Almost all the victims were girls. The youngest were 6 years old.
December 15, 2016 9:06 AM   Subscribe

A nine-month IndyStar-USA TODAY Network review of hundreds of police files and court cases from across U.S. shows that at least 368 American gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners and other adults working in gymnastics in the last 20 years. That’s a rate of one every 20 days. It's likely an undercount. Many predatory coaches appear to have been protected by USA Gymnastics, one of the nation’s most prominent Olympic organizations. (TW: Child Abuse, Sexual Assault, Molestation and Rape)
posted by zarq (96 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite


 
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posted by sixpack at 9:39 AM on December 15, 2016 [15 favorites]




It's starting to seem like all of western society is organized child abuse.
posted by spitbull at 9:56 AM on December 15, 2016 [83 favorites]


I do think that our culture would benefit from internalizing the knowledge that a much wider swath of our male populace is inclined towards child molestation given the right circumstances, at least than we seem to believe now. I'm not convinced that opportunistic pedophilia is some ultra rare thing.
posted by selfnoise at 10:00 AM on December 15, 2016 [76 favorites]


I mean, either we don't want to believe that or we just don't care... Not sure which is worse.
posted by selfnoise at 10:00 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is terrible.

For a sense of the scope of the problem, 368/20 = 36.8/2 = 18.4 reports per year on average.

Dividing by the number of US states, that's more than one report per three US states every year.

According to this page from USA Gymnastics, "Today, more than 174,000 athletes and professionals are members of USA Gymnastics".

Every single case should be prevented. Nobody should have to endure that kind of experience.

However, banning gymnastics would eliminate a lot of necessary good, competitive, esteem-building experiences which are mixed in with a lot of unfortunate experiences. Maybe this problem could be addressed some other way, that would help prevent abuse in a more universal manner?

There could be an equal or greater chance of terrible experiences if all those girls were left to their own devices or participated in some other activity. Some girls may have gymnastics as an escape from worse home circumstances.

(This is being posted by a person whose parents withdrew me from the gifted program in high school because the male teacher just "seemed weird and creepy" to them. If I'd been able to fight them, I would have.)
posted by amtho at 10:04 AM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm not convinced that opportunistic pedophilia is some ultra rare thing.

I am not convinced it is opportunistic. I am starting to think that pedophiles choose professions like the priesthood or gymnastics coaching specifically because they want trusted access to children.
posted by deanc at 10:05 AM on December 15, 2016 [111 favorites]


I am starting to think that pedophiles choose professions like the priesthood or gymnastics coaching specifically because they want trusted access to children.

We already know that this is true, because child molesters who have been caught will readily admit to this. However, I think selfnoise is referring to something different: many people, once they find themselves in positions of power (even relatively low amounts of power), begin to use that power to hurt people because it gives them a rush.

People who already know themselves to be pedophiles choosing to work with children so that they have easy access to prey are one thing. What selfnoise is describing is men who have never had that desire, but whose career trajectories end up putting them in positions of power over children, and who then realize "I can do whatever I want and no one will stop me." In the latter case, the attraction doesn't pre-exist the situation. It is a result of it.

They are both absolutely terrifying.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:11 AM on December 15, 2016 [73 favorites]


Yeah, exactly. I'm sure fixated pedophiles seek access to kids, but this feels like something different.
posted by selfnoise at 10:13 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


banning gymnastics would eliminate a lot of necessary good, competitive, esteem-building experiences which are mixed in with a lot of unfortunate experiences.

I think that any activity involved lots of one-on-one intimate time with a child and an older mentor is inherently dangerous. Taking a gymnastics class at the YMCA or joining the high school gymnastics team? All good. Signing up at a gym where a child spends hours alone with a coach whose job it is to position the young athlete's body? No. If they have have the potential to become one of the rarefied top 1% of all gymnastics, then MAYBE and only with highly vetted coaches. This is true especially if selfnoise's understanding is correct that the power relationship between the athlete and coach creates dangerous circumstances.
posted by deanc at 10:15 AM on December 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I do think that our culture would benefit from internalizing the knowledge that a much wider swath of our male populace is inclined towards child molestation given the right circumstances, at least than we seem to believe now.
I'm not fully convinced it's just the male populace. Look at all the nuns at Sisters of Mercy who were accused of sexualized abuse of their charges in orphanages and schools. I think it's a combination of power dynamics and opportunity. People inclined to abuse children probably seek out opportunities to do so by coaching sports, volunteering for youth organizations, teaching, or joining religious missions. But I also think it's possible for a sick culture of abuse to develop regardless of a particular person's predilections just due to power dynamics and opportunity in an insular organization of any kind, be it sports or religion.

Gymnastics has been problematic for a long time. Before the allegations of sexual abuse there were several books and articles describing physical and emotional abuse dished out by even the most elite coaches. Bela Karolyi, who coached Nadia Comaneci and Mary-Lou Retton, allegedly beat and starved some of the elite gymnasts he coached at his Romanian facility. For their part, the Karolyis claimed that it was the Communist system that forced them to use such tactics, but several American gymnasts claimed that they were physically and emotionally abused by the Karolyis at their gym in Houston. It is no surprise to me that a gym culture that allows physical and emotional abuse to thrive wouldn't also make room for sexual abuse as well.
posted by xyzzy at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2016 [22 favorites]


Maybe this problem could be addressed some other way, that would help prevent abuse in a more universal manner?

The article goes into this a bit, noting among other things that the Boy Scouts of America and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have both adopted rules and restrictions on their volunteers and members that exceed those of USA Gymnastics.

USA Gymnastics could also choose not to protect predatory coaches and gym owners. They could set up a national database for gym owners to see if a coach being interviewed for a position has been sued for sexual abuse of children they were supposed to be training. Or simply answer questions when gym owners ask, and not bury / hide evidence.
posted by zarq at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


Sometimes I think it might be just as well that the human race seems determined to drive itself headlong to extinction. It's just unfortunate that we will take so many other species with us.
posted by TedW at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Kids should be nurtured by multiple adults, several times a day, every day, so that communication channels are continuously open and they have a solid sense of self-worth and of the legitimacy of their own feelings.

They should not be alternately in large groups of other half-civilized kids with little or no adult supervision, and occasional rare one-on-one sessions with highly authoritative adults who have make-or-break power over their lives.

If there were _more_ adults involved in every kid's life, it might be one way to address the problem.
posted by amtho at 10:22 AM on December 15, 2016 [50 favorites]


[Couple comments (and replies) removed. If you think there's an issue with the framing or reporting of the linked piece, go ahead and lay that out in a thoughtful and conversationally productive way, but let's skip the dismissive quip stuff.]
posted by cortex at 10:27 AM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


People like to say "power corrupts" and smile, but it's fucking true. People cannot be trusted with it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:28 AM on December 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


I'm totally unsurprised by this, which is awful. I remember being a child in a small Florida town, and my mother insisted on attending every gymnastics lesson my sisters and I took. It felt a little overprotective, even when I was 10. A few years later, around 2000, the owner of the gym was arrested and charged with abusing at least 7 of the girls under his care. I bet he was very angry at my mother, sitting there in the soupy Florida heat, reading her magazine, keeping an eye on us. She didn't trust him with her kids. She didn't trust anyone, and she was right.

