Small but Mighty!
Small but mighty. That’s probably how most of us think of the physicality of gymnasts like Simone Biles or Aly Raisman. Right now though, I am more impressed with their mighty voices in challenging the systems that allowed a whole generation of female gymnasts to be sexually abused by physician, Larry Nassar, who is now in prison for the crimes he committed.
“It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter,” gold medalist Aly Raisman said this week in emotional testimony before the US Senate Judiciary committee. She and fellow gymnasts including Biles, were testifying on how the FBI failed to investigate the numerous complaints they got from the young girls and their parents. From 2015 when the first formal complaint was filed, until Nassar was finally arrested in 2016, 70 more girls became victims of his molestation. Biles told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.”
This is abuse happening at the most elite level of girls/women’s gymnastics and its exposure will hopefully impact the way that the governing bodies act going forward. What safeguards will they put in place to prevent anything like this from happening in the future? How will they respond to future allegations? The jury is still out.
Needless to say, sexual abuse does not only occur at the highest level of sports nor only in gymnastics. It unfortunately occurs in all sports and at all levels of sport. That’s why the Safe Sport Act was passed by Congress requiring all youth sports leagues to provide comprehensive sexual abuse prevention education to their coaches and others involved with youth sports.
We can hope that nothing like this happens in Idaho. Or we can be proactive. So, fellow parents, have you asked your kid’s coaches what kind of training they have received to put in place safeguards to protect our young athletes? Do they know how to spot bad behavior and boundary violations by other adults? What are they doing to ensure that older youth maintain proper boundaries with younger kids?
Responsible adults are the key to prevention. Sexual abuse is preventable when we know the facts and minimize opportunities for perpetrators. Coaches and other staff, and parents, armed with good information and the courage to confront other adults when necessary, make all the difference.
The Idaho Children’s Trust Fund, the state affiliate of Prevent Child Abuse America, has trained facilitators throughout the state who can provide training to parents, coaches and community groups. Reach out to us. Ask questions; get educated.
We can amplify Simone Biles’ mighty voice. “I don’t want another young gymnast, Olympic athlete or any individual to experience the horror that I and hundreds of others have endured — before, during and continuing to this day in the wake of the Larry Nassar abuse.” Enough already.
Roger Sherman is the Executive Director of the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund which is also the state affiliate of Prevent Child Abuse America. The Trust Fund works to strengthen families and communities to prevent child abuse and neglect through providing education and funding to people and organizations throughout Idaho.