What is a little girl worth?
That is the question Olympic champion Simone Biles, along with three other female gymnasts, asked at a Senate Judiciary hearing last week. The purpose of the hearing was to allow U.S. senators to hear these elite athletes tell their stories of repeated molestation by one Dr. Larry Nassar.
It was amazing. The well-dressed young women were confident, poised and respectful to the committee. They were unafraid to share details of Dr. Nassar’s monstrous sexual abuses as well as their justifiable criticisms of slow action or no action from the FBI, the Olympic Committee and Michigan State University (Nassar’s collegiate affiliation).
It was interesting to me that they referred to people who run these organizations simply as “adults.” After all, Nassar’s abuses and reports of the abuse date all the way back to the ‘90s. His victims typically were young girls aged 13, 14 or so.
I thought, too, about the psycho-social aspects of his crimes. These girls worked extremely hard practically all their young lives to become gold medal winners representing the United States in the Olympics. And when I say worked, they worked.
From the time they were toddlers, they spent endless hours of rigorous practice, made the necessary dietary choices and did other exercises in pursuit of their dream of becoming Olympic champions. They also had to perform well in school. Rarely, they spent leisure time with friends. Given all of that, the odds for an individual to become an Olympic or NCAA champion are probably about 1%.
In other words, training and expert competitive performance consumed their lives. Now, imagine these little girls going to see an esteemed Olympics doctor for a routine checkup or some other reason, such as an injury. That doctor (in this case, Nassar) has immense power over them. In a quick, routine exam, he has legal access to their entire bodies.
In fact, in other accounts of his behavior, it was reported that some young girls didn’t even know they were being molested. And they certainly didn’t want a bad report from him. It could hurt their dreams. And so, they were hyper-vulnerable from the moment they set foot in his office.
It is unknown how many girls were molested by this man (hundreds?). The legal and sports organizations responsible for their health, safety and protection knew of his monstrous conduct long before they took action. As a result of court decisions against him from different little girls, he eventually lost his position at Michigan State. He is now in prison on federal and state convictions amounting to nearly 200 years — life without parole.
I watched the hearing carefully. The now 20-something women testified with determination and intelligence. Although the tendency of subsequent media reports, and senators convened to hear their accounts, was to focus on salacious details of their abuse, the polite young women were steadfast in a higher purpose.
That higher purpose was to expose the fact that the system, and the people who manage the system, corruptly protected Nassar. These young women never lost sight of that. Their ultimate goal was to unveil this corruption so that no Olympic hopeful would ever be abused again.
Second, I think by referring to those who manage that system as “adults,” I believe the young women were indicting all adults who are slow to respond when there is clear reason to believe that a child — any child — is being sexually or otherwise abused. What is a little girl worth?
I’ve heard somewhere that the quality of a civilized society can be judged by how it treats its elderly, its young and its prisoners. How can we let bad things happen to our most vulnerable when we have the power to stop it? After all, as adults, children are entrusted to our care, are they not?
It will be interesting to see how the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Congress as a whole, respond to a tragedy of, to coin a phrase, Olympic proportions. Hopefully they will do better than they have with regard to school shootings. Although the circumstances are vastly different, the common denominator is the same — gross neglect.
As to the young women, Nassar took their innocence from them, and turned their fondest dreams into what may be a lifelong nightmare. Shame on him. And shame on all adults who see children being harmed and look the other way.
Have a nice day.