Institutional Culture Reliably Protects Abusers, Not The Abused


Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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72 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Personally, I’m a fan of the old saying, “Once is happenstance, twice could be coincidence, third time is enemy action”. In my book, by the time you hit 3, we are outside the realm of false accusations. If you are a person who manages to get three false complaints of abuse/harassment/etc. filed against you by three distinct persons, and/or in three distinct time periods, then chances are very good the complaints are legit, or you are such a horrible person that you’ve convinced three people to come at you from this direction.

    Now perhaps 3 such complaints are not enough to secure a conviction, but it should be more than enough for institutions to sever ties. Three similar complaints should be when a person moves from asset to liability.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I came up with that exact number when reading the article.

      One accusation could be fake. They do exist. I’m not saying disbelieve them, I’m not saying sweep it under the rug, but hand it over to the police and let the guy continue his job. (It is notable how many institutions manage to fail at ‘hand it over to the police’.)

      And, hell, in theory, two could. Maybe it’s a copycat, or they’re working together. Okay. We’re going to start watching the guy closely, but he can keep his job.

      When you get to three…it’s time for whoever is in charge of that person to say ‘Uh, we’re not going to let you continue in your position, or really any position at all except sitting in a cubical doing paperwork where we can all see you and there’s a video camera pointed at your desk and you are escorted to and from it, until this is sorted out.’

      or you are such a horrible person that you’ve convinced three people to come at you from this direction.

      Frankly, if that actually happens, if three or more people accuse a guy of sexual abuse and it’s proven to not be true but part of some conspiracy to take him down, or just three people who independently hate him…at some point it become incumbent upon the institution to figure out why that is and what the hell is going on.

      I mean, the answer might be ‘I am black, I dated a white person in a huge racist family, and they’re all coming after me.’ or something actually reasonable. Maybe there’s some giant group of people he’s pissed off because they’re all insane. Maybe he used to be a Scientologist or something and they’re not happy he left. You can probably figure this out by seeing if the false accusers are somehow interlinked before they showed up and ‘got abused’ by him.

      OTOH, if these people met in the parking lot after dealing with your company, or while on a camping trip, or in the locker room, if they met while or after interacting with the guy in your institution, and decided to lie to try to destroy him…it might be, and this seems more likely: The guy is a complete asshole in how he interacts with people.

      And if a guy is pissing people off so badly while he is working for you that the people he is interacting on behalf of you go so far as to create false sexual abuse allegations against him…he probably should not be working for you! Not only is this creating a horrible impression of your institution, but the next person he pisses off might decide the solution, instead of false abuse allegations, is a semi-automatic weapon, or a Molotov cocktail.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      you’ve convinced three people to come at you from this direction.

      I remember reading about three false accusations where they turned out to be a pissed off girlfiend and two friends she talked into “putting her rapist away”.

      I think my local nightmare lunatic is at four, granted that’s one person over and over, but she’s attractive, charismatic, educated, and a world class actress when playing the victim card. The police have seen through this because they ask questions about facts as opposed to feelings and then check those facts.

      Now having said that, keeping track of how many accusations have been made makes a lot of sense… but if we’re going to be doing this, then we also need to keep track of what accusations someone has made in the past.Report

      • Love it when somebody comes face to face with appalling unbelievable sexual abuse of girls and women, and somehow concludes that the issue we really need to think about is whether women are telling the truth.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          We are all shaped by our experiences. That doc (thankfully) ended up in jail when the law finally examined him. There were serious issues with the U not pulling in the authorities and that’s a problem. The U forking over 9 digits of cash and a few administrators doing some jail time would fix the whole thing, not only for them but by serving as an example to the others.

          My local nightmare has gone to various authorities four times, has had her situation examined by them, has even had all of this shown to a judge, and she still has full custody of her kid. She’s as openly a bad actor as it’s possible to be in terms of lying, and the system seems totally unable to deal with it.

          That’s a different problem, but it seems related and on point.Report

          • Avatar Maribou in reply to Dark Matter says:


            When it comes to actual people who actually *have* been sexually abused as children or teens, there is always some different related on point problem that we should talk about instead of those actual people and their actual pain.

            “The U forking over 9 digits of cash and a few administrators doing some jail time would fix the whole thing, not only for them but by serving as an example to the others.”

            That doesn’t *fix* the whole thing. It’s barely a *panacea* to the whole thing.

            If it were you or your kids, would you consider some cash and some jail time enough to “fix” this problem? Really? I doubt you would. I doubt you would because I know a lot of other survivors. And we have to work hard to fix our own damn selves, and to stay fixed. All of us in our different ways. What would *fix* the problem is actually making it so this stuff gets stopped in its tracks, not covered for for years, or coated in CYA institutional policies that don’t actually change things.

