On the case of Larry Nassar, false accusations and what we can learn from those who spoke.
This morning I stumbled upon an article on The Atlantic by Sophie Gilbert, titled ‘The Transformative Justice of Judge Aquilina’, and naturally I was intrigued. I’ll avoid relaying information as I have many thoughts on this matter, but to give you a little summary: the article discussed the case of Larry Nassar, ex-USA Gymnastics national team doctor and physician at Michigan State University, who had over 150 federal and state lawsuits filed against him, accusing him of abusing young women for decades while working at the state’s university. The story has a plethora of details you should probably delve into for a comprehensive and objective understanding of the case, but I’m not going to get into too many particularities.
My mind was drawn in a few directions reading into this case. The fact that somebody who is now sentenced to 60 years after pleading guilty to child pornography charges, 40 – 175 years in a Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to 7 counts of sexual assault of minors and an additional 40 – 125 years after pleading guilty to an additional 3 counts of sexual assault (by Judge Aquilina) was freely practicing despite the countless allegations against him. His rebuttal to the majority of the allegations was that he did not perform anything that was not medical, and in his letter to Judge Acquilina even stated that the women accusing him did not seem to be complaining when he was successfully treating them.
However, a woman named Kyle Stephens – the only non-medical victim – has been sharing her experience with countless individuals around her since the abuse first started; from telling her counsellors his name in hopes the would report him, to telling CPS and giving a testament to get his medical license revoked. In fact, Nassar was first arrested on her charges. In an article by The Washington Post, she delves into the various shattering experiences she had with him, as early as age 6, all of which took place with her parents, her sibling, Nassar’s wife and children in the same house. Yet upon informing her parents, who were friends with Nassar at the time, they believed him over her.
As all cases of harassment, assault or abuse, it is very intricate to approach, tackle and resolve these situations. Many Ivy League universities and the corporations behind them have been reputable for covering up cases of assault, victims are frequently accused of lying (in fact Larry said in a complaint letter to the court, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”…just let that simmer), and family members are reluctant on how to handle situations like these (especially in cases where the abuser is a family member). However, in a paper titled False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases, only between 2 and 10% of all rape accusations are estimated to be false. And it is “exceedingly rare for a false allegation to end in prison time”. This is not to say that these cases are non-existent, however it assuming any allegation to be false leads to people being sorely discouraged from coming out with their experiences and justice to be hindered. And yet we are instructed as children to tell our parents or any adult around us what is happening to us and we are promised support, only to find ourselves in that place, telling anybody we can, and being brushed under the carpet.
Aside from the problematic way we navigate cases of harassment and assault, Nassar claimed that individuals were only coming out to speak against him now that the case was being heavily covered by the media. I personally found that to be disregarding for a very simple and logical reason. Getting a case like this lifted of the ground takes a lot of everything. Stephens herself was disregarded by her family when she initially informed them of what he was doing to her. It is not easy to get the support you need from the people around you, let alone those with enough power to make a change. Once a case is lifted and individuals are taken seriously when reporting their experiences in court, it is empowering to those who may not have felt they had a voice prior to seeing other people claim theirs. The media giving individuals a platform to speak their truth and publicising that information allows for awareness, and promotes conversation around an otherwise disregarded and ‘taboo’ topic.
I understand that oftentimes media coverage is biased but this is not the first time we’ve seen a case go viral or be this heavily covered, and I’m much happier watching these court proceedings than hearing about Trump’s tweets for the nth time. Journalism has been revived and I feel we often make a mockery out of it, when every channel feels like a tabloid, but the whole purpose of it is to relay/inform and it is the viewer or reader’s responsibility to delve deeper in order to understand as much as possible and piece together what we believe to be the truth. We’re taught to always resort to multiple sources when writing papers and doing research, yet many are not inclined to do that when it comes to their awareness of the world and everything occurring around them. We don’t really activate our critical analysis abilities, take what is spoon-fed to us and zone out into something more digestible, forgetting that if we are not informed, we are powerless and we are not having the conversations we need to be having or out there being the change we’d like to see.
What this story did for me today was remind me that if I am not keeping myself informed, not having these delicate and often difficult conversations, not trying to better myself or the world around me, then I am not living to the best of my ability and I am disregarding the power of the voice I possess. Of course, our sole purpose on this earth is not to push ourselves to inhumane limits trying to solve every problem we encounter, because that would be impossible, but if I am not trying at all, I would consider it a failure. I applaud those who take advantage of their voice in ways they feel matter. Matter to themselves, the people around them and maybe even the global community. And I admire these women for going public about something deeply painful for the sake of a greater good because if we are not hearing about these things, we are not put in a position to challenge our beliefs and better ourselves through other people’s experiences.
Thank you for reading and I’d appreciate any insight you might have on anything discussed. I felt this didn’t require a trigger warning, however if you disagree don’t hesitate to inform me.