Larry Nassar is not the first sexual predator to misuse a position of authority to gain not only access to children, but also years of immunity from complaints, relying upon his status to shield him from his accusers. This institutional enabling and protection of pedophiles is a well-established pattern, and has been found everywhere, from the highest-control destructive cults, to otherwise benign and beneficial social groups. How can an organization hope to protect its children from sexual abuse when its culture seems to be geared to protecting the abuser rather than the child?
The key is a change of culture in the institution itself, according to a recent report by Deborah J. Daniels, J.D., a former federal prosecutor and longtime advocate for children. In 2016, USA Gymnastics asked Daniels to conduct an independent investigation into their policies and procedures, to see what must be done to protect their athletes from predators in their midst – and how the organization can made accountable for its responses to accusations of abuse in the future.
In partnership with Praesidium, a team of experts dedicated to helping organizations prevent sexual abuse through better knowledge and training, Daniels has released her report, stating emphatically that: “the entire culture of the competitive gymnastics environment must be focused on protection of athletes from harm, including not only physical harm but also emotional and sexual abuse.” However, she also noted that: “Everything about this environment, while understandable in the context of a highly competitive Olympic sport, tends to suppress reporting of inappropriate activity.”
This environment of suppression, combined with the accounts of Olympic gymnasts who relate how they were taught to regard their bodies as not their own, shows that USA Gymnastics has a long path to tread – and they are not the only organization which has to do so. Churches, schools, businesses and clubs of all sorts are realizing that they must start protecting their children, and stop shielding predators, no matter what level of respect they have gained in their community. We at Open Minds salute the work of such organizations as Praesidium, and hope that USAG will be successful in the implementation of Daniels’ recommendations, and that, some day, pedophiles like Larry Nassar will have no place to hide.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about changing a culture to prevent abuse that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!