            Here’s a story of multiple women saying they were abused by an elite gymnastics coach in the 80s, reported in 2012:

            Here’s a story of multiple people who say they were abused by an Olympic-team-involved swim coach and yet another elite gymnastics coach, also covering multiple decades and coverups:

            That literally took me two seconds. I could go on for days, literally days, doing nothing but sitting here and linking to these stories of institutions not listening and therefore adding to the tally of abuses. To those of us who have been paying attention, it seems like the rest of you walk around with your head in the sand and these cries for data are exceptionally frustrating.

            You can’t make hundreds of young girls being exploited by the USA Olympic network, in this way, into a problem that’s really about this one person that you are acquainted with. It’s not a BSDI kinda problem in that way. I mean, I wouldn’t be shocked if the person you’re so bothered by is, herself, abusing her kid. Why isn’t someone trying to stand up for that kid? Is someone trying? That’s where the system seems, by your account, to be failing the most, not in what happens to the people she accuses.

            The system does not and will not stand up for children. Pick a type of institution, and you will get nothing but example after example of the type having failed at that.

            Hell, I’ve been accused of sexual assault by a person who was mad I kicked them out of the library (I never touched them and they went around accusing people all over the place). Surprisingly enough, I didn’t feel the need to track them down and make sure they got punished by the law for accusing me (loudly, and publicly, btw, and you can bet that was triggering as hell, as was having to answer even pro forma questions from the cops about what happened).

            Nor do I need to bring it up every time we try to talk about widespread serial sexual abusers.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Maribou says:

              If it were you or your kids, would you consider some cash and some jail time enough to “fix” this problem?

              Of course not, but I also don’t consider arresting the doctor fixing it. The root problem is the university decided it was less expensive to ignore the problem than to take it seriously. They believed they had no skin in the game and it’s not their job to do something about their monster employee.

              Doing something about him would have been painful, and none of the pain and suffering created by this guy was their pain. So they did nothing. Every administrator passed the buck to the next administrator or looked the other way. It wasn’t their problem.

              Without organizational level punishments, we’re going to keep seeing this type of organizational misconduct. My assumption is there are other administrators sheltering their own pet monsters right this minute. If organizations expect painful organizational punishments (like my 9 digit example), then they’ll fix the issue. If they don’t expect that then they clearly won’t.

              …these cries for data are exceptionally frustrating.

              When I’m dealing with people who know more than I do, asking for data is appropriate. Ditto when dealing with broad claims.

              Hell, I’ve been accused of sexual assault by a person who was mad I kicked them out of the library

              If the police weren’t involved and your person didn’t pursue the issue seriously then we’re using the word “accused” differently.

              I wouldn’t be shocked if the person you’re so bothered by is, herself, abusing her kid.

              Trying to convince a three year old she gets molested or raped when she visits her father probably counts. Accusing another child of being the perp probably also counts. I have zero evidence of anything physical but there’s so much emotional shit I’m not sure we’d know.

              Her father is deeply involved in opposing all this and is higher functioning than I am. If the best he can get is a tie, with the courts leaving the kid still there and doing NOTHING about repeated false accusations, then imho I would have failed outright in the same situation.

              That’s setting an absurdly high bar. In practice, short of her openly admitting she’s screwing with the system, she has the legal right to screw with the system.

              Nor do I need to bring it up every time we try to talk about widespread serial sexual abusers.

              My experience is false accusations are common, perhaps even just as common as actual ones. If I’m not an extreme statistical anomaly, then any policy will be unworkable if it assumes people don’t lie and don’t try to misuse the system.

              The reason we don’t have extremely serious problems with false allegations is because we don’t treat allegations seriously and/or making allegations is hard. If we’re going to treat allegations seriously (and we should) and make them easier (ditto), then we also need to treat false allegations seriously or it will quickly fall apart and we’re back to where we started.

              The two issues are tightly related and every time we have a Rolling Stones style event created by someone who is sure people never lie about this, true reform is set back because they’re convincing people there is no problem. Similarly, imho this is why the Obama-era college sex assault reforms are being rolled back, the people who passed them structured them with the idea that people don’t lie.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Dark Matter says:

                If organizations expect painful organizational punishments (like my 9 digit example), then they’ll fix the issue. If they don’t expect that then they clearly won’t.

                I doubt it, for he same reason lawsuits against police departments effect little change – it’s not their money, or they have insurance against it, or something else so that the pain is not personal.

