What about the poverty-stricken victims, who don’t look like beautiful actresses? Will the average American be more understanding of their experiences? Will they be cast aside as mentally ill because they do not have publicity and fans?
What about minorities, who are still in the midst of fighting racism? Do they feel any more supported, are they ready to stand up and say #MeToo in our current culture?
We’ve grown closer as a society to a culture of support amongst people of similar ages, economic status, race. Now it’s time to reach a culture in which people support those who are unlike them in these regards as well.
That being said, it continues to be inspiring and refreshing to see victims standing up for themselves in present popular culture, regardless of the power of their violator.
As Kyle Stephens stated in her testimony against Nassar, “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”
We are getting there, but there is work to be done before every little girl feels that the world is on her side when she is ready to fight back.
Are you on her side?