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Opinion

How many women have to be abused before we believe them the first time?

Lauren A. Simenson

February 7, 2018

“No one believed, because no one listened,” said Rachael Denhollander in a press conference posted on Reuters.com. In 2016, Denhollander was the first woman to publicly accuse sports doctor Larry Nassar for sexually abusing her. Denhollander is now one of more than 265 women who have accused Nassar of sexual abuse. Abuse that went on for decades by a renowned doctor who was entrusted to treat these women and girls.

Denhollander, in this same press conference, remarked that Nassar was not the only person to blame. She said that others knew but turned a blind eye, and that they did nothing to investigate accusations or pay attention to obvious red flags. This allowed Nassar to continue abusing female athletes under the guise of medical treatments.

The women who make up the victims of Nassar’s attacks are part of the biggest sexual abuse case in sports history. The total is now 265 women, and only now are we hearing their stories and getting them justice.

It is their accounts of the abuse they suffered, of being shamed and blamed, of being silenced for attempting to come forward and the long wait they had to endure before justice was finally enacted that now haunts me.

Denhollander was right when she said Nassar is not the only one to blame for this colossal case of abuse. The University of Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and current culture are also to blame. How else could 265 women have been abused for decades without someone, anyone, doing something about it? The hashtags #WhyWomenDontReport and #MeToo help shed light on why women in general do not come forward with accounts of their assaults, with how prolific the problems of rape culture and victim blaming are and the scale of problems with sexual abuse and harassment.

In a piece published on NYTimes.com on Jan. 26, 2018, Rachel Denhollander published an op-ed piece titled, “The Price I Paid for Taking on Larry Nassar.” In her op-ed, Denhollander talks about how she had assembled evidence of the abuse she suffered by gathering medical journals detailing the proper technique Nassar should have used, experts on the “procedure” Nassar performed on her, a character letter of herself written by a district attorney, etc. All of this was meant to prove her case because she rightfully feared she would not be believed. If this does not speak loudly as to just how bad the problem of not listening to or believing women’s accounts of sexual abuse is, then I do not know what else would.

According to Denhollander’s account, she was the first to step forward and was soon followed by hundreds of women and girls with their own accounts of abuse. Even more notable, Denhollander writes how, “at least 14 coaches, trainers, psychologists or colleagues had been warned of his abuse.” The first accusations of Nassar’s abuse was reported 21 years ago in 1997 at Michigan State University by two teen gymnasts to their head coach. Nassar has just now been held accountable and sentenced for his abuse and for possessing child pornography.

The goal of the #MeToo movement is to show the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment, assault and violence that women face in our society. The Larry Nassar case exposes the magnitude of sexual assault and violence brought on by a sole individual.

How many more women have to suffer abuse before we believe them the first time?

Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.

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