I wonder if the girls he molested were included in the count here. Something tells me they weren't.
posted by erinfern at 10:38 AM on December 15, 2016 [65 favorites]


I really liked this quote from Snopes about PizzaGate, emphasizing how conspiratorial bullshit misses the fucking point.

And while rumors about pedophilia and child trafficking remain standard in urban folklore, roughly 90 percent of assaults on children in the U.S. are committed by a friend or family member, a number reiterated by the United States Department of Justice. Most abuse of the nature alleged is committed by family members, family friends, or other trusted adu lts — without the use of coded toys or pizzeria sex rings.

posted by little onion at 10:44 AM on December 15, 2016 [45 favorites]


However, banning gymnastics would eliminate a lot of necessary good, competitive, esteem-building experiences which are mixed in with a lot of unfortunate experiences.

Competitive gymnastics is a complete disaster for the competitors. Once you get past the sex abuse, there's the regular physical abuse. Once you get past that, there's the extreme stage parenting and pressure that goes on. Once you get past that, it's a really dangerous sport considering it's mostly children. Once you get past that, there's the eating disorders. Once you get past that, you age out of it really young, so it had little or no lifetime value for participants.

I'm not against (and in fact quite like) the basic concept of gymnastics. But the competitive face of it is a blight and needs massive reform.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:47 AM on December 15, 2016 [56 favorites]


The details about the lawsuit filed against Larry Nassar, Bela and Martha Karolyi, the Karolyi Ranch, and USA Gymnastics by one former Olympic gymnast is worth reading for some understanding of the culture in gymnastics. Here is a link to the complaint. The hope of elite status, and the very narrow path to get there, is very disempowering for women gymnasts.

Signing up at a gym where a child spends hours alone with a coach whose job it is to position the young athlete's body?

My kid does gymnastics at a gym that has produced multiple elite women gymnastic, including Olympic gold medalists and world champions. The reality of how gymnastics works is that there is rarely any reason for a gymnast to be alone with a coach. Unlike other sports, there's not much division between elites and the regular kids. They are all in the gym at the same time. Once upon a time, you could sit in my kid's gym and watch the world champion practicing for the upcoming Olympics while two hundred other gymnasts at all levels—right down to the Tumble Tots—were practicing at the same time. I think the only places this isn't true are the gyms of NCAA teams, the US Olympic Training Center for the men, and the Karolyi ranch during national team camps for the women.

That said, there is also a culture of separation of coaching from parents. Stage parents are rife—the moms of the girls at my gym can be more vicious and clique-y than anything I encountered in high school. Even the most upright and proper coaches don't want to deal with a mom on the sidelines yelling "Point your toes, Alyssa!" Add to that that many gyms are pressed for space and don't have extensive seating areas, and it's very common to have rules in place that prohibit parents from watching practices.

Our gym is in a larger sports facility, and has a large viewing area upstairs that allows for a view of every bit of the gym except for one tiny little corner. We were recently at a gym for a meet that had a small seating area on the same level as the gym floor, but they had monitors set up in the viewing area showing every area of the gym that wasn't visible from the seating area. This is not the norm, and it should be.

I'd like to see a shift in leotard expectations for practices as well. The girls spend half their practices pulling out wedgies. Every now and then I see a girl in a leotard with boy/bike style shorts, and it allows for just that much more modesty and, not to be gross, just that much less access. The boys practice in regular shorts and t-shirts (though they usually take the t-shirts off). The argument for having girls in leotards has to do with being able to see body lines. These things are important for the boys as well, but somehow they don't have to practice in the equivalent of their competition unitards.

Some of the cases coming to light now include a girl who was sexually abused by doctor Larry Nassar during medical exams while her mother was in the room (and Nassar positioned to block her view), and other girls who were touched under their leotards in the gym during practices. Best practices aren't a perfect preventive, but they need to be in place. And in case after case, if the first accusations were dealt with effectively, the incidence of abuse would drop dramatically as repeat offenders were prevented from repeating.

Good coaches are also very aware of how to position a gymnast's body appropriately, and gymnasts should be educated about what is and is not appropriate when being positioned. But gymnastics coaching is a pretty ad hoc thing. Teenage gymnasts become coaches for the littlest kids; former gymnasts make a little money in college by coaching; and they learn from the coaches and culture in the gym where they are.
posted by Orlop at 10:49 AM on December 15, 2016 [35 favorites]


The article goes into this a bit, noting among other things that the Boy Scouts of America and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have both adopted rules and restrictions on their volunteers and members that exceed those of USA Gymnastics.

USA Swimming had its own sex abuse scandal a few years ago and, as I understand it from a friend who has been involved with the sport, has developed some exemplary policies in the wake of it. I wish some organization would adopt exemplary policies after somebody else's scandal instead of waiting for their own.
posted by Orlop at 10:51 AM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Yeah, exactly. I'm sure fixated pedophiles seek access to kids, but this feels like something different.

To add to this discussion, I'm given to understand that in certain cases, the pedophile does have a genuine interest in the welfare of children, and believes that whatever they have to offer the child cancels out any harm they do (or, worse, believe that the pedophilia isn't harmful). I am thinking here of the pediatric researcher Carleton Gajdusek, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on prion disease, and yet I do not believe that any Nobel was worth what he did with the Papua New Guinean boys he "adopted."
posted by Countess Elena at 10:51 AM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I knew a man much older than me (dead now) that molested some young girls, probably more than I knew about. The molestations happened before I knew him, and when I learned that he had done that I was still a teenager. He died when I was in my early 20s and I was living far away by then.

Thing is, I contend that in his case it wasn't so much an "I'm so sexually attracted to young girls, I want to have sex with them" as it was a power thing, knowing full well that the sexual assault angle can be used as humiliation and secrecy in our puritanical, patriarchal society. He'd probably just as likely beat them up, but that caused visible bruising, and there's no societal "shame" in revealing you've been punched. I still remember, well before the child abuse came to light, this guy being weirdly cruel to his dog, and a couple other animals, thinking it's funny. He wasn't torturing or killing them, just being weirdly cruel, holding their tails for way too long, while looking me in the eye, laughing.

I'm not excusing any of this, just telling a story. I feel so bad for all the children involved.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:52 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


The excuse that they can't enforce behavior standards on their members due to "due process" issue is bullshit. As someone who works for a (completely different non-sports industry) membership association, you sure as hell can have standards. We have a code of ethics that every member must adhere to, and ethics inquiry (and appeals) boards that hear ethics complaints against our members. We can and have kicked people out of our organization due to violations. And this isn't even as important as the safety of children! ARGH this makes me so mad just knowing that this is a solved problem in the membership association world. My company is hardly alone in having these standards and procedures. USA Gymnastics is essentially saying they don't want to set up the procedures and structure to handle standards violations, which should easily satisfy any "due process" complaints.

