Over the last week, I’ve loosely followed the Nassar case. While I couldn’t stomach listening to the testimony of his victims, clearly several institutions and people in positions of power (I would not call them leaders by any stretch of the imagination) failed dozens of women and girls. Sadly, that includes Michigan State University. The resignation of MSU’s president and athletic director is a start, but it certainly isn’t enough. Hopefully MSU will have a largely new board of trustees after November.
What angers me more than anything is the attitude of disbelief that seems to surround allegations of sexual assault victims (up to and including rape), particularly when there is an imbalance of power between victim and alleged perpetrator. This seems to get to the heart of the issue in the Nassar case. At one time he was a respected physician, how could these allegations possibly be true?
If anyone thinks that this is an issue confined to MSU, USA gymnastics, or college sports in general, think again. As far as I am concerned, what happened at MSU could have happened on any college campus on any given day. That is where the real change needs to happen. Unfortunately, we live in a society that continues to look the other way when it comes to sexual assault, sends severely mixed messages to young men and women about sex, and all too often blames the victim. That is where the #MeToo movement comes in. I do hope it encourages victims of sexual assault to come forward.
If anything positive comes out of the #MeToo movement, it will be an increased awareness that sexual assault is more common than most people would like to believe. There is a widely quoted statistic that one out of four college women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime (you can find more information at oneinfourusa.org). A couple of years ago, a male professor at Saginaw Valley State University asked our class – a class of future secondary social studies teachers – if we felt that the statistic was accurate. Every single woman raised her hand. The reason our professor asked is because he didn’t believe the statistics and felt that they had to be greatly exaggerated. He didn’t say a word after almost every single person in the classroom raised his or her hand.
Sexual assault is a major issue that needs to be addressed in our society. Nothing will change until those who covered it up and enabled the abuse are punished as well. If nothing else, maybe MSU can be held up as an example on how not to handle sexual assault allegations. I would have thought the same thing after what happened at Penn State though. What will it take for our society to change? There have been too many men and women whose lives have been ruined already.
There is so much more I could say here. I’ve struggled all week with how to approach this topic. I do hope that all Nassar’s victims eventually find healing. Thank you to all of those who testified against him. As a proud MSU alum, it has been difficult to watch those in a position of leadership at my beloved alma mater be so thoroughly tone deaf. That must change. Now.