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In Plain Sight

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One method Larry Nasser used to keep his job while was to show people with the ability to stop him a PowerPoint presentation defending his methods. This is some of the content, according to the report commissioned by the USOC:

In slides that he presented to rationalize his “treatments,” Nassar borrows from the opening-credits language of Star Trek. While I have seen some reporting on this particular slide and its reference to Star Trek, this is the longest—and most disturbing—version of the text I have come across.

According to the Ropes & Gray report, the slide read:

“The Star Trek slide in his PowerPoint presentation contains a video with scrolling text: ‘These are the voyages of the ‘Sports Pelvic Floor’ specialist/Whose life time mission…to boldly go where no man has gone before (in most of our young gymnasts – hopefully).”

This was apparently a slide that was presented to actual sentient beings as a way to explain a procedure he performed on minors. How anyone hearing this presentation or reading thought this was a remotely appropriate way about talking treatment that involved touching a patient’s genitals, it’s impossible to tell. It’s especially disgusting to see Nassar commenting on the hoped-for virginity of the young women and girls he was assaulting with this “treatment.”

It’s just amazing how many people saw this and were reassured rather than appalled. I’m reminded of Nasser’s counterpart at USC, who had a vanity license plate reading “COEDDOC.” The mistrust of women and deference to white guys in positions of authority is so pervasive these guys can all but admit what they’re doing and still get away with it for years and years.

I strongly recommend Kerry Howley’s superb article about the Nasser case. One critical point to emphasize is that young women had been coming forward about his behavior and blown off since 1997:

It has by the fall of 2018 become commonplace to describe the 499 known victims of Larry Nassar as “breaking their silence,” though in fact they were never, as a group, particularly silent. Over the course of at least 20 years of consistent abuse, women and girls reported to every proximate authority. They told their parents. They told gymnastics coaches, running coaches, softball coaches. They told Michigan State University police and Meridian Township police. They told physicians and psychologists. They told university administrators. They told, repeatedly, USA Gymnastics. They told one another. Athletes were interviewed, reports were written up, charges recommended. The story of Larry Nassar is not a story of silence. The story of Larry Nassar is that of an edifice of trust so resilient, so impermeable to common sense, that it endured for decades against the allegations of so many women.

Nasser was a world-class gaslighter, and benefitted from the cruelty with which elite gymnasts were routinely treated and the isolation to which they were often subjected. But it’s still remarkable how many people rationalized away the obvious. As Howley says, while controversial there is some scientific basis for pelvic floor treatments for back pain. But there’s no defense at all for what Nasser was actually doing — digital penetration, without gloves or lubrication, without warning, to “treat” not just back but knee and ankle pain — and this should have been blindingly obvious to any remotely serious investigation. But misogyny is a hell of a drug, and as Howley shows had Nasser not been caught with a huge stash of child porn he still might have gotten away with it despite Denhollander coming forward. It’s a terrifying story.

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