Michigan State Scandal Makes It Clear: Reports of Sexual Assault Need To Go To One Place


January 29, 2018

By Jerry Barca

The victims kept mentioning the same regret.

These were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. I had spoken to them during my newspaper reporting days when the scandal became national news in 2002. I spoke to more victims years later as part of background research for another project.

Damage had been done to them, their innocence stripped away as hammer strikes of abuse pounded into their self worth. Of course any and everybody wished it never happened. The victims had another wish, too. If they couldn’t change the fact that they had been abused, they wish they would’ve gone straight to the police, instead of the Church. They would’ve reported the abuse to legal authorities, not the institution.

That lesson has to be reiterated after what has gone on at Michigan State. Larry Nassar, a team doctor at Michigan State and with USA Gymnastics, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after more than 160 women and girls made statements in court that he had abused them during the last 20 years. Days after Nassar’s sentencing, ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported that Michigan State mishandled sexual assault complaints. The investigative report “found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of such allegations by officials ranging from campus police to the Spartan athletic department.”

To make it clear, to shout it from the rooftops into a megaphone: Victims that come forward must go to the police. And in Michigan State’s case not the campus police. You have to find a law enforcement agency willing to hear the claim for what it is: an allegation of criminal behavior.

There is still cultural tone-deafness with regard to these issues. Even at Michigan State, as the Nassar situation played out in court, university staffers undergoing training for the school’s relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy dropped comments such as “snitches get stitches” with regard to reporting incidents.

Don’t think it’s just at Michigan State either. Too often institutions, be it churches, schools, community groups, or athletic programs, respond to victims by looking out for its own self-preservation. Victims need an independent investigation. Institutions respond with: how can we make this go away quickly and quietly.

Institutions sell this idea to the victim and the victim’s family. They present the line of thinking that handling this quietly is in the victim’s self interest. They will talk about how the process of reporting the incident publicly will re-traumatize the victim. Then they’ll ask questions like “Do you really want to do this?”

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