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USA Gymnastics and FBI’s Larry Nassar failures raise painful question


When famous Olympic gymnast Simone Biles told the US Senate on Wednesday about the sexual abuse she had suffered for years at the hands of former US gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, she stressed that the problem went beyond a simple predator. Biles blamed an “entire system” that helped Nassar out, including adults accused of protecting her. This system, according to his testimony and that of his fellow Olympic champions and survivors, covered the world of sport, educational establishments and law enforcement.

If we’re honest, however, this encompasses the whole of society – reflecting a long-standing willful blindness to the harm inflicted on children by adults.

If we’re honest, however, this encompasses the whole of society – reflecting a long-standing willful blindness to the harm inflicted on children by adults.

“We have failed and we deserve answers,” Biles said. One way to honor her statement is to ask the right questions.

Why is it so hard to face the truth about child sexual abuse? Why are predators regularly protected when children’s accusations are dismissed? Until we are able to face the denial, fear, and discrimination that work together to allow abuse to flourish in America, there will always be more Nassars.

Philosopher and psychoanalyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, critic of the injustices suffered by children in American society, argues that prejudices against them, which she called “childism”, are a problem comparable to racism, sexism and to homophobia. In her view, such prejudices are rooted in a widespread expectation that children should meet the needs of the adults who care for them – a view that can all too easily translate into exploitation.

Young-Bruehl explains that it was not possible to protect children from abuse without first examining the conflicting attitudes of adults towards children and understanding the motivations of those who care for children. The psychoanalyst argues that not enough attention is paid to how children perceive abuse and how critical adult attitudes are to these perceptions.

Many of Young-Bruehl’s concerns are reflected in the terrible experiences of American gymnasts being abused by Nassar. Time and time again, world class but still very young athletes have been told that their view of Nassar’s actions is wrong. He was the respected adult. They were the children and had to accept the adult point of view.

The testimony of the gymnasts painted a disturbing picture of officials more focused on how their own reputation has been tarnished by these award-winning athletes than on the protection and education of the growing human beings in their charge. Girls’ perceptions were continually viewed as inferior to those of adults – and their right to have crimes against them investigated was systematically violated.

Girls’ perceptions were continually viewed as inferior to those of adults – and their right to have crimes against them investigated was systematically violated.

These prejudices apparently extended to the attitude of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, resulting in sexual abuse compounded by the emotional cruelty, humiliation and neglect inflicted by the adults the gymnasts turned to for protection.

Gymnast McKayla Maroney said FBI agents not only dismissed and played down her complaints, but even falsified them. Another athlete, Aly Raisman, described similar treatment: “The officer downplayed my abuse,” she told the Senate panel, “and made me feel that my criminal case was not worth it. not worth pursuing. Meanwhile, the famous and respected male doctor has been allowed to continue his predation on around 70 other child victims.

Such a blatant dereliction of duty raises the question of whether sexism has added to a toxic cauldron of prejudice that has failed to stop the assault and harassment.

USA Gymnastics and FBI’s Larry Nassar failures raise painful question

When it comes to child abuse, fear is the No.1 enemy. Because child sexual predation is such a frightening subject, explains psychologist Nina Burrowes, we find it hard to think clearly about it. To allay our fear, we focus on the “dangerous stranger” – the criminal lurking in the back alleys, the creepy guy who walks around the playground. We might even conjure up demons, like the illusory worshiping pedophiles of Satan that caught the popular imagination in the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s and still preoccupies QAnon conspiracy theorists today.

Focusing on this type of offender gives us a sense of control – we believe there is something we can do. If we watch carefully enough and ask the children not to talk to strangers, we imagine that we solve the problem.

In fact, we can do the opposite.

Burrowes warns that focusing on the criminal-stranger creates a smokescreen that blinds us to the ways in which abuse typically occurs.

Burrowes warns that focusing on the criminal-stranger creates a smokescreen that blinds us to the ways in which abuse typically occurs. Clever predators who wish to get away with their crimes, she notes, typically do not attack children in public places with potential witnesses. Instead, they choose someone they know and have easy access to, preferably someone who trusts them.

This stealthy attacker avoids overtly alarming behaviors, instead relying on subtle manipulation and confusion of victims so that they do not report crimes. Burrowes points out that many abusers don’t view what they do as abuse – rationalizing their actions to protect their self-image. If such a person jumped from the bushes to tear off a child, he could hardly hold a good opinion of himself. Better to push the boundaries of existing relationships, using tactics like grooming, or drugs and alcohol to lower their own and their victim’s inhibitions.

Nassar is exactly the kind of abuser Burrowes wants us to think about clearly: a normal-looking, well-respected person with easy access to children, someone used to cultivating their confidence and adept at rationalizing and normalizing his behavior. odious.

What Nassar accomplished was actually far scarier than the fantasy of members of a satanic cult performing bizarre rituals. For decades, he tortured and traumatized hundreds of children under the noses of adults in positions of authority. As gymnast Raisman testified: “It was like serving innocent children to a pedophile on a silver platter.

Thick webs of denial about child sexual abuse help make this possible. In the United States, the subject of child abuse, including beatings and beatings, sexual assault and mental cruelty inflicted by adults, has not even gained ground as a subject of serious academic study. before the 1970s. Over the next decade, the pervasiveness of child abuse and the strong societal tendency to deny it gained attention when the work of Polish-Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller became available in English. Miller warned that when children are forced to suppress their experiences of abuse, they grow up not only in intense pain, but in danger of repeating unhealthy patterns. Denial becomes the key mechanism for perpetuating evil.

Nassar is in prison, but the fact remains that the sexual abuse of the most vulnerable Americans is more frequent than one would like to admit. Research indicates that one in five women in North America was sexually assaulted as a child.

The astonishing testimony of American gymnasts explodes our complacency and our distorted thinking, alerting us to the urgent need to overcome the fear and denial of our culture. Young women challenge us to recognize children’s rights and see child sexual abuse for what it is: a deep, societal problem that cannot be dismissed.

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