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Point of View: Silence is not an answer

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Case brings light to decades of awareness, but no action.

I have played a sport for as long as I can remember, and I have loved every minute of it. The skills I’ve struggled to master, friends I’ve forged relationships with, and coaches I’ve learned from and admire have positively shaped me.

When I heard that more than 160 young female athletes were sexually abused for decades under the guise of athletic medical treatment by Larry Nassar, former doctor for the USA Gymnastics team and Michigan State University, I was devastated.

While it may seem that the current slew of accusations against their former doctor are victims’ first attempts at charging Nassar, young women have been vocal about his mistreatment since as early as 1997.

But no one listened — until now.

Larissa Boyce, one of the first gymnasts at MSU to report the abuse, claims when she told Kathie Klages, former head gymnastics coach at MSU, of Nassar’s actions in 1997, Klages did not believe her and dissuaded her from filing an official complaint.

Klages resigned in February of 2017 after she was suspended for overlooking athlete’s reports of abuse by Nassar, according to Huffington Post. Her resignation came 20 years after when she allegedly became aware of the abuse.

Tiffany Thomas-Lopez, a former MSU softball player and victim of Nassar’s abuse, claims other MSU employees were also aware and simply reminded her of Nassar’s expertise, telling Thomas-Lopez that she experienced a normal treatment.

Accusations of systematic negligence on the part of coaches and officials does not extend only to MSU staff. USA Gymnastics received reports of Nassar’s transgressions in 2015 but waited five weeks before contacting the FBI.

Olympic gold-medalist McKayla Maroney claims in a lawsuit filed in December that USA Gymnastics forced her to stay quiet and to sign a confidentiality agreement about her traumatic experience with Nassar, with a $100,000 fine if she broke the contract.

The chairman, vice chairman and treasurer of the USA Gymnastics board resigned during the pre-sentencing testimonies of Nassar’s accusers. Soon after, the United States Olympic Committee demanded the resignation of the remaining 20 board members, threatening the decertification of USA Gymnastics if they did not resign.

While recognition of the board’s negligence is a step in the right direction, it comes way to late.

Nassar’s abuse is utterly heart-wrenching, but the most devastating aspect of the case is that the same adults who are supposed to support and care for these young women knew of the abuse for decades and went so far as to force girls into silence.

It’s unconscionable that it took more than 20 years after the reported first offense for Larry Nassar to be brought to justice. On the heels of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, maybe the voices of young women are finally valued enough to be heard.

Telling young women they misunderstood, that he is good at his job, and what they remember simply didn’t happen should never be acceptable responses to sexual abuse and assault.

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Point of View: Silence is not an answer