It wouldn't solve the problem fully, as non-member gyms could still be housing predators. But at least USA Gymnastics could do something about *their* members and *their* gyms.
posted by misskaz at 10:53 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


> I think that any activity involved lots of one-on-one intimate time with a child and an older mentor is inherently dangerous. Taking a gymnastics class at the YMCA or joining the high school gymnastics team? All good. Signing up at a gym where a child spends hours alone with a coach whose job it is to position the young athlete's body? No. if they have have the potential to become one of the rarefied top 1% of all gymnastics, then MAYBE and only with highly vetted coaches. This is true especially if selfnoise'a understanding is correct that the power relationship between the athlete and coach creates dangerous circumstances.

Better vetting for private coaches is wise, yes. But what we're saying here is that power corrupts, so competitively limiting gymasts' eligibility to such coaches just concentrates MORE power in the hands of fewer coaches.

However, while I agree very much with selfnoises's understanding and in particular the way a fiendish thingy expanded upon it, I am a bit uncomfortable with your framing that it "creates dangerous circumstances." It reminds me of a bunch of other passive-voice dilutions of individual responsibility, such as the rape-culture belief that men are physically nearly-unable to control themselves once sexually aroused, or that "bad neighborhoods" are responsible for the violent crimes committed within them rather than the person wielding the gun.

I don't think that the answer is to presume that adult one-on-one intimate contact with children is inherently dangerous. I think that coaches need to stop abusing children.

I think that real change in any such institution needs to come from a commitment to self-policing. Much like the way I want to see all the "good cops" condemn the police brutality by "bad apples", I want to see professional associations and other coaches stop tolerating this shit, raise their eyebrows, call it out, and shun anyone who engages in it.
posted by desuetude at 10:53 AM on December 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


I do think that our culture would benefit from internalizing the knowledge that a much wider swath of our male populace is inclined towards child molestation
posted by Sys Rq at 10:54 AM on December 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


However, banning gymnastics would eliminate a lot of necessary good, competitive, esteem-building experiences which are mixed in with a lot of unfortunate experiences.

To be honest, this feels a double standard. Most people wanted Penn to burn to the ground, and the football program to get the death penalty (which, would be perfectly reasonable considering there was evidence of covering up at the higher levels). Russian Athletics were banned from Rio because they had their own State Plan 14.25 going on (which was harsh considering it was not clear how many were in with the scheme, but given the state-sanctioned abuse, it's also within the reasonable). If English teams are proven to have covered up or ignored sexual abuse, they should be punished accordingly, and if there's proof the FA also ignored the problem, they should also face a ban. Same with cyclists or other athletes using TUEs in bad faith, and so on.

Considering there's evidence USG actively ignored the problem, why shouldn't US Gymnastics be exempt from being kicked out from international competition for the next Olympic cycle? Sure, the IOC/FIG won't do that - I'm guessing a large part of what NBC pays for the Olympics is for the Gymnastics competition. But "necessary good, competitive, esteem-building experiences" could be said of any of those examples mentioned above, and I feel this scandal is mostly connected to the $1000 leotard dream path gyms. If that goal is cut off, there's an incentive for change.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:55 AM on December 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm not against (and in fact quite like) the basic concept of gymnastics. But the competitive face of it is a blight and needs massive reform.

While I agree with everything you say, and certainly there are uniquenesses among sports, this is pretty much the case with all "elite" sports competition.

the pedophile does have a genuine interest in the welfare of children, and believes that whatever they have to offer the child cancels out any harm they do (or, worse, believe that the pedophilia isn't harmful).

If you do any reading in the literature at all, you'll find that this is a prevalent position among pedophiles, both that the abuse is not harmful and that they are helping the kids because other adults either don't understand them, or are wrong to view them as less emotionally able to "handle sex."
posted by OmieWise at 10:56 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't think that the answer is to presume that adult one-on-one intimate contact with children is inherently dangerous. I think that coaches need to stop abusing children.

I disagree tremendously. A 14 year-old who is an elite competitor, who has the apparent emotional resolve to win and lose graciously at international events? If I were an emotionally dumb coach who loved kids and omigosh this girl is going to go the distance and I just love her? Too easy to slip.

I'm not saying that this isn't predatory and disgusting, but it's easier to have it happen than you seem to believe.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:57 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a teacher I'm a mandatory reporter of child abuse, meaning if I suspect it at all and don't report it to the police (not my administrator) within 36 hours, I can be charged with a crime. If I'm wrong, I'm immune from criminal or civil liability (unless it can be proved that I purposely made it up to hurt the person).

Every single person or business that works with children should be so designated, and prosecuted/shut down if they don't comply.

Also, as a male teacher of young children, I make sure I'm never, ever alone with a child. Hire assistants and make sure they're always in the room.

Require parent volunteers to be present at all times. In California, volunteers aren't mandated reporters, but they are legally required to report suspected abuse. (Just not to the same standards.)
posted by Huck500 at 11:02 AM on December 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


I disagree tremendously. A 14 year-old who is an elite competitor, who has the apparent emotional resolve to win and lose graciously at international events? If I were an emotionally dumb coach who loved kids and omigosh this girl is going to go the distance and I just love her? Too easy to slip.

Rape, fondling, groping and/or molestation of a child, especially of one who is trusting an authority figure to teach them a sport isn't a "slip." It's not an oops. It's sexual assault of a minor and shouldn't be glibly explained away as "easy" or as something that is in any way understandable.
posted by zarq at 11:16 AM on December 15, 2016 [60 favorites]


I disagree tremendously. A 14 year-old who is an elite competitor, who has the apparent emotional resolve to win and lose graciously at international events? If I were an emotionally dumb coach who loved kids and omigosh this girl is going to go the distance and I just love her? Too easy to slip.

I'm not saying that this isn't predatory and disgusting, but it's easier to have it happen than you seem to believe.
posted by TypographicalError at 1:57 PM on December 15 [+] [!]


One does not just "slip" into sexually assaulting a minor. It's not like you're out at the bar with your cute coworker in the middle of a great laugh and your faces get close and you go in for a kiss. You don't just accidentally forget that the person is a child. That what you're doing requires force. That you have to manipulate and weasel your way into getting trust. Ignoring someone when they say "no" isn't because you're "emotionally dumb". You don't call it a game, a secret, shroud it in suggestive-but-still-innocent vocabulary, robbing her of the words she could use to explain what's happening because you "love her". This isn't something that you "have happen", it is something that is done. The men do this to children. Actively, intentionally, and with careful thought through the entire process. Do not grant them a passive roll in this bullshit.

I have no problem saying there is about a %100 guarantee that the entire time these men were abusing children, they never let it "slip" their mind that they should never, ever get caught. They spared no expense to protect themselves while harming the literal children that were under their care.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:31 AM on December 15, 2016 [50 favorites]


I think the word "slip" was intended to mean slipping emotionally, down a steep terrible chasm which can, but shouldn't, lead to doing terrible damage.

We need more words. The ones we have all have bad stories associated with them.
posted by amtho at 11:32 AM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


While I agree with everything you say, and certainly there are uniquenesses among sports, this is pretty much the case with all "elite" sports competition.

I really do think girl's gymnastics (not 'women's' since adults can barely participate) is uniquely terrible. The fact that adults can't really participate really screws it all up - all of the competitors have been groomed from a very young age to be in it. Nobody there really had much choice in the matter - a 30 year old marathon runner or cyclist might have started young, but at least they had a chance to get out. When a gymnast gets that chance, they're too old to be in it anymore anyway!

Also, sports where there's a major adult amateur component are better designed for safety, even at the pro level.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:34 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]



However, banning gymnastics would eliminate a lot of necessary good, competitive, esteem-building experiences which are mixed in with a lot of unfortunate experiences. Maybe this problem could be addressed some other way, that would help prevent abuse in a more universal manner?


There's another issue. I'll give you an example to show the contrast:

My 4 year old loves to draw, and sculpt, and shape pieces of paper and fabric. So Mrs. Ocschwar and I take her to all sorts of arts programs around our city, where unpaid or underpaid art school graduates help her find novel ways to knock herself out with crayola merchandise.

Needless to say, we have no illusions that she's any likelier than anyone else to be the next Mary Cassat. And we really don't care what credentials or resume (art-wise, that is) the teachers have. They're invariably local people, with unrelated reasons to be local, who have the time to do these things.

If someone moved to our city specifically to be The Preschool Art Teacher at the local museum's annex, we'd have to wonder what's going on.

But if someone came to town to be the local talent developer in a big competitive sport, like gymnastics, well, he'll draw parents who have very specific ambitions for their child, and that's a whole different situation, with different dynamics, and much more opportunities not only for things to go pear shaped, but for that person to leave under a cloud and arrive elsewhere looking pure as the driven snow, to start again.

So, if you're a sports parent, or a stage parent, or (God help your poor child) a pageant parent, you need to have your eyes open to this potential.
posted by ocschwar at 11:36 AM on December 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


Honestly, I imagine that future humans will see our sports culture much the same way we see the Roman gladiatorial combat: a massive, wasteful, and barbaric distraction. The reality of both is far more nuanced, but the way it chews up and spits out young athletes is, I think, going to be one of its defining characteristics unless we do something about it soon.

(This is an optimistic future. It assumes a lot of things.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:45 AM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


However, banning gymnastics would eliminate a lot of necessary good, competitive, esteem-building experiences which are mixed in with a lot of unfortunate experiences.

Why? You can always play a different sport.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:49 AM on December 15, 2016


Why? You can always play a different sport.


This potential is present in any sport where there's an explicit effort to identify the elite among the children and send them to the Olympics. Maybe team sports are a little bit better, but I would not count on it.

Sandlot soccer, folks. Toss a ball into an empty lot and tell the kids to be back before dinner.
posted by ocschwar at 11:53 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


This potential is present in any sport where there's an explicit effort to identify the elite among the children and send them to the Olympics.

So put your kids in a sport where the Olympic level happens during adulthood, which is most of them.

I admit there is still some danger, but I think the danger is much less and the sports are much healthier for children in other ways too.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:55 AM on December 15, 2016


What selfnoise is describing is men who have never had that desire, but whose career trajectories end up putting them in positions of power over children, and who then realize "I can do whatever I want and no one will stop me." In the latter case, the attraction doesn't pre-exist the situation. It is a result of it.

I don't find this plausible, but am willing to be convinced. I just don't think it would occur to a normally functioning libido to view children as sex objects. In fact, repulsion to the idea would be the norm. Some predisposition to pedophilia would be necessary to induce such behavior. Other than a few anecdotal and unconvincing examples cited here, I'm not aware of any research that would support this notion. Does anyone else know of some?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:56 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


See, you're confusing rape and sex. I agree that if you want to have sex with someone, you logically must see them as sexually desirable. But if you want to rape someone, you see them as someone less powerful than you that you can take advantage of. That you can hurt.
posted by chainsofreedom at 12:02 PM on December 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


I disagree tremendously. A 14 year-old who is an elite competitor, who has the apparent emotional resolve to win and lose graciously at international events? If I were an emotionally dumb coach who loved kids and omigosh this girl is going to go the distance and I just love her? Too easy to slip.

What a romantic picture- a child capable of adult things and therefore adult love! Too bad it's bullshit. Even a 14-year old wonderkid is still a kid- I just looked up some pictures of top USA gymnasts who are about that age, and they are very visibly children (a good number of them have braces or retainers). There is no "slipping" into sexually pursuing a child, and if you think there is, you need to dismantle your worldview.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:07 PM on December 15, 2016 [20 favorites]


I started having sex at the instigation of my then 14 year old girlfriend. Neither of us were anywhere near mature enough for that relationship, but we were both sure we were. If you think adults can't be misguided in the same way, especially when their charge is seemingly invincible, well I'm not sure why we're bothering to talk about why adults abuse adolescents, because that is a real thing that happens.
posted by TypographicalError at 12:10 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Competitive gymnastics is a complete disaster for the competitors. Once you get past the sex abuse, there's the regular physical abuse. Once you get past that, there's the extreme stage parenting and pressure that goes on. Once you get past that, it's a really dangerous sport considering it's mostly children. Once you get past that, there's the eating disorders. Once you get past that, you age out of it really young, so it had little or no lifetime value for participants.

What sport isn't, to some degree?

Once you get past some level of abuse (sexual, physical, etc.), there is still parental pressure--see "little league dads," etc. Gymnastics is definitely dangerous, especially given the fact they are going at it without protective gear, but concussions in football/soccer are well known. Some sports may breed eating disorders; others, the use of PEDs. While a professional cyclists or baseball players may have a career lasting into their thirties or later, what percentage of these kids actually make it that far?

Unfortunately, we tend to channel kids into sports where there is a path to an elite classification without road to a casual, lifetime-fitness category. In part, it's driven by the fact that such selections happen early in life (as opposed to other careers where few people younger than twenty-five might be able to start, much less be regarded as experienced or elite).

In each sport, you narrow the field of children who have the ability to compete at each level. At five, everyone who wants to plays and gets a trophy; in high school, only a handful make varsity. A fraction of those go on to college...

I'm not justifying this pipeline with "they all do it." Rather, it may suggest there are different approaches, from recognizing and working to mitigate these ills, to preparing these kids for life-after-sport a priority for youth athletic programs.
posted by MrGuilt at 12:12 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just don't think it would occur to a normally functioning libido to view children as sex objects.

But sometimes it's not about sex. It's not the body in front of them that gets them off. It's the power they have over the body in front of them. This is why 85 year old women are raped. This is why women covered head to foot are still raped. It's not about sexual desirability, it's about a predator realizing they can do whatever they want to the body in front of them and NO ONE can stop them and getting satisfaction from that rush of power.

