Monday, March 12, 2018

Powerful Sharing: A Survivor's Story

by Justine Dunlap, U. Mass. Law

It’s yet another reminder of the tempestuous times that we inhabit, but the period during which Larry Nassar’s crimes took over the news cycle seems like a long time ago. I identify with a phrase turned by Jennifer Weiner in the March 3rd New York Times. Like Weiner, I have “fury fatigue” which, on occasion, is replaced by sadness fatigue. It’s understandable--there’s a lot to be both furious and sad about; one’s emotions just get worn out. But emotional numbness isn’t good either and, as fate would have it, the impact of Nassar’s crimes have again recently risen to the fore. Last week saw the resignation of Scott Blackmun, the chief executive of the US Olympics Committee. He resigned for health reasons but his resignation had been sought for some time due to the Nassar offenses and the Committee’s purported failure to respond properly.

As I have blogged earlier, it is hard to know where to begin when assessing the many failures that constitute the Larry Nassar case. The best place to start, though, is probably with those who were abused. Too often the bad actors get the attention, often obsessively so, while those wronged and victimized take a back seat. So, while not naming or focusing individually on the approximately 260 victims, let us acknowledge and revere the courage and persistence that those individuals possess.

Like many abuse survivors, these girls were young and had been abused by someone in authority. Even more, their abuser was their doctor, a person who was to safeguard their health. Consider the layers that they had to break through to report. Initially, perhaps their own disbelief that this was happening; that they experienced the abuse. Next, perhaps the anxiety of telling a teammate, fearful that they would not be believed or would be blamed for ruining the team or bringing down a person purportedly instrumental to both individual and team success. Imagine their having to tell parents and hope that they would be believed and supported. And what about reporting to coaches or other figures who had the power to do something and who, it appears, did not do anything or at least not enough.

Survivors of Nassar’s assault may find a balm for their wounds in a new book by another sexual assault survivor. Chessy Prout was a 15-year-old freshman in 2014 when she was assaulted by a high school senior at their private prep school, St. Paul's in Concord, N.H. Prout has used that horrible experience as a springboard to become an advocate for assault survivors. She speaks of her shame and self-doubt, as well as the social exclusion she experienced—including by her volleyball teammates—after reporting the assault. Recently, she released her book: I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice and Hope,” as a way to support and cheer on other survivors. Perhaps the individual survivors of Nassar’s crimes will find their way to the book or to Prout’s website: It will, one hopes, provide comfort.

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