February 9, 2018
#MeToo, originally coined by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, has become a rallying call to discuss and prevent sexual assault in many fields, including athletics. Recently in the news were the trials of Larry Nassar, a doctor who worked for U.S.A. Gymnastics and Michigan State University for decades. Nassar pled guilty to federal charges of child pornography and state charges of criminal sexual conduct. In one of the trials regarding his extensive sexual abuse of female gymnasts, some of whom went on to the Olympics, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina gave the floor to over 150 victims to speak about their assault by Nassar.
This wasn’t the first time someone spoke up publicly against Nassar. The story first broke in 2016, when Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who is now a lawyer and coach, told The Indianapolis Star that Nassar had molested her. When Denhollander initially filed a police complaint, she was concerned she wouldn’t be listened to—and rightly so, as both she and other gymnasts who had spoken up about the issue previously were not believed or listened to.
It’s not new that people doubt sexual assault accusations. In this case, some of the doubt came from the fact that parents were sometimes present during Nassar’s exams, and given his esteemed reputation as one of the best gymnastic doctors, Nassar was trusted. He made his young patients think he was on their side, and families thought they were lucky to get to see him. One woman recalls that when she tried to discuss her assault, she was told it was a medical procedure and not abuse. The fact that victims are so often questioned or not believed is a main reason why they may not come forward.
What should we take from this story? First, as Judge Aquilina did, we should acknowledge the tremendous courage it takes to come forward after enduring sexual assault. We should listen when people come forward rather than being dismissive of them. Further, one of the great things about the #MeToo movement is that it has showcased the power of people when they come together. One can only hope that survivors of sexual assault will feel less alone and like people will believe them if they come forward.
Are you or someone you know experiencing sexual abuse? Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673).