That's what rape and sexual abuse is about. It's not about coming, because sometimes the perpetrator doesn't even manage that. It's about taking away someone else's power over the one thing they assumed no one but they themselves could have say so over - their own self.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 12:13 PM on December 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


I started having sex at the instigation of my then 14 year old girlfriend. Neither of us were anywhere near mature enough for that relationship, but we were both sure we were. If you think adults can't be misguided in the same way, especially when their charge is seemingly invincible, well I'm not sure why we're bothering to talk about why adults abuse adolescents, because that is a real thing that happens.

Assuming you and your fourteen-year-old girlfriend were peers (and I sincerely, sincerely hope you were) this is not even remotely comparable. An adult who is so "misguided" that they believe that they can have an appropriate relationship with a young teenager has judgement so poor they shouldn't be around kids in any circumstances. Jesus Christ.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:19 PM on December 15, 2016 [43 favorites]


And Penn State still has a football program, which sends a horrific message about our priorities.
posted by Beholder at 12:19 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I started having sex at the instigation of my then 14 year old girlfriend. Neither of us were anywhere near mature enough for that relationship, but we were both sure we were. If you think adults can't be misguided in the same way, especially when their charge is seemingly invincible, well I'm not sure why we're bothering to talk about why adults abuse adolescents, because that is a real thing that happens.

No, they can't!! Of fucking course it's not misguidedness in the same way, because THESE ARE ADULTS. This is not the same as a couple of preteens exploring clumsy sexuality (which I hope is what you experienced), because in this scenario one of them is not a preteen. They are a willful predator who is using their power to either manipulate or physically force and then silence a child into doing sexual acts with them! I'm just...disgusted and shocked at the mere notion that a 14 year old girl could somehow guide an adult into abusing herself. It is never, under any circumstance, the fault of the abused.

We're bothering to talk about why adults abuse adolescents, apparently because there are people out there who think this kind of this is just a puppy love story gone wrong.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:23 PM on December 15, 2016 [27 favorites]


I started having sex at the instigation of my then 14 year old girlfriend. Neither of us were anywhere near mature enough for that relationship, but we were both sure we were. If you think adults can't be misguided in the same way, especially when their charge is seemingly invincible, well I'm not sure why we're bothering to talk about why adults abuse adolescents, because that is a real thing that happens.

I'm sorry to post again but this is really upsetting and I'm still thinking about it. You are rushing to defend the adults hurting kids (adults who have all the power, experience, and brain development in this situation) instead of thinking about the well-being of the kids who are being hurt and have no recourse. The adults in these situations are the aggressors and have all of the resources. When they are vocally given additional support and excuses are made for them, it just reinforces to kids who are being hurt and taken advantage of that no one will help or protect them. These kids really, really need help and protection because they are being abused and exploited. Don't call that abuse and exploitation "misguided". It's important to stand up and say "this isn't okay and we won't stand for it" because it isn't okay and we shouldn't stand for it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:26 PM on December 15, 2016 [30 favorites]


[A couple comments removed. Folks, this is a super-charged subject and it's not gonna go better with a derail toward interrogating a fellow user. There's pretty clear daylight in the original comment between positing the mental model that leads to an acknowledgedly-terrible thing and in any way suggesting that that thing isn't terrible; let's recognize that and collectively move on with this.]
posted by cortex at 12:28 PM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


I don't find this plausible, but am willing to be convinced. I just don't think it would occur to a normally functioning libido to view children as sex objects.

I mean, I guess it is anecdata, but interviews with people who have been arrested for these crimes seems to indicate that there are two very different paths to the behavior. Some people have always had the desires. Some never did, but their circumstances led them to begin to view the behavior as a possibility, and then the desires started.

I've seen similar accounts from men who never considered themselves pedophiles or had attraction to children, but who became bored with all porn featuring adults and the "forbidden" allure of child porn led to them checking it out, getting hooked, and being horrified at themselves.

Culture shapes behavior. Your comment seems a bit redolent of evo-psych, which completely discounts the bizarre world of gymnastics. The mix of infantilization, sexualization, objectification, and Svengali-worship running through the field is obvious to even a casual watcher of the Olympics every four years. People are not immune to their environments, and absent a culture of protection, oversight, and collective action to prevent wrongdoing, this result is horrifying but also depressingly unsurprising.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:32 PM on December 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


You know, it doesn't really matter if you could find any justifiable reason or not for underage sex and sexual abuse. It's still morally wrong and very against the law.
posted by INFJ at 12:33 PM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


You know, it doesn't really matter if you could find any justifiable reason or not for underage sex and sexual abuse. It's still morally wrong and very against the law.

Not sure if this is in response to me, so let me be clear: I think these behaviors are vile, horrible, monstrous examples of predation.

But I also think that most humans are vulnerable to environments where such predation is normalized and unfettered (see: Zimbardo).

I don't think everyone put in these types of positions will hurt children. But enough of them will that the situation is what part of what should be changed-- which is exactly why so many victims are so angry at the membership organization. We know how to prevent the majority of these abuses, other orgs are literally writing guides for preventing these abuses, and people who have suffered at the hands of abusers have been brave enough to step forward and say "here is how someone could have helped me". The fact that the organization is uninterested in creating a system of accountability does not let the abusers off the hook for their own behavior, but it does make the organization complicit, because they are more interested in medals and prestige than in keeping children safe.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:40 PM on December 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I think you guys are missing the point of his example. There's a lot of good reasons to think that intensive full-time one on one mentoring relationships can turn inappropriate really easily - I mean, they certainly do between adults (see also graduate students and professors, workplace situations, etc.). Maybe let's try not putting teenagers into these with adults.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:48 PM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I mean, they certainly do between adults

one of the things about adults is that they are not children
posted by beerperson at 12:51 PM on December 15, 2016 [25 favorites]


I find it very hard to follow the parallels that are being drawn between one on one mentoring between adults, between adults and teenagers, and some of the described sexual assaults on children. There is no analogy between getting too close to your driven student, and sticking your fingers in the crotch of a 6-year-old girl's leotard while spotting her in handstands.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:54 PM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think the saddest part of the whole idea that even a single pedophile can be classed as a misguided romantic who has simply succumbed to the wiles of unusually mature adolescents is that unusually mature adolescents are encouraged to believe it. You see it play out throughout the IndyStar story, from the girls who believed they were in non-predatory "adult" relationships with their coaches to the girls who knew they were being abused but believed they had brought the abuse upon themselves.

It's impossible to articulate how it feels to be a precocious young girl told by a man twice or three times your age that you are rare and fine. You start to try to want to believe it because you've long been told that the presence or absence of a man's desire ascertains or negates your value as a human being, but you also know you need to keep it secret, more secret than you've ever kept anything, because if he doesn't ruin your life outright, you're going to be held at least partially responsible for whatever has happened along with whatever happens next. It's a soul-killer.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 12:55 PM on December 15, 2016 [68 favorites]


I do think that our culture would benefit from internalizing the knowledge that a much wider swath of our male populace is inclined towards child molestation given the right circumstances, at least than we seem to believe now.

I find this hard to believe or understand but objective assessment of the evidence says you're right.
posted by Segundus at 1:00 PM on December 15, 2016


Also, sports where there's a major adult amateur component are better designed for safety, even at the pro level.

