In a week of repugnant news stories, the harrowing tale of Larry Nassar's sexual abuse of multiple girls is perhaps the worst. The fact that Nassar cloaked his depredations in the guise of medical treatment is a horrific betrayal of a medical doctor's duties, generally held to be sacred. He betrayed the trust of his victims, and their parents, some of whom were convinced that their daughters were mistaken concerning Nassar's conduct. Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics failed to protect their charges against Nassar, eerily echoing Penn State's failure to protect children from a sexual predator... Nassar was able to abuse scores of girls over the course of decades, leading some victims to commit suicide or to seek solace in drugs.
I've long held a repugnance for high level competitive gymnastics, as detailed in Little Girls in Pretty Boxes... I look at Kerri Strug's perfect landing with an injured ankle as a more of a horror story than a triumph:
Don't get me wrong, that was a display of guts, but it points to a disregard for the well-being of girls, an attitude conducive to a predatory culture. Nassar had a one-man reign of terror, but it's hard to see any good guys involved in the sport.
Part of the reason which I find this especially repugnant is my volunteering as a coach for a children's athletic program. After the Penn State scandal became public, all of the adults involved in the program had to undergo background checks. I'm a judo player, and our sport had a sexual abuse scandal- Kayla Harrison, the most accomplished American judoka ever, was abused by a coach and fought depression and suicidal ideation. She is now a tireless crusader against child abuse.
Besides screening adults who are involved in children's activities and making sure that there is no unsupervised contact between kids and adults, it is crucial to believe children when they reveal that they have been abused (I was enraged by the tale of the woman whose parents didn't believe her tale of Nassar's abuse), and it is crucial to instill in them a healthy skepticism of authority figures. For all the characterization of 'stranger danger' being the major threat to children, the tragic fact is that abuse is usually perpetrated by trusted adults- clergy, coaches, teachers... it's often the stranger who notices that something is wrong and puts an end to the abuse.