*This blog post is excerpted from an article that I originally wrote for Crixeo Magazine. You can find the full text here.
Witnesses Often Fail to Report Child Abuse. But Why? The Answer May Lie in Psychology
In January of 2018, Dr. Larry Nassar, disgraced team physician for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for decades of abuse of gymnasts under his care. Nassar assaulted 265 girls, the youngest of whom was only six years old at the time of the abuse.
People around the world reacted with horror when the investigations into Nassar’s crimes revealed that many adults knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it. Rather than helping the victims, these witnesses pressured them to stay silent, or tried to convince them that the abuse hadn’t happened.
Twenty-one years ago, at the age of 16, Larissa Boyce thought she was living her dream. She was a young gymnast training at MSU with one of her idols, gymnastics legend Kathie Klages. When Nassar assaulted Boyce during a medical exam, she went straight to Klages, who was the MSU head coach at the time.
“She was the person I looked up to. She was the person I thought had my back,” Boyce read from her victim impact statement during Nassar’s sentencing hearing. But instead of helping, Klages told Boyce she couldn’t imagine Nassar “doing anything questionable.” She told Boyce she had misunderstood a normal medical exam and advised her not to file a report.
Many other coaches and administrators at MSU and USA Gymnastics also received reports of Nassar’s abuse. Most either failed to report, or delayed their report by weeks.