Students share their experiences with sexual assault in the gymnastics world
Photo courtesy of Flickr | Michigan State University gymnasts huddle up before a meet in 2013. Xavier currently has safety measures in place to prevent incidents like Larry Nassar’s repeated sexual assaults from happening on our campus.
Former USA Gymnastics (USAG) Olympic team doctor and Michigan State University (MSU) osteopathic physician Larry Nassar received an additional 40- to 125-year sentence for the molestation of 265 young women under the pretense of medical treatment on Monday.
Nassar had already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for the possession of child pornography and was also sentenced 40 to 175 years after he pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual contact with children under the age of 16.
Judge Janice Cunningham said she added the most recent sentence because she did not believe that Nassar felt remorse for his decades of misdeeds.
Cunningham cited Nassar’s pre-sentencing interview, where he recanted his statement that his bare-handed, invasive procedures were medically unnecessary.
USAG agreed to undergo an independent investigation, and all of its board members have resigned per the request of the United States Olympic Commission.
USAG also cut ties with Karolyi Ranch, a secluded camp where it sent Olympic gymnasts and children to train. The president and athletic director of MSU have resigned while the university is currently undergoing a special investigation requested by the Michigan attorney general.
There has yet to be any change in reporting policies from the involved institutions or specific punishment given to individuals who may have turned a blind eye to Nassar.
Senior Erin Bollinger, a member of Xavier’s club gymnastics team, was not surprised when news broke out that a sexual assault scandal had emerged from USAG.
Bollinger has followed the Nassar case through social media. She shared that her initial reaction when Nassar was brought to court was not horror but appreciation that “it’s finally happening,” and a perpetrator was being punished.
Bollinger has been involved in gymnastics since she was 2 years old.
Throughout her career, she has met other girls who “were made very uncomfortable by certain contact from a coach” but chose not to report it. She added that “I do know that in general it is a problem that exists within the sport (of gymnastics) just as I’m sure it is in other sports.”
Bollinger’s claim is not unfounded. USAG is no stranger to sexual assault scandals.
The organization started a list banning former members including coaches for violations of USAG bylaws to protect athletes against sex discrimination starting in the 1990s.
The list remains available on its website today. Such lists and reporting policies were clearly not effective in Nassar’s case.
An anonymous member of Xavier’s club gymnastics who survived sexual assault at a young age outside of gymnastics shared her reaction to hearing the testimonies from some of the 156 women who spoke out against Nassar in late January.
“Listening to the testimonies makes me feel devastated and empowered at the same time…It never gets any easier listening to what these other women have had to go through,” the student said. “It really can impact every aspect of your life, which is why I hate that anyone ever has to go through that type of pain. But on the other hand, hearing it also lets me know that I’m not alone in that struggle and that, just maybe, an impact can be made to help fix the problem.”
Xavier’s athletic department works closely with the Title IX Office to take thorough measures to prevent sexual assault as well as other forms of sex-based violence and support student athletes. On the preventative side, Title IX provides extensive ongoing and regular training for Xavier staff and faculty, including coaches, for earlier recognition of sex discrimination as well as appropriate ways to respond to students who confide that they have been sexually assaulted.
All new staff complete a two and a half hour online training course, and all staff go through an annual “refresher” of reporting responsibilities and Xavier’s Title IX policies.
Student athletes complete GOA, Manresa and the online orientation module “Think About It” that has a section on sexual assault, as well as other programs specific to the vulnerable position athletes experience with medical personnel, coaches and athletic trainers.
This past fall, student athletes were required to attend an education session on Title IX information led by Janet Judge, who is a nationally recognized Title IX expert, attorney and former collegiate athlete.
The anonymous student is hopeful that the efforts of Xavier’s Title IX office will reduce the problem of sexual assault of student athletes but does not think the policies and trainings provided are an absolute guarantee that the tragedy of serial sexual assault could not happen. The gymnast believes what would make a significant impact would be for “…athletes to stand up for themselves…have the courage to report the incident.” They added, “Without people being proactive for themselves, it’s really hard to fix the problem” in reference to rampant sexual assault within athletics.
By: Heather Gast ~Staff Writer~