By Sharanya Gopinathan
On 20th February, 2017, the Guardian reported that three elite former US gymnasts have come forward with sexual abuse claims against Olympic Gymnastics doctor and Michigan State University Gymnastics coach Dr Larry Nassar. On the same day, CNN reported that 18 women have filed federal lawsuits against him for repeated sexual abuse during medical examinations.
On 22nd November 2016, CNN had also reported that the Michigan attorney general had received 50 more complaints since he was arrested on charges of sexually abusing minors on the 21st November. He’s also been indicted on child pornography complaints.
Given the sheer volume of complaints, the conflicting news reports and the likelihood that several women who had been assaulted have chosen not to come forward (which is always a possibility no matter where in the world you are) it’s getting near to impossible to figure out exactly how many women and minors he abused through the course of his career as a USA Gymnastics doctor, which lasted over four Olympics. Many of the women were under the age of 18 at the time he sexually abused them, and one of his victims was as young as nine. In a pattern that emerges from several of the reports, it’s clear that the women and girls thought they were undergoing treatments for various sports-related injuries when he sexually abused them.
These reports come on the heels of a study undertaken the Indianapolis Star, which showed that over 368 gymnasts had alleged sexual abuse over a 20 year period, by at least 100 coaches, gym owners and others.
India, too, has a terrible record when it comes to abuse in sports and the treatment these cases receive. Sardar Singh, ex-captain of the Indian men’s hockey team made headlines in 2016 after he was accused of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. In May 2015, a 15 year old athlete committed suicide after abuse by sports officials. At the Asian Games in 2014, a gymnastics coach and a male gymnast were booked for sexually harassing another female gymnast at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, following which the Sports Authority of India director general Jiji Thomson repulsively called it a “larger conspiracy resulting from the infighting” in the Gymnastics Federation of India.