I'm not really seeing this argument- what sports are there in which adults compete at world class levels where people do not often begin as children? Certainly not swimming, baseball, football, basketball, ice skating, hockey, snowsports, track & field, equestrian sports, or soccer. The huge child molestation scandal in the UK football clubs is evidence that there's not really safety in a sport having a major adult amateur component.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:03 PM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


You can remove "male" from my original comment if it helps: it was distracting and not the point I was trying to make.
posted by selfnoise at 1:06 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't think that the answer is to presume that adult one-on-one intimate contact with children is inherently dangerous. I think that coaches need to stop abusing children.

Sure, I agree to both. Yet as a Boy Scout parent volunteer, I have taken mandatory Youth Protection Training, and I abide by the "Two-Deep Leadership" principle in which I am never alone with -- or even communicating with, e.g., via email -- a person under 18.

Hell, on campouts there need to be FOUR adults there, in case someone gets hurt and two adults need to transport them to a hospital.

I want everyone to behave correctly, but putting in place mechanisms that force us all to do the right thing is fine.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:06 PM on December 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


Can we be crystal clear about something here?

The hundreds of cases in the article were not between two teenagers. They weren't between two adults. Each was between a child and an adult. This is the heart of the article and the core of why this was a scandal. They were not edge cases. In most cases these were adults in their 20's, 30's or 40's who were molesting children under the age of 14. Some of those kids were pre-pubertal.

There is no such thing as consensual sex / molestation between a child and an adult. Children do not have the ability to give consent. The victims in these hundreds of cases were minors who were sexually assaulted by adults. In some cases, an adult had sex with them, and by definition that was rape: a non-consensual act.

If we read the police reports linked in the article, most of the children (possibly all?) who were interviewed by the police reported feeling scared, intimidated and/or threatened by the person who was assaulting them. One was told on multiple occasions by their molester not to tell her parents what was happening. This wasn't accidental. Calling it an accident or in any way trying to normalize it is something rapists do. They try to justify what they have done to their victims, or to a judge and jury by making it seem like what they have done is something that anyone would do if given the opportunity. But it's not normal. These children were not sexually assaulted because an adult's emotions somehow got the better of them or they made an inexplicable mistake.

These details matter. They are a big part of the story. And it is not helpful to rhetorically blur those lines because that's not what happened here, in hundreds of cases.
posted by zarq at 1:08 PM on December 15, 2016 [47 favorites]


My perpetrator was a coach (and also my dad) but not of gymnastics)

Part if his justification for sexual abuse was that severe pain would make me better at whatever. Really he used every excuse in the book, but one of them was literally as 'if your better then this won't have to happen.'

Every perpetrator rationalizes to some extent, which Is one of the reasons talking about adult emotional vulnerability in relationships is such a fiesty subject. Because perps have and will use anything at their disposal to justify or minimize their actions including it was for their own good.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:09 PM on December 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


To me, I get why people are pouncing on "don't excuse this and the abuser should be held accountable!" and all that.

It's just... weirdly amounts to sounding like people are saying "let's expose our children and teens to adults one on one because adults should be better"

Like. they should.

But, too many aren't.

So.... I still think the point people are trying to make about protecting children and teens from these potentially predatory situations is really important?
posted by xarnop at 1:15 PM on December 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


I think to create effectively safe situations you need to be able to acknowledge that even people you trust may actually be capable of monstrous acts. So, don't excuse a child rapist, obviously, but also don't treat the idea as fundamentally foreign to your culture.
posted by selfnoise at 1:21 PM on December 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


I think defining sexual assault and child molestation as aberrant sexuality that deviates from the norm (which requires a definition of "normal sexual behavior") leaves too much room to rationalize the abuse and defer the responsibility of the abusers.What's troubling about reports like these (aside from the obvious horror) is it's not all that surprising. People almost expect it from male dominated organizations. Child abuse and sexual assault are extremely common and normal. Systems exist to shield the abusers and shunt responsibility. It takes monumental efforts by the abused and those who support them to achieve even small amounts of justice. There's plenty of retro active condemnation and shock, people scrambling to make some sense of it but nobody (in power) ever wants to look at-speak about the actual problem directly, which is: A large population of heterosexual men have deeply toxic sexualities that society regularly and consistently excuses.
posted by AtoBtoA at 1:21 PM on December 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's just... weirdly amounts to sounding like people are saying "let's expose our children and teens to adults one on one because adults should be better"

No, what it sounds like people are saying is "there is no excuse for having sexual contact with a child, and people should not try to make excuses or find reasons why it's understandable or just the way people are or anything like that."

How on earth do you get from people saying "don't excuse this, hold abusers accountable" to "let's expose our children and teens to adults one on one because adults should be better"?
posted by Lexica at 1:21 PM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is horrible and fascinating.

I did gymnastics from ages 8-14. Not super duper seriously, but I competed, and practiced 3 times per week, and was just super into it. It was mostly very positive, though I did develop some disordered eating stuff at one point, and fortunately my dad of all people intervened and I quickly got over it.

But I had a coach, a female coach, when I was 13 and she was.. I think about 22 or 23 who worked with me for about 1 and half year. And man, I was so into her. So so into her! Not 'in love" per se, but very crushed out... strong feelings and attachments. I just felt like she was my everything for a bit. I was infactuated I guess in the classic teacher/student way.

She made me feel so good about myself in that period/life stage/middle school when my self esteem just sort of sucked.

It really freaks me out now to think if she had been a man, or hell, a woman with diffuse sexual boundaries what could have happened. She drove me to competitions, we spent a few overnights together, and when she left for another gym, I remember writing her this long, kind of I'm so devastated email I love you so much! Please come back!

So, yeah, not very hard to see how this could happen easily to young girls, and that's just sickening. ugh.
posted by Rocket26 at 1:26 PM on December 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


If you read the article, they point out that these assaults happened in gymnastics contexts across the spectrum - from the Karolyi's elite gym ranch place, to YMCA rec classes. It's not enough to change the culture of one-on-one coaching, because a lot of these men were coaches in relatively informal gyms who took advantage of the failings of USA Gymnastics when it came to responding to reports of sexual assault and reports from concerned observers witnessing grooming behaviors. Men were bouncing from one gym to the next, even if they were accused of sexual assault without any mandated reporting from previous employers. Men telling 12 year olds that if they told their family what was happening, they would get hurt. Men posing little girls for pictures without their underwear. Men going to the next gym and doing the same thing because USAG did not take reports seriously or have a system in place to deal with them.

It's not so much a failing of elite gymnastics who just Want It Too Bad as it is a systemic and institutional failing of the organization that's supposed to be sanctioning gyms and coaches and protecting gymnasts in the US of all ages and levels. It's a symptom of a larger cultural failure to treat sexual assault and child abuse with the seriousness and resources it deserves, and I think we can see that extended to some of the above conversation in this thread.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:26 PM on December 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


Our legal system is already willing and ready to come down on offenders hard enough that one coach, as per this article, has killed himself in prison. So I really don't think we need to we need to up the outrage. The system is willing to be more than adequately outraged on our behalf.