                Criminal conspiracy charges, on he other hand… But I bet that would require some legislation.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Dark Matter says:

                @dark-matter FWIW I wasn’t saying you should do something for the kid, I assumed your personal situation was impossible. I’m saying the courts/system/whomever are failing the kid a lot harder – as in, even much worse – than they are failing the accused people. Constant accusations like that should be a reason to look into the accuser’s mental health. For the sake of the kid. It doesn’t require shifting attention away from the victim if the kid is the victim, not the mom. That kid’s a victim of something and I agree with you that no adult should be allowed to keep victimizing her like that. Where current laws allow for that, they should be changed. But that’s not the only thing going on and it comes up *every* time we discuss this. Really fast. Like nothing else bears discussing nearly as much.

                “When I’m dealing with people who know more than I do, asking for data is appropriate. Ditto when dealing with broad claims.”

                When the data is out there in abundance to the point where you’d seemingly have to be avoiding it not to trip over it, it’s not especially appropriate to ask, particularly not in a way that asserts it seems to be missing rather than that you are missing it. For those of us with experience, that’s *how abundant* the data seems – ubiquitous. For those of you who are skeptical (which you have repeatedly been in your comments, regardless of what your actual overall response is) – that is apparently not the case, this data is apparently non-obvious and difficult to parse? I don’t know. But from this side of things, it appears that you are deliberately not looking, because it’s like asking me for data that people are left-handed – like, sure, I can give you that data, but it also doesn’t seem reasonable to not believe me until I prove it to you (and you are only one of many many people I have sent many many links that they agreed proved the point that this is abundant and common once they saw them…. at least until next time. I’m hoping you won’t have a next time, that you will at least accept this chunk now.) And if it were obvious to me and to most researchers that many people were left-handed, and everyone and his dog was running around telling me more study was needed before we could *tell* if people were commonly left-handed or not, I might get similarly pissed off and just start shaking my left hand and saying “this is what I write with!!! The reason more left-handed people aren’t seen by you is because they get beat with rulers for using their left hand!!” etc. (My grandpa really did have that happen to him and it was common in the early 20th century for that to happen. And no, I am not going to go look up that data so that someone will believe me, if anyone is actually skeptical about that, I’m sure in the age of the internet, it won’t be that hard to find.)

                This particular issue also carries a lot more emotional responsibility than whether people are left-handed or not. If you are sincere, which you definitely seem to be in this comment, about wanting to help solve the problem, one thing you will probably have to learn is how to talk about and to survivors without callously saying stuff like that money should fix the problem, unless you are willing to delve into what you mean in more detail as you do in this comment, before moving on to what you portray as a more troubling issue. Or maybe just address *this one piece* at this time instead of always having to bring it up your deep concern about balance. I’m not jumping to the conclusion that you think money and arrests will fix it, that’s what *you said* would happen (and no one here said just arresting the doctor would fix it).

                FWIW, if money would fix the problem in the way that you imagine, the problem would be fixed by now. I’d be more hopeful about jail time fixing the problem, but that’s what the child porn laws were *supposed* to do, and Megan’s law, and …. about 100 other things. Instead they got turned against innocent people whose stories get blown up by the media (cf teens sexting each other) and then the real epidemic just goes on and on and on. Because no one wants to believe those nice full grown adults are actually child molesters, the ones they work with or coach with or live near, the ones who teach or coach or otherwise mentor their children, the ones who are their brothers, their uncles, their cousins, their parents. Everyone knows what a child molester is, and that person is a Monster, thus they would recognize that person if they were even ever in the same room. The cases they hear about on the news must be rare and if *they* were faced up against someone like the guy who just went to trial, obviously *they* would see his Monstrosity and do the right thing. Anyone who wouldn’t should go to jail, right? But they’re not going to jail because they don’t see anyone Monstrous in their spaces.

                And then nothing changes.

                So right now I’m pretty skeptical that anything will fix the problem, including data, including money, including jail time – other than people really internalizing that it is very likely that more than 10 percent of people experience this painful awful thing in their childhoods, and starting over from there in how they react to things. That’s why Raisman’s testimony made me happy. Not because I don’t recognize that, while valid and honest and courageous etc etc, it’s also basically theatrical – that the judge has turned her sentencing hearing into a theater of the oppressed. It’s precisely *because* I realize that that particular story *needs performing* loudly and en masse, before I can even hope for anything to get through – really get through – to people in general.


              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Maribou says:


                I’m saying the courts/system/whomever are failing the kid a lot harder – as in, even much worse – than they are failing the accused people.

                Agreed. But in order for the system to work better for that kid, false accusations would have to carry some consequences. At the moment, state law prevents reports filed to CPS being used as evidence for false allegation lawsuits. The basic philosophy seems to be we don’t want any reluctance at all for picking up the phone.

                The result is false claims, even deliberate self serving false claims, are tolerated. Another result is imho there’s a ton of filtering, even at the mandatory reporter level. Letting people like her abuse the system conditions the system to ignore reports in general.

