The first complaint came in 2015. Three athletes from the US gymnastics team were willing to tell about the sexual abuse that doctor Larry Nassar committed against them. Today it is known that there were more than 300 in two decades. But the FBI was slow to react and was negligent, did not adequately investigate the events, did not even speak to the three gymnasts and delayed the process. In the year and a half that passed until his arrest, Nassar had time to abuse some 70 girls and young women. Now they are the ones who should have properly investigated the complaints and did not those who must answer why before the US Senate and before elite gymnasts, including Olympic medalist Simone Biles, who are demanding redress.
Also McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols testified this week and among other things they told how they felt that their complaints were minimized and how the agents discouraged them from continuing with the process. Biles was not even contacted. But not only the FBI was pointed out by the survivors, they also assured that both the American Gymnastics Federation and the Olympic and Paralympic Committee knew “long before” what they were suffering. “I blame Larry Nassar and also the entire system that allowed and perpetrated sexual abuse,” Biles snapped, pointing to the institutions that turned their backs on him.
The collusion of the system that has called into question the most famous gymnast in the world is not something isolated in sexual violence. It occurs on a larger and smaller scale and perhaps the most paradigmatic example is the silence imposed for decades by the Church in the thousands of cases of abuse committed by priests around the world. It also occurs at other levels, such as when they are perpetrated in a school, juvenile center or any other child and youth space and the management does not act or when the victim is a woman in the workplace and the company looks the other way, a modus operandi which CCOO highlighted in a recent investigation about sexual harassment at work.
“The culture of concealment is the culture of rape itself. It is sustained because there is impunity and that is impossible without the complicity of the structure, of the institutions. It is the central basis that makes sexual violence nourish and perpetuate because The more impunity, the more difficult it will be for the survivors to relate what has happened, “says Bárbara Tardón, specialist in sexual violence and advisor to the Ministry of Equality. The experts agree that, when it occurs, this collusion stems from different factors that have a lot to do with the stereotypes that have permeated the collective imagination and with the resistance of organizations and institutions to take responsibility for what happens in their structures.
There is, explains Virginia Gil, director of the Aspacia Foundation for the care of victims of sexual violence, “distrust towards the victims’ accounts”, corporatism, “denial” given the assumption that “there are colleagues, men who have been trusted , that they may be perpetrating that “, minimizing the severity of sexual violence and protecting the aggressor. “It also has to do with not wanting to assume as a society that it is something much more widespread than it seems and that transcends the myth that tells us that rapes are committed by a disturbed man in an alley at night and never by people of great trust for women and minors, “he adds.
The victims, summarizes Tardón, those who speak and point out an aggressor “are uncomfortable for the system.” And that’s why when this happens “the system closes ranks”, illustrates the expert. “They are uncomfortable because what they point out is that violence is normalized in society and that it is not being committed according to the narratives that have transferred us. What they have told us is that the men who are in our environment protect us, but when they They tell their stories, they are fracturing that patriarchal story. And they are uncomfortable because society finds it difficult to empathize with what is behind a sexual assault, because it would be to recognize a reality that affects all women and that is structural. “
The consequences of what happened in the case of American gymnasts are clear, the experts believe. In the first place, there is “a re-victimization of the complainants themselves,” Gil believes, because when they seek help and protection they do not find it, but they have already been exposed to the system. But it also “sends a collective message” addressed to the rest of the victims and women in general and to the aggressors: “To them, impunity; and to them, it doesn’t matter if they report because the system is going to fail them, which it does nothing else. than perpetuate violence. “
The experts also point to another element: the lack of tools to repair and protect the victims. Cristina Sanjuan, an expert in prevention of violence against children at Save the Children, puts the focus on this: “The first failure of the system is that the vast majority of cases are not detected, but when minors reveal the abuse, the professional must know how to accompany him and where to go. Much specialization is lacking, “he laments. In fact, in Spain the approval of the first state law for the protection of children and it has also been this year when the Ministry of Equality has promoted a comprehensive law against sexual violence that will be debated shortly in the Cortes. But more efforts are still needed, the experts believe.
“We must admit that what we see is the tip of the iceberg. And in the case of minors it is not worth thinking that if it happened we would realize it, but that it is something complex and that is why protocols, training and measures are needed to stop it”, Sanjuan thinks. “We are on the way because there has been a social awakening, but it is very incipient and we have a lot ahead of us,” believes Gil, who also calls for “a paradigm shift.” Tardón agrees that “the institutions are not yet prepared in general terms”, but also that “thanks to the feminist movement and governments and political initiatives, the institutional agenda is changing at the international level. And in Spain it is evident.”
“I have won 25 medals in the World Cup, seven in the Olympic Games, and I am a survivor of sexual abuse,” Simone Biles declared last Wednesday before the US Senate. Survivor and not thanks to the system that was supposed to protect her, but in spite of him.