Monday, September 20, 2021
U.S. gymnasts testified in Congress last week seeking greater accountability for all of the failures in institutions and oversight that allowed Larry Nassar to abuse so many.
Dr. Amanda Potts and I previously analyzed the Victim Impact Statements (VIS) in the Michigan criminal case to consider these larger issues of accountability. Our article, The Language of Harm: What the Nassar Victim Impact Statements Reveal About Abuse and Accountability came out last year in the Pittsburgh Law Review. Last week's testimony resurrects the relevance of the conclusions of this linguistic analysis.
This Article uses corpus-based discourse analysis to examine this impactful collection of VIS for their larger lessons in law, policy, and society. This analysis reveals several takeaways for further analysis and examination. It reveals the challenges that rape, sexual assault, and abuse survivors face in naming the crime and describing the harms. These challenges are particularly fraught and complex when powerful systems and institutions allow abusers to flourish, resulting in systemic and interconnected betrayals and failures. The VIS call for better platforms for survivors to heal, to speak, and to voice their harms beyond these episodic and rare moments offered by the #MeToo Movement, or, as in the Nassar case, made available due to the specific facts and judicial management of a case. The VIS reveal that, while Nassar has been held accountable, the larger limits of language, law, and accountability ensure that future cases will surface, absent better preventative policies. These VIS broadly call for powerful law and policy reformation that will hold perpetrators and their enablers accountable and meet the full range of victims’ needs outside of the criminal justice system.