The program director at the Chattanooga Rape Crisis Center on East 8th Street, Rebecca Jones has paid painfully close attention to the tragedy and travesty surrounding the horrific sexual assault case involving former Team USA physician Larry Nassar.
"It's a mix," she said Monday regarding Nassar, whose accusers, many of them prominent Olympic gymnasts, now number more than 150, some of them first abused by the former Michigan State and Olympics team doctor when they were as young as 6 years old.
"On the one hand, these girls were trying to tell people about this for years and no one would listen. On the other, he's now going to spend the rest of his life in prison. The culture is changing. It's changing to our advantage."
It's changed enough that the 54-year-old Nassar already has been sentenced to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges and could wind up with a 125-year sentence, which is expected to be delivered before the end of the week.
But just as adults who should have known better looked the other way for far too long in the Jerry Sandusky case before the former Penn State defensive coordinator and moral monster finally went to prison on 48 counts of child molestation, there is growing evidence that officials at both Michigan State and USA Gymnastics failed to investigate numerous charges of sexual abuse regarding Nassar.
"I was not protected, and neither were my teammates," Olympic gold medal gymnast Jordyn Wieber said last week inside a Lansing, Mich., courtroom. "My parents trusted USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar to take care of me, and we were betrayed by both. The lack of accountability from USAG, USOC and Michigan State have caused me and many other girls to remain shameful, confused and disappointed."
It is more than disappointing and shameful and confusing. It's inexcusable and nauseating and repulsive, the despicable things he did to rob these girls and young women of their innocence and trust and self-esteem. And it needs to be a lesson immediately learned by every parent regarding those who teach, coach or have even modest influence over their children.
How much pain and suffering was Nassar allowed to cause?
For starters, he probably should be charged with murder for the suicides of gymnast Kyle Stephen's father and former gymnast Chelsea Markham, who took her own life at 23, apparently never able to reconcile the emotional trauma she endured due to Nassar's abuse when she was 12 years old.
Said a tearful Stephen, first abused when she was 6, as she addressed Nassar in court last week: "You convinced my parents that I was a liar. You used my body for six years for your own sexual gratification. That is unforgivable."
She later added,"Little girls don't stay little girls forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world."
Much like with Sandusky, Nassar's world should have been destroyed years earlier. And both Michigan State — where he often treated female athletes — and USA Gymnastics should pay a heavy price for their enabling of this true Dr. Evil for more than two decades.
"Adult after adult ... protected you," Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman told Nassar last week in court. "How do you sleep at night? ... You are the person they had 'take the lead on athlete care.' ... I cringe to think that your influence remains in the policies that are supposed to keep athletes safe."
Raisman also blasted USA Gymnastics in a series of tweets earlier this month, posting: "You are 100% responsible. It was mandatory to get 'treatment' by Nassar. The system has to change so that athletes are safe. Enablers need to be held accountable."
The Rape Crisis Center's Jones said Nassar's ability to escape prosecution for so long was due to a "power dynamic," meaning that too many people, both victims and parents of those victims, feared what might happen if they went after the doctor.
Said Wieber last week: "He was the national team doctor. Who was I to question his treatments or, even more, risk my chance at making the Olympic team or being chosen to compete internationally?"
And make no mistake that Nassar was viewed as having great power. After all, as far back as the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, it was Nassar who helped Team USA gymnast Kerri Strug to the bench in Atlanta after she was injured on the vault, arguably the most memorable moment of the Atlanta Games.
Yet these brave young women's questions are finally delivering some painful answers to at least a few of those who enabled Nassar.
USA Gymnastics recently severed all ties with coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi and their Karolyi Ranch in Texas, where the USA team long trained. On Monday it officially announced the suspension of coach John Geddert, who was one of Nassar's strongest supporters. Three USAG board members have also resigned and longtime Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon may soon lose her job for failing to act on complaints regarding Nassar.
In one of those "you-can't-make-this-up" moments, 15-year-old Nassar accuser Emma Ann Miller revealed Monday that the sports clinic where he allegedly abused her is still attempting to bill her family for that appointment.
She also told Nassar in front of the entire courtroom: "Do the right thing for us. Tell us who knew what and when. Make your last public act actually help someone."
Jones said she has never sensed an attempt to protect the guilty in Chattanooga.
"If you have the courage to speak up, know that there are people here who will believe you," she said. "Especially in this community."
If only those violated by Nassar could have felt that same support. If only girls and women the world over can begin to feel that support from this point forward.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.