Which means, yes, it is appropriate to discuss the way one-on-one mentoring, for hours every day, in near complete isolation from the world, can contribute to the problem. It's not just the gymnasts in the elite gyms who live like hermits. The coaches do too. And in that isolation, there is nobody who is physically in place to step in and uphold the boundaries we all know should be upheld between coach and athlete.
posted by ocschwar at 1:28 PM on December 15, 2016


A lot of people have talked about how early female gymnasts peak, but I strongly believe that's mostly a function of scoring. There's no inherent reason why women can't practice gymnastics into their 20 and 30s like the men do, but the scoring and events for women are arranged such that skills that are easier when you're young are rewarded more than skills that can continue to perform or be better at as you age. It needs an overhaul, and to continue iterating the rules and events for women until the average age of elite female gymnasts is similar to male gymnasts.

Other sports with the same age issue, like swimming, have less room to maneuver. There's only so many rule changes you can make in swim races. Competitive gymnastics is a sport that's judged subjectively on a point basis, competing on events entirely subject to human design. There's no reason it can't be different.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:29 PM on December 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


Add women's pro cycling to the list.
posted by jetsetsc at 1:31 PM on December 15, 2016


It doesn't really matter what the cause of adult-towards-child sexual attraction is; by definition there will always be adults displaying this behavior for the first time. The rules we make for child safety are about protecting kids, not removing adults from temptation or whatever. In fact, that formation seems to be one of the ways child abuse is enabled - people say "Surely you acknowledge that Coach/Father/Rabbi soandso is above suspicion, acting in any other way would be an insult." But no, they're not above suspicion; nobody is above suspicion; attempting to act without oversight is probably the most glaringly suspicious act imaginable.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:31 PM on December 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


No, what it sounds like people are saying is "there is no excuse for having sexual contact with a child, and people should not try to make excuses or find reasons why it's understandable or just the way people are or anything like that."

But saying "this is understandable" doesn't have to mean "oh, that poor child molester, his actions were just misguided". It can mean "we know that certain circumstances lead to certain results. We understand this as a universal organizing principle that has cyclically been repeated throughout the entirety of human history, and yet this organization, like many organizations before it, has chosen to ignore these circumstances despite an onslaught of evidence, requests for assistance, and legal actions."

Saying "just the way people are" doesn't have to mean "eh, people will be terrible, whatcha gonna do". It can mean "people are flawed, and a certain number of flawed people in broken systems will inevitably perpetuate violence against one another. Fixing the system (or dismantling it, depending on the system) can help protect against this kind of result in the future."

Trying to understand something doesn't have to mean excusing it. It can also be a way of preventing it from happening again.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:34 PM on December 15, 2016 [29 favorites]


I do think that our culture would benefit from internalizing the knowledge that a much wider swath of our male populace is inclined towards child molestation given the right circumstances, at least than we seem to believe now.

I find this hard to believe or understand but objective assessment of the evidence says you're right.


I don't find it even a little bit hard to believe. I have heard the vile phrase "Old enough to bleed is old enough to breed" from more than a few men, none of whom I had previously thought of as potential predators.
posted by Daily Alice at 1:35 PM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Like, we don't try to understand infectious diseases so we can "get into their mindset" or ignore the damage they cause. We try to understand them so we can stop them from spreading.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:36 PM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


i don't think we should call it 'diffuse sexual boundaries' if the perpetrator is female. still 'sexual abuse' and 'pedophilia' to me.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:52 PM on December 15, 2016


What's the education like for the kids? Do we talk with kids about how their trusted adult mentors might try to abuse them? What's the education for the parents?
posted by amanda at 3:09 PM on December 15, 2016


> Do we talk with kids about how their trusted adult mentors might try to abuse them

The sex ed classes taught in my area include discussions on how nobody should touch you without your consent, and what to do if they do.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:54 PM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


To state minus an earlier, very ill-advised analogy for which I apologize: I completely understand why folks would be hair-trigger bristly about the idea of someone "slipping" into child abuse, but I think to completely shut out the concept dangerously casts molestation as a randomly generated event rather than a social behavior that is facilitated by a rape culture. To understand a context that enables/discourages harmful behavior does not offer justification for it.
posted by zokni at 4:00 PM on December 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


How on earth do you get from people saying "don't excuse this, hold abusers accountable" to "let's expose our children and teens to adults one on one because adults should be better"?

Was there was any comment that said "don't hold abusers accountable?"
posted by atoxyl at 4:58 PM on December 15, 2016


It seems like people are talking past each other a little bit here.
posted by atoxyl at 4:59 PM on December 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


The system is willing to be more than adequately outraged on our behalf.

Oh, is it? I beg to fucking differ. The system is not outraged. The system is actively engaged in allowing it to continue, in sweeping it under the rug. One coach committing suicide in jail does not an epidemic make. Three hundred and sixty eight cases of sexual abuse? With plenty of neglect in oversight? Now that's a goddamn epidemic.
posted by sockermom at 6:01 PM on December 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


I think that while it can be very uncomfortable to look at child abuse as a (deeply malignant and anti-social) behavior rather than as an inherent flaw deterministically present in a specific set of people, it's also a heck of a lot less bleak than the alternative. Given how horrifyingly common child molestation is, doesn't it follow that the best-case society, in a world where people are either born abusers or inherently incapable of it, would be a permanent carceral state where a not-insignificant number of adults are fully irredeemable? I absolutely think that meaningful changes to the cultural/political environment would bring about a reduction in the epidemic of child sexual abuse, beyond simply preventing would-be abusers from accessing children. I mean, this is the established framework we use for attacking every single other social problem.
posted by zokni at 6:54 PM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also, if abusers are viewed as 100% evil, then people are unable to imagine that their "friends" might be abusers. They are work mates, or friends; they take care of their dogs; they donate, they volunteer, they clean up, they organize, they speak well, they win awards, they achieve success -- they are people that other people look on with affection or admiration. If abusers have to be 100% evil, then naturally this "friend" won't "seem" like an abuser to his or her acquaintances or fans.

By allowing that abusers might exhibit other, non-abusive behavior more than 50% of the time, that non-vulnerable people might even experience that person as, in a very real-to-them way, a good-enough seeming egg; by making it even a dominant narrative that _good-seeming people_, even _people who do other things that are actually good_, can do _terrible things and hurt others beyond fixing_, we open an important door: we allow people to believe both stories about their friends, both that they are human beings and that they should never, ever be allowed around vulnerable people.

Otherwise, if we only allow one story at a time about any person, a "good" person can't also be an abuser. An abuser can't also be a good person, an abuser wouldn't be that guy who saved my cat, or that guy who taught Cynthia to shine like a star, or that guy who got Mamie a scholarship that changed her whole life. Those are heroic acts, so that guy's a hero.

We need to be able to internalize that people can be both things at once. In fact, abusers almost _always_ are both things at once.

Yes, every "good" deed they do is tainted by the horribleness of the abuse, and they might not be real heroes (I'm not able to assess this, and I don't claim to). But the lived experience of people close to them who are not in their target group is positive, and for those people to be able to listen to accusers and whistle blowers, or to notice problems and be able to report them, they need to be able to reconcile their positive experiences with the possibility of hugely negative experiences. That requires the ability to hold both things in the mind at the same time.
posted by amtho at 9:27 PM on December 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


I spent a fair amount of time alone with two of my high school teachers (not athletics-related). I had enormous crushes on them;they treated me with respect and they seemed interested in who I was, unlike my family. Like amnesia and magnets said, being told that you're special beyond your years is absolutely intoxicating. No physical contact ever happened, but it would have felt consensual on my end and then at some point the bottom would have dropped out, because I had no concept that it would be inappropriate for an adult to have a relationship with someone my age. There was and is nothing for me to "report," but they should not have put me in that emotionally vulnerable position. I mean, they would share personal hopes and dreams and disappointments that I now, at age 42, wouldn't even consider sharing with a child. It gets weirder the more I think about it.

I'm not comparing my situation to these girls - like I said, I was not physically touched - but I do wish my parents had noticed something was going on. It should have been fairly obvious - one of them was taking me to lunch off school property, the other frequently stayed late and drove me home (these were not concurrent "relationships"). I would talk about them in glowing terms and do stuff like draw hearts around their initials. I mean, come on. It's normal for teens to have crushes; it's not normal or right for the adults to feed into them.
posted by AFABulous at 11:02 PM on December 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


I mean, it's been 25 years and I still remember their middle names, birthdays, and other trivia. That's just weird.
posted by AFABulous at 11:21 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Our legal system is already willing and ready to come down on offenders hard enough that one coach, as per this article, has killed himself in prison. So I really don't think we need to we need to up the outrage. The system is willing to be more than adequately outraged on our behalf.

This seems like a weird formulation. In the first place, the article is largely about "the system" largely condoning this behavior through inaction and looking the other way. That there may ultimately be legal consequences does not indicate that these issues are handled with appropriate concern or outrage by "the system." In the second place, it's strange to use this guy's suicide as an indication that the system is coming down hard on offenders. He was likely facing less time than a murderer, killing himself was his own deal, not an indication of "the system" coming down hard (or too hard?) on him.

A large population of heterosexual [emphasis added] men have deeply toxic sexualities that society regularly and consistently excuses.

I agree with you, but I'd also point out that all sorts of sexual abuse is prevalent in homosexual male culture as well. I know several people whose careers are centered on working with gay men who have been raped or abused, often by their doctors or coaches.
posted by OmieWise at 6:50 AM on December 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


In the first place, the article is largely about "the system" largely condoning this behavior through inaction and looking the other way.

I think we can be pretty damned outraged against pedophiles and that the stigma is immense. But at the same time, I think rape culture is often stronger than our outrage.

Once we run into a case rape culture allows us to question, we do. She's more mature than her age, she asked for it, "if it's old enough to bleed it's old enough to breed," he wouldn't do that because he's a hero...

So we end up piling all that outrage into the predators it is the most convenient to hate, instead of using it to challenge the systems and attitudes that encourage widespread abuse. Because challenging those would be hard and inconvenient, and it would require some pretty intense and difficult questions.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:52 AM on December 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


And Penn State still has a football program, which sends a horrific message about our priorities.

And I hear the Roman Catholic Church is still a thing after all these years...
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:08 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


See, you're confusing rape and sex. I agree that if you want to have sex with someone, you logically must see them as sexually desirable. But if you want to rape someone, you see them as someone less powerful than you that you can take advantage of. That you can hurt.

I don't think I am. There are a myriad of ways to take advantage of someone, and it takes at least some sexual orientation towards the other if you're going to use it to dominate someone else. For it to be taking advantage of the other person, it would have to be pleasurable to the one taking advantage, otherwise, what's the advantage? And it's certainly not the canonical way people dominate each other. I really wonder if any research backs up this idea that a non-pedophile would engage in sex with a minor as a way of dominating them.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:12 PM on December 16, 2016


I find it weird that these places which nurture and cultivate girls and young women into gymnasts, a sport dominated by female participation is owned, cultivated, coached and financed largely by men. It's a problem. I noted in the article that the gym owner who seemed to be running up against the system of stonewalling and non-reporting is a woman.

I find this strange in all places where women dominate the lower echelons and support staff but everything is run by a man or men. There's so many reasons for this that are absolutely connected to sexism, bias in financing, pay inequality, power differentials related to culture and other things. There's no *good* reason for it.
posted by amanda at 12:47 PM on December 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


I don't think I am. There are a myriad of ways to take advantage of someone, and it takes at least some sexual orientation towards the other if you're going to use it to dominate someone else. For it to be taking advantage of the other person, it would have to be pleasurable to the one taking advantage, otherwise, what's the advantage? And it's certainly not the canonical way people dominate each other. I really wonder if any research backs up this idea that a non-pedophile would engage in sex with a minor as a way of dominating them.

Rape is a crime of power and control. The primary motivator for rapists is not impulsive sexual gratification. Rape is a form of sexualized violence, where one person places their desires over another's consent.

When the victim is a child, these basic facts don't change.
posted by zarq at 1:30 PM on December 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


Mental Wimp, I know my case and my experiences are just my own, but I know that part of my abuse was specifically only about domination.

I won't give exact details because I do not feel like triggering others, but just trust me here. Power and Control.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:10 PM on December 16, 2016


Power and Control.

Rape is a crime of power and control.

The point I'm trying to make does not negate this this very valid and well established fact. However, there are a myriad of examples of people establishing dominance without resorting to rape, in spite of the fact that the domination is complete in its sway. There has to be a reason why for some rape is an instrument of domination over another and for others it is not. If it is not sexual in nature, I'm at a loss for what it could be. I find it incredible that a person without a pre-existing desire to commit a particular sexual act, or at least no inherent repugnance for it, would commit it as an act of dominance. We've all, at one time or another, exercised dominion over another and rarely does that lead to the idea that a forced sexual act is part of it. The person committing it is already bent in that direction. This in no way refutes or contradicts that it is an act of power and control. It's just one that is connected to a sick sexual proclivity, whether it be an act of pedophilia or forcible, violent rape.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:45 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


What about young men that rape very elderly women? Do you think they are sexually attracted to them? Or is it because they are an extremely vulnerable target?

Of course people get turned by power and control; when it's consensual we call it BDSM. I don't think people are saying rape is never about sexual desire. But it's primarily about power and control. If they had sexual urges and cared about consent they would either find a willing partner, pay for it, or just watch porn. If they have sexual urges and don't care about consent, then the power and control is the overriding desire, not the sex.

There has to be a reason why for some rape is an instrument of domination over another and for others it is not.

Just like some people just beat the shit out of someone with their fists, and some people get super sadistic with knives or whatever. Both cause pain but the latter is a level above and beyond.

I'm not sure what your overarching point is. Why are you focusing on the sexual desire aspect?
posted by AFABulous at 11:23 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


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