If you hadn’t heard of him before, the past two years made Larry Nassar a household name. Recently sentenced to anywhere from 40 to 175 years in prison, this physician sexually harassed more than 150 women over the course of 20 years. As we sift through victim testimonies, courtroom recaps, and the impact on USA Gymnastics and Michigan State, it’s easy to succumb to the sense of relief that Nassar is behind bars; however, his sentencing should not be the last time you think of his name. In a period of time plagued by similar accounts of sexual assault, the Nassar verdict should serve as a steadfast reminder of four crucial things.
#1. Nassar is not a minority. Sexual harassment is not a random occurrence perpetrated by mentally unstable individuals; it is a societal epidemic upheld by social norms, gender expectations, and a lack of accountability. In a survey conducted by the Huffington Post, it was reported that approximately 1 in 3 women between the ages of 18 and 34 experience sexual harassment in the workplace, but 71% of women do not report it (Vagianos, 2017). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported 12, 428 reports of sex-based harassment allegations in 2017, with 53.87% being attributed to sexual harassment; this number, as seen by this table, has been fairly consistent since 2010 (2017). Despite our desire to label Nassar’s behavior as uncommon, we must accept the frequency with which sexual harassment occurs in order to acknowledge it as a societal epidemic and institute effective change.
#2. Predators don’t wear a name tag. There seems to be a misconception that potential dangers stick to dark corners, alleyways, or perceptibly hazardous environments; however, there is not a set of guidelines that help you identify a predator. The majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows; this degree of comfort acts as a tool in creating opportunities to take advantage of the other party. This is not to serve as a means for distrust, but more so a reminder that certain safety precautions, such as scheduled phone check-ins or group outings, can serve as vital means of preventing rape and other forms of sexual assault.
#3. Not all victims feel comfortable articulating their trauma. Admit it: when you read about Nassar harassing victims for over 20 years, one of your first questions was why didn’t someone say something. This question does not always serve as victim blaming, but more so a genuine lack of understanding as to why the safe space did not exist for someone to bring their experience to the correct authority. There are so many mental and emotional tribulations that accompany sexual assault, such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety, that it is often difficult to come to terms with the abuse. This internal battle is heightened when the environment does not exist to articulate your trauma without fear. To combat this, steps must be taken to prioritize the comfort of victims.
#4. It is our job to hold people accountable. Whether it’s sexual comments, inappropriate jokes, or mild touching, no act of sexual harassment should be considered too meaningless to address. It is the oversight of these behaviors that creates a sense of normalcy around harassment. If we begin to hold others accountable for less extreme behaviors, it defines a more concrete line between what is inappropriate and what is welcomed.
Larry Nassar is a prime example of an individual using a position of power to take advantage of vulnerable parties. This is a pattern; the United States has fallen victim to a rampant cycle of sexual harassment sliding through the cracks. It is our job going forward to not forget his name, his actions, or the outcome. It is our job going forward to create an environment that prevents victimization and holds predators accountable. It is our job to stand with the 1 in 3 women facing sexual harassment and ensure the next Larry Nassar isn’t given the opportunity to become a household name.
*Here is a link to the Larry Nassar article this opinion piece follows up