Judge Rosemarie Aquilina handed down the verdict on Wednesday, January 24th that the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar would be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing over 150 women, including decorated gymnasts Simone Biles and Aly Raisman over the course of two decades.
The gut-wrenching case of Nassar using his medical authority and treatments as a disguise for molestation and his predatory behavior brings up the importance of identifying the characteristics of inappropriate conduct in sports and making the safety of athletes a top priority.
Quebec’s National Institute of Public Health reported eye-opening statistics that up to 8% of athletes (both minors and young adults) are victims of sexual assault and that the perpetrators of the sexual violence were coaches, teachers or instructors in 98% of the 159 cases surveyed in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.
Sexual harassment can be exhibited in the form of unwanted, groomed or forced involvement in sexual behavior, offensive stereotypes based on your gender, sexual jokes, threats, intimidation, approaches, or actions of a sexual nature, according to olympic.org. Athletes and their loved ones can take preventative measures against this type of misconduct by trusted adults in sports by:
1. Identifying concerning behaviors.
Victims of sexual abuse are typically abused by a person that they have regular contact with. If you notice that individuals around you consistently demonstrate that they don’t respect your personal space or frequently engage in conversations with sexual undertones, these are clear red flags of alarming behavior.
2. Deciding who your “safe” people are.
Have close family members or friends in mind that you can talk to immediately if you feel uncomfortable with an interaction you’ve had with a coach or someone on your sports team.
3. Drawing up and implementing a code of conduct for coaches and sports professionals.
Holding athletic officials accountable for their behavior is the first step. When you’re on a team, collectively outline the policies and procedures the coaches and athletes will follow to prevent sexual harassment and abuse. It is important to have a code of ethics in place to reinforce that abuse will not be tolerated.
4. Speaking up when you notice or experience inappropriate behavior.
If you see or experience inappropriate behavior, it is important to say something at the first opportunity. Your voice is powerful and reporting your concerns can prevent perverted acts from recurring.
5. Creating clear boundaries.
As an athlete, you have the right to let the adults you interact with in the sports world know what you will and will not tolerate. If you don’t want certain contact or attention from someone, you should clearly voice your opinion. If they don’t respect your wishes, let one of your “safe” people know.
Watch The New York Times video coverage of the Larry Nassar trial below: