Connecting with Culture
Our blog reflecting on weekly news, trends, innovation, and the arts...
CONTENT WARNING: DISCUSSION OF SEXUAL ABUSE
When it came to light that USA Gymnastics (USAG) had, for decades, covered up sexual abuse perpetrated by Larry Nassar – its team doctor – responses were varied. Alongside messages of support for women who came forward were insults and expressions of doubt: ‘if this really happened, why didn’t you report it earlier?’
It’s the same ‘gaslighting’ response that countless survivors of sexual abuse have faced, whereby victims are manipulated into questioning their own sanity.
Netflix documentary, Athlete A, shows how the culture within USAG caused young women to be silenced: by consistently bullying child athletes, and ignoring, deceiving, or threatening anyone who made an accusation.
In the film, former USAG team member, Jennifer Sey, states:
‘You already don’t believe [yourself]. You think you’re hungry. You think your ankle hurts. You think that you’re working really hard. But you’re screamed at that you’re lazy and fat and there’s nothing wrong with your ankle. So, [when sexual abuse happens] what you feel is: “He’s this great doctor, and I’m lucky to be here. I’m not going to say anything.”’
The devastating reason for this manipulation, and the associated cover-up, centres around greed and power. USAG leaders didn’t want to give up their prestige. Their success gained them gold medals and millions in sponsorship, and they’d do anything to maintain that.
One beautiful moment in the film happens during Nassar’s sentencing. After years of being silenced, 204 victims gave impact statements. The last word went to Rachael Denhollander.
Like many before her, Denhollander spoke out, not just against Nassar, but against others who were complicit. She spoke eloquently about the damage that had been done because those in responsibility had chosen to grasp power, rather than look after those in their care. And she spoke powerfully about the justice and mercy of Christ.
USAG is just one example of an institution who chose lying, abuse, and manipulation over truth, care, and protection. They refused to give up their power, refused to empathise with victims of abuse, and perpetrated injustice. Jesus, meanwhile, emptied himself of power, identifies with victims of abuse, and overcomes injustice, all whilst offering mercy and grace to the perpetrators.
And in a world where these 204 women are a drop in an ocean of pain, both victim-survivors and abusers are in desperate need of a God who offers comfort, healing, and true, satisfactory justice.
Ellidh is a Student Worker at All Souls, Langham Place, and tweets @ellidh