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EDITORIAL: Institutions are failing abuse victims



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Larry Nassar pleaded guilty on Jan. 24 for seven counts seven counts of criminal sexual conduct, concluding the end of a seven-day trial during which more than 150 women testified against him. He was sentenced to 175 years in prison. 

Nassar should never have been able to damage the lives of so many women, and the sheer quantity of women involved justifies further investigation into how this abuse was allowed to continue unhindered for nearly twenty years.   

The Editorial Board believes the institutions that enabled Nassar’s abuse to span decades are to blame.

Larissa Boyce, one of the women who testified against Nassar, alleges that a Michigan State University employee was first made aware of Nassar’s abuse in 1997, when then-16-year-old Boyce reported to MSU's former Head Gymnastics Coach Kathie Klages that Nassar had been penetrating her with his fingers during treatments for a back injury.

In a Detroit News article, Boyce describes that instead of protecting her, Klages chose not only to convince Boyce that she had misunderstood the situation, but also to humiliate her during a team meeting in which Klages questioned Boyce’s fellow gymnasts and ignored another girl who said she had been abused as well.

Lindsey Lemke, a senior on the Spartans' gymnastics team, even says Klages passed around a card to be signed to show the team's continued support for Nassar after he was fired from MSU in 2016. 

Boyce said in her victim impact statement Klages warned against filing a report, saying "I can file this, but there are going to be serious consequences for you and Nassar."

Klages may not have been the only university employee to have enabled Nassar’s abuse. As the Detroit News reports, 14 MSU employees had the chance to stop Nassar and failed.

More recently, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon was notified of a 2014 complaint brought forth by Amanda Thomashow. Simon claimed not to have received a report of the ensuing Title IX investigation because, according to MSU spokesperson Jason Cody, administrative involvement “depends on the circumstances involved in each specific case,” and this Title IX investigation concluded "Nassar’s conduct was not of a sexual nature."

The Editorial Board finds it troubling Simon did not make sure to review the report and that MSU's Title IX investigation concluded there was not enough evidence presented by Thomashow to continue the investigation. It is frustrating to know the failure of other university officials to protect the victims as they should have led MSU’s investigation to its mistaken conclusion that no policies had been violated.

Simon has now resigned, writing in an apology in a letter to the victims but stressed her “integrity and the fact that there is no cover-up.”

A student body has the right to expect university officials will treat student well-being as their top priority and fiercely investigate any indication that students are at risk rather than trivializing or dismissing complaints altogether.

The investigation itself also seems deeply flawed. MSU's lead attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, claims "the evidence will show that no MSU official believed that Nassar committed sexual abuse prior to newspaper reports in the summer of 2016."

It is naive to trust that the university will hold itself accountable at a time when it has so much to lose. 

As the Indiana Daily Student has detailed in “The system,” a report reviewing IU’s own system of investigating student reports of sexual assault, legal professionals including Bloomington attorney Amelia Lahn believe universities lack the necessary checks and balances of criminal courts.

“It’s just not a safe place to do this kind of hearing,” Lahn said.

Imagine that. The institution at which abuse occurred should not be the authority on how justice is administered. 

While not every aspect of the path forward is clear, it should be obvious the culture of negligence and disbelief perpetuated by MSU officials as well as the Title IX system by which sexual assault allegations are investigated both require change if we intend to give survivors the respect and justice they deserve.

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