In a case that brought sexual assault to the forefront of people’s minds across the world, former team doctor for the USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison this past January after 157 women and girls voiced their experiences at his trial. Heartbreaking details of the abuse have been shared by these women who were under his medical care, with many sharing how the abuse altered the course of their lives. While there are numerous revelations one can take away from the Larry Nassar case, here are five key lessons to understand:
Anyone can be a sexual abuser – Nassar was a trusted doctor, viewed as someone who “helps” others, and certainly not what many imagine a sexual abuser to be. But the reality is anyone can be a sexual abuser – it can be a parent, a sibling, a teacher, a neighbor, a best friend, and the list goes on. During the court trial, Nassar was described as a kind doctor who didn’t charge patients in many cases and didn’t mind traveling long distances to treat them. His charming public persona fooled many for years. In a recent behind-the-scenes 60 Minutes video, in which Olympian Aly Raisman and her family were interviewed, her mother shared that she had never really been educated on sexual abuse and therefore didn’t educate her daughter or warn her that sexual abuse could happen “from someone she trusted.”
Believe your child when they report abuse – One key element pointed out by the chief prosecutor in the Nassar case was the fact that children began making claims against the physician years ago and were ignored by adults. Because of his public image, intellect and persona of someone who helps people, it was assumed the children were making up stories or exaggerating. If the adults had been properly educated on sexual abuse and the fact that in 93 percent of sexual abuse cases, the victim knows the perpetrator (59 percent as acquaintances and 34 percent being a family member), perhaps these claims would not have been ignored. If your child has reported abuse, here are some immediate steps to take courtesy of StopItNow.org.
Understand the grooming process of abusers – One hallmark feature of sexual abusers is their grooming process. In Nassar’s case, victims and parents shared how he became an active part of their lives spending time with them in social settings and even visiting some of their homes. For abusers, the grooming process typically follows this pattern: identify and target the victim; gain trust; play a role in the person’s life (in Nassar’s case he was the trusted doctor); isolate the child (some interviews of the victims point out that Nassar was continually alone with them even though someone else was supposed to be in the room); create secrecy around the relationship; and initiate sexual contact.
Don’t delay when reporting abuse – Another crucial element highlighted by the Nassar case was the delay of some of the victims speaking out, and the delay of adults taking action or even following up on many of the claims. Speaking with children when they are young about sexual abuse and keeping that open line of communication can improve the likelihood of your child coming to you if someone acts inappropriately with them. If this happens, it is imperative that the child is taken seriously and action is taken.
Seek help – In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for families to try to keep sexual abuse experiences secret or deal with them privately without reaching out to others for help. These tactics can actually further isolate the victim, in addition to negatively affecting every member of the family.
At Trees Of Hope, we offer multiple resources that support both men and women of all ages who have been abused, in addition to their family members.
Learn more about our Healing Groups that are survivor-led and gender specific. You can also find out more about sexual abuse and how to take steps to prevent it from happening to your child through our Sexual Abuse Prevention events and workshops. Start right now by learning more about this crucial topic in our SAP Prevention Magazine, available through digital download here.
At Trees of Hope, we believe hope begins with healing. With over 2,600 people educated on prevention, and another 1,400 having gone through one of our Healing Groups, we are here to help you and/or your child in any way possible. Reach out to someone at TreesOfHope.org today.