Photo Credit: Dr. Michael J. Salamon
Dr. Michael J. Salamon

Larry Nassar, the former doctor for the female Olympic gymnastics team, received a sentence of 40 to 175 years for sexual abuse. At sentencing, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said she was effectively signing his death warrant.

While it is not exactly clear how many young female athletes he molested, the judge forced him to sit through seven days of statements by 156 of his victims. At one point during the victims’ statements Nassar asked to be exempted from hearing them. The judge denied the request.

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At his sentencing, Nassar made a brief statement that suggested he was remorseful. He said, “There are no words to describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred. An acceptable apology to all of you is impossible to convey. I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days.”

Judge Aquilina said she did not believe his apology. For good reason – it was not an apology. It was a more like a disavowal of responsibility.

There is so much that can and should be learned from this harrowing case that must be studied and applied within our community.

First, kudos to Judge Aquilina for handling the trial in an open manner. Heart-wrenching statements made by the victims openly – not hidden or swept under the rug – portrayed the abuser as the evil person he truly is. There was no attempt at explaining away his abusive behavior or blaming his victims, nor did anyone suggest that reporting him was somehow wrong.

In many of our own communities, victims are still told to hide their hurt, anger, and need for justice when sexually abused. This trial is open testimony to giving abuse victims the forum they need to confront their abuser, heal, and make sure he never abuses again.

For those who still dismiss or downplay reports of abuse and say the abuser made a mistake and should be given another chance because he will do teshuvah – repent – this case proves otherwise.

Nassar is the poster child of an abuser, someone who will victimize as many people as he can. It is believed that most male abusers victimize anywhere from 10 to more than 100 people. Nassar abused even more.

Beyond the actual number of people an abuser will harm, there is the personality of an abuser that can be understood from this case. Most abusers are not lurking in the dark. They are not strangers to their victims. They are often well-established and successful members in their community who know how to groom others to see them in a positive light even when they are doing their evil.

They are also sociopaths and can have narcissistic tendencies. They have no real feelings for their victims and believe that their needs, as they see them, are more important than anyone else’s.

If not reported, caught, and dealt with appropriately, abusers will continue to do whatever they want in order to get what they want.

Abusers also cannot truly apologize. It is not in their makeup to even sympathize with others. Judge Aquilina was correct when she rejected Nassar’s feeble attempt at apologizing because it was not an honest apology.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the trial is that those victims, now survivors, who read their statements in court were all Olympic gymnasts. What distinguishes these women is not their physical prowess or stamina; many others have similar skills and talent.

The truly distinctive feature they share is something not commonly found. To be an Olympic gymnast requires strength, talent, and innate resilience. They are so determined to succeed that they can get up in front of millions of people, slip, fall, make a mistake in their routine, and simply brush it off and get right back on the mat, parallel bars, etc. They can stand up to hardship.

But what about victims who do not have that distinctive inner strength and resilience? If they are not backed by family, friends, and religious and communal leaders, can they be as brave and report what happened to them? Will they come forward in a court of law and openly testify, especially if they are not getting support from their community?

Let’s take a moment to reflect on this important case and educate ourselves.

Reporting abuse is a mandate. We must prevent abusers from racking up a list of victims. We must acknowledge that even people who appear to be nice, warm, friendly, and good may be hiding behind that façade to lull their victims. And we must support those who were abused, to aid them in their recovery and help them overcome their traumatization so that they may heal and be resilient.

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Dr. Michael J. Salamon is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the author of numerous articles and books, most recently “Abuse in the Jewish Community” (Urim Publications).