Although sexual abuse can and does occur among individual perpetrators and single victims, it is particularly horrendous when it becomes an institutionalized practice. One predator can abuse dozens or even hundreds of victims because others in the organization choose to look the other way and/or cover it up.
One of the best-known examples of this in recent years is the case of former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar. In late 2017 and early 2018, Nassar was convicted of and given a lengthy prison sentence for sexually abusing hundreds of girls and young women under the guise of medical care. The legal aftermath of his crimes continues to play out to this day.
Earlier this month, a former head gymnastics coach at Michigan State University was sentenced to serve 90 days in jail and 18 months of probation for her complicity in the Nassar scandal. She was found guilty of lying to police about her knowledge of Nassar’s abuse.
She reportedly claimed she didn’t know about the accusations until 2016, but two victims testified that they had told her about the abuse in 1997. One of the victims, who was 16 at the time, said that the coach told her that she (the athlete) could face serious consequences if a report was filed.
To be sure, many other people were complicit in Nassar’s crimes by choosing to keep silent about what they knew or failing to investigate what they strongly suspected. Imagine if just one of them had had the courage to speak up in the late 1990s when victims were starting to come forward. Hundreds of others could have been spared.
Although it seems overly lenient to some, this ex-coach’s sentence serves as recognition that when a sex abuse scandal like this is discovered, the blame cannot be placed on one person alone. We must recognize and address the systemic failures and complicity of anyone else who could have and should have intervened.
Along with criminal convictions, civil sex abuse lawsuits are also warranted. In 2018, Michigan State University agreed to settle a civil lawsuit related to the case for $500 million, but numerous other civil suits persist. We must hope that the money will be enough to at least cover the treatment costs of the extensive psychological, emotional and physical injuries the victims suffered.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual abuse by an individual acting alone or working for an institution – please don’t suffer in silence. Discuss your legal options in a free, confidential consultation with a compassionate attorney who can help you pursue all available remedies.