"I hope I can look him in the eye,I don't want him to feel like he has any more power over me, so I'm going to stay as strong as possible." Jeanette Antolin, gymnast.
Ms. Antolin was speaking to the press in advance of her participation in the sentencing hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar, the doctor for “women” gymnasts who molested dozens or hundreds of gymnasts under the guise of “treating” them for injuries, strains and stress incurred in their gymnastic training. Dr. Nassar’s case, and the reactions and feelings of his victims, and his enablers, and the press, and the corporate sponsors who profit from children’s gymnastics reveal how extensive the problems of sexual misconduct are, and how little society really cares.
We call the “sport” in which Ms. Antolin was abused “women’s gymnastics”. It is not, it is children’s gymnastics. Using the word “women’s” helps us conceal and thus continue the real nature of the abuse. Dr. Nassar sexually abused girl children as young as 6 years old – not women, not old enough to consent, either legally or personally – often not even old enough to understand.
It doesn’t matter what Nassar may feel, when it is so painfully obvious that even two decades after the abuse, his victims still feel his power over them.
We may fairly inquire about what pre-gymnastics conditioning these children had. What dreams of television exposure and Wheaties box picture royalties led parents to teach young children to be disciplined, obedient, and to accept what instructions they were given by men and women like Dr. Nassar. “They know what’s best for you. We want what’s best for you. We would never do anything that would hurt you. Think about what a grand future you will have, if you only submit to discomfort now.”
Dr. Nassar got caught, and will spend the rest of his life in jail. Just as Jerry Sandusky got caught and will spend the rest of his life in jail. But what of the little girls Nassar abused? More than 100 signed up to testify at his sentencing hearing, many now adults. All speaking about how his abuse confines them, even decades later, in mental prisons of shame, self-doubt, and humiliation.
The prison system into which Nassar and Sandusky are consigned provides them with health care, housing, regular meals and even psychological counseling. The system into which their victims are consigned provides victim shaming, constant public judging, and abandonment when they no longer hit the scores needed to remain popular.
To keep them performing well, and generating TV and other profits, they will be provided with coaches and doctors who both treat their physical ailments and inflict long term psychological injuries. When was the last time you saw a news story about the skilled, successful psychological counseling offered to star athletes? Let alone to those who never achieve public acclaim?
Reread what Ms. Antolin said: "I hope I can look him in the eye,""I don't want him to feel like he has any more power over me, so I'm going to stay as strong as possible."
It doesn’t matter what Nassar may feel, when it is so painfully obvious that even two decades after the abuse, his victims still feel his power over them. “I hope I can…” is victim self-shaming. It is a victim doubting their own ability – after years of being taught, “You can make that jump. You can twist your body into these unnatural postures. You can stick that landing.” They are taught that they can do all the physical things that parents, coaches, schools and advertisers want them to do. With “I hope I can look him in the eye” it is so painfully obvious that with all the grand physical training, the development of muscles to let their bodies do impossible seeming things on the TV screen, these girls were never given the mental training, nor the psychological support to believe that they had the right to say “stop, I don’t want this.”
It is the result of being taught for all their lives that they must give blind obedience to adults who ‘know better’ what is best. But best for whom? Certainly for the commercial enterprises that deliver eyeballs to the TV. As we recently learned, best for the managers of “beauty pageants” who collect fabulous salaries for finding the next beautiful woman, and then discard them as trash, as soon as their ability to generate profits trails off.
How many high school boys must develop CTE severe enough to qualify them as Texas voters, just so NFL teams can find the 0.01% who can excite TV viewers every week? If both result in lifelong injury, is the sexual violence inflicted on little girls qualitatively different from than the brain trauma inflicted on little boys?
Nassar did to little girls what Jerry Sandusky did to little boys. Both are in prison. But the people who paid them, the people who profited from them, the parents who hoped their children would be profitable, are not in jail. They are not punished. Indeed, they receive our sympathy. Team profits are off. Your girl didn’t get the Wheaties box photo. You will have to invest in finding the next Jon Benet or Elizabeth Short.
Professional athletes have unions to protect them. But little girl gymnasts, and little boys dreaming of being Tom Brady don’t. They have parents who want TV fame and payments for endorsement deals. They have political ‘representatives’ who garner votes by talking tough on crime and vote against providing mental health care for either the perpetrators or their victims. And they have coaches who dream of being “the one who discovered” the next future big star (in between dreams of sexual adventures with pre-pubescent children).
And the free marketeers tell us that there is too much regulation – too many government agencies intruding on the decision-making of coaches, and child exploiting business corporations. Even too much regulation of medical practice. If all the evil regulations had not been there, the “free market” would have weeded out Dr. Larry Nassar years ago.
So what do we do now? Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky did horrible things, that our society defines as crimes against children. They are being punished as our society punishes all crimes that excite us emotionally. But the fact of their convictions reminds us that just punishing those tiny few who are caught does little or nothing to protect prospective victims, or to provide such victims with care.
Child sexual abuse is mental illness. It is our societal pattern to criminalize mental illness. We criminalize those with PTSD. Official Pentagon policy is to discharge those diagnosed with PTSD, specifically to avoid allowing them to get V.A. treatment.
When some child athlete, suffering the effects of sexual abuse by a coach or team official, commits some violent crime as a result of her (or his) sexual abuse, will we prosecute the victim, and throw them into prison, rather than treating their victimization?
When Ms. Antolin says, "I hope I can look him in the eye, I don't want him to feel like he has any more power over me, so I'm going to stay as strong as possible" she is acknowledging that her future is uncertain. She is confirming for us that the future for every abused child is uncertain. And that confirms that the future remains uncertain for our society, as long as we don’t implement real, serious steps to prevent child abuse, and to treat it when it happens.
Glory be to the women of the #MeToo movement, who have found the strength to speak out about abusive workplaces and social settings. Glory be to the 100+ girls who have spoken out about Dr. Nassar. Let’s feel both understanding and pity for the victims of other coaches and doctors, who do not yet feel that strength – that RIGHT.
Now let us take them seriously, and do something more substantive than moving on to the next exciting issue designed to keep our eyeballs riveted to our screens, where advertisers can harvest them.