FOWLER: Nassar case, related issues can help open everyone's eyes
Opinions Column: Sex and the City
In October of last year, women started to come forward in solidarity to discuss the pervasive sexual assault issue in Hollywood — at first, in the form of telling their stories about Harvey Weinstein. The #MeToo movement to discuss and prevent sexual assault has continued since, not only with regard to entertainment but also perhaps most recently with regard to athletics. Recently in the news was the trial of Larry Nassar, a doctor who worked for U.S.A. Gymnastics and Michigan State University. Nassar was charged three separate times, one federal charge for child pornography and two state charges for sexual abuse. In his trail regarding the sexual abuse of female gymnasts, some of whom went to the Olympics, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina gave the floor to more than 150 victims to speak about their assault by Nassar.
In popular videos, victims recount the horrifying ways Nassar abused them, using his power, appearing as a friend, appearing as a doctor who truly cared for his patients, who would do no harm to them. Victims spoke about how their parents would have to live with knowing that they were in the room while their child was assaulted.
This was not 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 that she would not be listened to — and rightfully so, as gymnasts who had spoken up about the issue previously were not believed or listened to. Denhollander, in a New York Times article, talks about the extensive evidence she had so that people would give credence to her experience with Nassar.
It is not new that people doubt assault accusations. In this case, doubt came from the fact that parents were sometimes present during exams or from Nassar’s esteemed reputation as one of the best gymnastic doctors. 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 the 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 large reason victims may not come forward.
As the #MeToo movement has gone on, people have criticized it, saying that the media and professional athletes should not be taking a stance against the issue — that they are not in the public eye to make social statements, rather they are in the public eye to entertain. It feels like this inherently denies the humanity of people who are in the public eye, as many people who have spoken up have shared personal stories. Even further, shutting down people for speaking up regardless of what position they are in, whether they are public figures, whether they are male or female or young or old, first off does not give credence to the courage it takes to stand up. And even further, shutting down victims harms victims everywhere — and that is how crowds like those who were assaulted by Nassar emerge.
What should we take from this story? First, as the judge in the case did, we should acknowledge the tremendous courage it takes to come forward after enduring sexual assault. We should listen to victims who have a story rather than being dismissive of them or meeting them with initial doubt. We should allow all people to come forward regarding things that have happened to them, regardless of their career or if it will harm someone in power. Further, one of the great things about the #MeToo movement is that it has showcased the power of people when they come together. From the original women who spoke out regarding issues in Hollywood and now to the case of Nassar, one can only hope that victims take heart in the fact that there are others who have gone through sexual assault, and that there are people who will listen. For those of us who are not victims, perhaps we can see the struggle and pain of both assault and of speaking up.
Ashley Fowler is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in English. Her column, “Sex and the City,” runs on alternate Thursdays.
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