by Caren Nemtzow, Director, Needham Community Council Child Assault Prevention Program [CAP]
The recent trial of Larry Nassar was difficult to watch. It raised the question as to how he was able to perpetrate this pattern of abuse for such an extended period of time, affecting so many innocent and vulnerable young women and girls.
One by one the brave victims and survivors tapped into their incredible inner strength, faced their perpetrator, and shared their heartbreaking stories for the whole world to hear. Many reported they were scared to speak up, but as individuals, and collectively, they remained steadfast and strong.
In the Needham Community Council Child Assault Prevention Program (CAP), we teach children in the local elementary schools that it is never their fault when a trusted adult does something that makes them feel “confused, frightened or unsafe.” We teach them that the most important thing is for them to tell an adult about what happened.
In the case of Larry Nassar, many women testified they did not know they could tell anyone, or feared they would get in trouble if they spoke badly of the beloved, trusted doctor. They remained silent. Others did tell their trusted adults, but understandably, the adults could not bring themselves to believe that the revered doctor, and even sometimes family friend, could be guilty of inappropriate treatment of these young women and girls. They themselves, had been manipulated by Nassar as well. In addition, the institutions that should have protected the victims appear to have dismissed their claims of abuse.
If we can learn anything from the tragic suffering of the courageous individuals whom Nassar targeted, it is the importance of teaching our children what we teach in the CAP program: they have the right to stand up for themselves and say, “NO!” It is important for them to “tell, tell, tell” an adult if anyone ever tries to “touch them in a way that frightens or confuses them,” reminding them that: “it is never too late to tell.” It is then incumbent upon the trusted adults to empower the victims, to “listen to them, to believe them, and to help them,” no matter how difficult and painful it may be.
Statistics show that only approximately 2% of such allegations made by children turn out to be false. We as a society need to do everything in our power to educate children and their trusted adults to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.