In U.S. universities, students are raising their voices. Sexual abuse that has been invisible for years has come to light, and the cases are becoming more widespread and gaining momentum. During the last year, institutions have reached financial settlements of around 1.1 billion dollars, a historic figure for the compensation of victims.
Studies to recognize sexual abuse
In 2015, during Obama’s presidency, The White House decided to conduct a study on sexual violence present in the country’s universities. The findings reflected the worrying panorama facing the United States, 1 in 5 women had suffered sexual abuse during their time at university, that is 20% of the female population was at risk, with the aggravating factor that the institutions did not have clear routes to report.
In two prestigious universities, the most alarming cases, revealed so far, were reported. Survivors have called the negligence expressed by the institutions in the face of denunciations against abusers a “Culture of Protection of Sexual Abuse”. Now it is the survivors who have decided to unite to not allow their voices to be silenced anymore.
The University of Michigan and the cases of complicity
The University of Michigan was one of the most affected, two of its staff physicians were accused of sexually abusing a hundred people. Richard Anderson, who died in 2008, was a physician at the university for 30 years, and in 2021, allegations were made against him by members of the soccer and wrestling teams. The survivors claimed that the coaches were fully aware of the unusual checkups that Dr. Anderson was performing, in fact threatening to send them for a thorough checkup with the “anal” doctor, as they called him, if they were not working hard enough.
These stories show the complicity that existed on the part of the institutions with the aberrant practices of the doctor. Many times, the survivors tried to report, but their attempts were dismissed by the trainers, who made them feel weak and insisted that they should harden their attitudes.
This year, seeing the number of posthumous allegations against Anderson, the University of Michigan hired a law firm to investigate the case and found truth in the accounts of the men who were abused, but the victims say that this action is insufficient in the face of the pain they suffered.
The university’s willingness to shed light on the Anderson case may have been influenced by the 2018 media scandal involving U.S. Gymnastics Sports Federation physician Larry Nassar, himself a graduate of the University of Michigan. He was brought to trial in 2018 and sentenced to 175 years in prison for the sexual abuse of around 300 women, who by the time of the facts could be less than 12 years old.
Victims were not allowed to report
One of the mothers, upon learning that her daughter was being sexually abused by Nassar, decided to report the federation’s directives and they assured that they would follow up and appropriately sanction the doctor. At one point, she expressed her intention to notify the police, but they told her that they could escalate the case from inside the Federation, that it was not necessary.
Official complaints against Larry existed since 2015, but it was only until 2018 that the survivors decided to unite in one voice and sue the child abuser among all of them, who continued to have contact and physical access to all the girls of the Gymnastics Federation. In the trial, 150 testimonies of the victims were heard by the abuser, each one was able to narrate the atrocities he did to them even when their mothers were in the same room.
Nassar asked not to listen to the victims because of his mental health, but the relentless judge reminded him that he had no compassion for the girls whose lives he ruined, and that her job was to be a judge, not a therapist. Among the testimonies spoke the relatives of one of the girls who committed suicide after the abuse she was subjected to by Nassar.
Other institutions that were complicit in the abuse
As in the Anderson case, it is presumed that the University of Michigan exposed the girls to be victims of a pederast because of its negligence and protection of the abuser. In this case, the complicity of The Gymnastics Federation and other organizations involved in artistic gymnastics was also revealed. In an attempt to redress the damage and compensate the victims, the University of Michigan awarded $500 million to the 300 women who suffered the tragedy of being exposed to a calculating and manipulative child abuser like Larry Nassar.
Recently, another trial involving an educational institution took place. The University of Southern California allowed gynecologist George Tyndall to quietly retire after the systematic abuse of 700 women by this man over 30 years was made public. The institution allowed this man to continue his work with impunity despite complaints and reports.
But the survivors, in an act of courage as in previous cases, massively reported and the university had to agree to a payment of 852 million dollars in compensation for its complicity.
These stories make visible the problem of sexual abuse as a systematic issue in which institutions would rather support their prestige before confronting and accompanying the victims. On the other hand, knowing these cases generates hope to continue inspiring survivors to tell their story because when the voices of victims unite, they gain strength and institutions are obliged to listen. The #YoDigoNoMás movement supports causes that promote the healing of victims. If you want to support survivors to have psychotherapeutic accompaniment, you can join the actions that we constantly implement.
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