Imagine how different Larry Nassar’s life would be if Michigan State had held him accountable after a few victims reported sexual misconduct. How different would Jerry Sandusky’s life be if he had been offered a path to treatment from the onset? Think about the many victims who could have been saved if the misconduct was addressed early on.
Larry Nassar, Jeffery Epstein, and Jerry Sandusky: their names will be forever tarnished. They will go down in history as infamous predators for their heinous acts against minors. No one will remember the once skilled doctor to the stars or the amazing coach who developed children’s talents.
How did an entire system fail to protect vulnerable kids? What could have been done to stop misconduct before the behavior became abusive?
We tend to focus entirely on the detrimental impact on victims. While this is undeniably important to do, we must also look at the other side of the equation: the offenders. They, too, are victims in their own way, often falling prey to accomplices in the institutions themselves. Researching and investigating hundreds of sexual misconduct cases presents a persistent pattern of intensified abuse.
At the onset, incidents often start as mere inappropriate behaviors that cause some discomfort. Many predators use a tactic called ‘grooming’ to gain the trust and affection of children: giving candy, providing flirtatious compliments, and subtle touching are all examples of this ‘innocent’ manipulative tool. Kids may pick up on this seduction and report it; however, when they do, authorities often dismiss them on claims that this behavior poses no clear threat or danger. Officials often brush off the allegations with phrases such as, “oh, just ignore that…boys will be boys…” or “we used to do that when we were kids, don’t worry about it…” This period, where victims are ignored, is where misconduct morphs into abuse. In due time, the kind and gentle taps on the shoulder transition to intimate touches of private body parts.
But indeed, administrators have the power to prevent this. They have a fiduciary responsibility to create a safe environment for their stakeholders and to restore trust within the organization. This can be done through honest and constructive conversations. If open dialogue was created from the onset, mediated by an authority of the institution, the offender would be warned and the victim protected. This consensus would prevent further misconduct and, of course, crime.
However, as organizations cover up the issue, that misconduct transforms into toxic and normalized abusive behavior. After putting sexual offenders behind bars for so many years–from those in the Catholic Church to top-tier universities and K-12 schools–we’ve seen no decline in sexual abuse cases; in fact, the severity of the assault intensifies and the number of victims increases. To prevent abuse, we must address misconduct early on to uproot it. However, offenders today are often deprived of a path to treatment due to cover up practices. Once everyone fulfills their responsibilities and is held accountable from the onset, abuse will stop.
Let’s examine the school system in order to fully understand this concept. We send our children to school with full trust in the administrators, teachers, and staff. While we may think school personnel prioritize making school a safe place for our kids to learn and grow, their priorities often lie elsewhere. Unfortunately, when children bravely report sexual misconduct at school, protecting your child is secondary to them: minimizing liability comes first.
The cover-ups that ensue in order to shield the institution’s reputation and avoid legal intervention not only hurt the victims, but also deprive offenders of receiving a beneficial path to treatment. When authorities harbor the offender’s dirty secret, the perpetrator is put at grave risk. They live in fear of the prospect that their secret may be exploited against them–for manipulation or blackmail–and are silenced, ridden with shame and humiliation. As time passes without the offender being held accountable or facing consequences, they are denied a window of opportunity to be treated mentally; they are stripped of the opportunity to regain a functional and healthy life. After this window passes, perpetrators are emboldened to continue their behavior. As the number of victims increases, the pattern of behavior becomes indisputable. Instead of being sentenced to a misdemeanor or shorter prison time with mental health treatment, offenders’ futures are thrown away due to their irrefutable criminal record. Ripped away from their families and careers, they are destined to a life rotting behind bars. Their futures are rendered meaningless, dark, and at times, full of vengeance. This re-emerges as recidivism, where offenders repeat their offense.
Statistics & Story
Let’s compare the fate of Larry Nassar, who was not held accountable early on and is now facing life in prison, with the story of Rob. When Rob was 20, he assaulted a fifteen-year-old girl and was immediately brought to court by the victim’s parents. He was sent to prison for statutory rape for one year; after violating his parole, he was sentenced to another two. Following his jail time, Rob was sent to a therapist. He initially told her that he “didn’t need therapy” and “didn’t care (about this).” After months of rehabilitation, he became an active member of his therapy group battling for mental recovery. He now works as an electrical engineer and is married with two daughters. While he is a registered sex offender and is prohibited from school grounds and events, Rob’s second chance yielded positive change. He contributes to society with his work, and most importantly, he has no desire to commit abuse. He is not alone: Rob’s story resonates with hundreds of other rehabilitated offenders.
A Paradigm Shift – Practical Solution
If we want everyone to be better off–victims, institutions, and offenders alike–we must take immediate action from the onset when misconduct is reported and hold offenders accountable. The accounts of Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky reveal the doomed futures of sexual offenders who were ‘protected for years.’ Despite many education codes and state and federal laws, school officials fail to follow their fiduciary responsibility and enforce them. Their use of cover-up practices infuses cancer that denies victims justice and denies offenders proper treatment.
A transformational shift in our institutional culture is imperative to stopping this perverted cycle of abuse. To ‘just do the right thing’ calls for holding everyone responsible and accountable from the onset. Proper measures of corrective behaviors, enforcement, and transparency must be instituted at every level of organization. This means no power plays, no shielded offenses, no twisted lies, and most importantly, NO COVER-UPS.
How do we achieve this?
We must integrate a solution consisting of training, technology, and enforcement. It’s time for mandatory training and education for all stakeholders within an organization that serves victims. Each stakeholder must know their rights, responsibilities, and consequences of their actions. Misconduct should be addressed constructively, compassionately, and with proper tools to correct the behavior and track it. This will truly reduce not only the number of cases, but the severity to which they extend.
When a minor complains of discomfort against an adult or authority within a system, the issues must be taken seriously. Regardless of the authority deeming the behavior as “no big deal,” the administrator should immediately record it into a complaint system application and conduct an investigation.
The technology system must be integrated with a means to report, track, and manage complaints. The system must be managed independently without ANY conflicts of interest. Abuse can greatly be prevented by flagging misconduct with low severity and addressing them constructively and compassionately through a path to treatment. ICIARA, our independent complaint investigative assessment resolution application, targets each of these elements.
School officials, administrators, and staff must also be trained and sign a liability agreement upon completion. While reporting, tracking, and monitoring complaints, the system will place personal liability on those who are complicit. If proven to cover up sexual assault deliberately and knowingly, they must not be shielded by the institution. ‘Just doing the right thing’ would bar any accomplices of ‘cover-up practices’ from working with children.
Acting responsibly is imperative for collective good. Holding offenders accountable from the onset to provide them a path to treatment and recovery will infuse trust and confidence in their communities.
For everyone’s benefit, let’s just do the right thing.