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Just One

Jul 30, 2018

2018_07 Blog.jpgOn the evening of July 18, 141 amazingly strong women took the stage to accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2018 ESPY Awards ceremony. Without a doubt, these women epitomize the essence of courage. These women, all survivors of gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, stood in solidarity and in representation of the other 124 victims who have come forward and no doubt countless others who have not.

So much truth is spoken in the speeches of the three women who accepted the award on behalf of all of their sister survivors present on the stage. As I tearfully watched this strong, beautiful, and inspirational presentation, this one sentence spoken by US Champion Gymnast Aly Raisman, has stayed with me:

“All we needed was one adult to have the integrity to stand between us and Larry Nassar.

If just one adult had listened, believed, and acted, the people standing before you on this stage would never have met him.”

For over 20 years, officials at Michigan State (the school where hopeful young gymnasts practiced) turned a blind eye to the reports of Larry Nassar’s abuse. It’s painful to think of the lives that have been needlessly and profoundly altered because reports of abuse were ignored, minimized, and swept aside to protect the reputation of a skilled and unrelenting predator.   

Again, in the words of Ms. Raisman, "perhaps the greatest tragedy of this nightmare is that It could have been avoided."

The Nassar scandal is the biggest case of sexual abuse in the history of American sports to date. Restated in context, the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of American sports could have been avoided if just one adult would have taken their responsibility to protect children seriously.

Just one adult. Could it really be that simple? In my 20 years of hearing survivors’ stories of abuse, my answer to that question is, YES!

The adult who is capable of interrupting the patterns of child sexual abuse is one who understands that an abuser doesn’t look like an abuser because abusers look like the team doctor, the swimming coach, or the neighbor down the street. This adult also understands and recognizes the insidious and persistent process of grooming both the child and their parent into compliance. And perhaps of most importance, this adult trusts his or her instincts, pays attention, asks the questions, and takes action to follow up on any suspicion of abuse regardless of the discomfort it may cause.

It is that adult who is the one adult who could have saved hundreds of girls from the life-long nightmare of dealing with sexual abuse. It is that adult who speaks up with integrity and courage to protect a child. If there is a spark of light in this tragic story, perhaps it is the wake-up call that reminds us that each of us can be that adult.

- Janice Palm, MA, LMHC, Executive Director