                Constant accusations like that should be a reason to look into the accuser’s mental health.

                The Judge didn’t think so. Afaict if you claim you’re sane the system is forced to believe you. Further, it’s possible she’s simply Evil. She finds reasons why her kid is suffering, she gains sympathy and people pay attention to her.

                When the data is out there in abundance to the point where you’d seemingly have to be avoiding it not to trip over it…

                I could say the same about Free Trade, but it’s easy to find people who argue against the scientific consensus.

                None of my professional experience overlaps with this issue even slightly, ditto all of my hobbies. I’ve never had any reason or interest in looking into the state of things in general, all of my experience has been dealing with that nut specifically. We all live in personal bubbles, it’s probably gotten worse with the internet and search engines & news feeds learning our interests.

                probably have to learn is how to talk about and to survivors without callously saying stuff like that money should fix the problem, without delving into what you mean in more detail as you do in this comment,

                Point taken.

                before moving on to what you portray as a more troubling issue.

                First of all, we’re talking about the system protecting abusers rather than the abused. Imho this is a different facet of the same issue. She’s a great example showcasing organized failure.

                Second of all; Yes. Troubling. Infuriating. One of my button issues. She went after my kid, I’m still angry about it. This is not a good issue for me. I believe your data, but my experiences suggest false allegations is more of a danger for my family, and it’s FAR more prevalent than is admitted.

                FWIW, if money would fix the problem in the way that you imagine, the problem would be fixed by now.

                With the exception of the Catholic Church, I don’t recall organizations being fined enough to matter. Big organizations get sued, it’s a cost of doing business.

                9 digits is the Wrath of God. It’s multiple buildings, multiple departments. It’s enough pain to make the organization understand that part of the President’s job is to not let this happen.

                The cases they hear about on the news must be rare and if *they* were faced up against someone like the guy who just went to trial, obviously *they* would see his Monstrosity and do the right thing.

                Heads of organizations aren’t selected for “doing the right thing”. They’re selected for “doing good for the organization”. We’re past the point where “one bad administrator” makes any kind of sense for describing the situation. These organizations are behaving as though it’s NOT in their best interests to deal with the issue.

                Assume that they’re right. Assume dealing with this issue correctly is expensive in terms of requiring the attention of management, and in terms of deliberately inflicting short terms organizational trauma to the institution.

                MSU’s board didn’t want to get rid of their President because she’s done good things for the institution from their point of view. That tells you their priorities right there. It’s possible to put everything she’s done on a spreadsheet. From a “money” point of view, she’s a great fundraiser and has done other good things.

                If the board were staring at a 9 digit settlement, then there’d be no question whether she’d done good things because the answer would clearly be “no”. Organizations do what’s in their fiscal best interests, so we need to make it in their fiscal best interest.

                This means btw that her stepping down isn’t enough. It’s cheap to get another administrator, that’s just another cost of doing business.Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to Dark Matter says:

        @dark-matter Oscar said three distinct persons, David and Oscar elaborated that out to it being relevant whether they know each other.

        Status quo in investigating these kind of things, criminally or work-wise, is VERY thorough about investigating every accuser for past history of accusations, sexual abuse that might them react disproportionately to an innocent person, blah blah blah. Often to the point of retraumatizing the person who says they were assaulted. Often to the point where people who’ve been assaulted or harassed’s main reason for not coming forward in a criminal sense is that *they don’t want to go through being fine-toothed combed* when they haven’t done anything wrong.

        You’ll notice that in your example of the nightmare lunatic, the police have seen through the accusations of this person. Because *they already pay attention to this stuff*.

        As do employers.Report

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Maribou says:

          Oscar said three distinct persons, David and Oscar elaborated that out to it being relevant whether they know each other.

          I sorta was assuming that the investigators knew enough to check that already, because that’s a really obvious thing to check if there might be a conspiracy.

          (And, of course, the problem remains that half the time there is no ‘investigation’ at all, and the other time the ‘investigation’ exists solely to do nothing. So I’m talking about some sort of ideal world that doesn’t even exist.)

          But my point wasn’t really about the investigation. It’s about some hypothetical situation where there’s three accusers, no real evidence, but also no evidence the accusers knew each other or plotted anything in advance. And so the conclusion the investigation comes up with is *shrug*, and nothing happens.

          The point I’m trying to make is: Institutional inaction is a really idiotic result of such a conclusion.

          It is theoretically plausible that those three people who do not know each other in advance all decide to falsely accuse someone after they met them, either entering into a conspiracy in the parking lot outside, or just all separately decide to do that and the claims happen to line up. At least, let’s pretend that’s plausible.

          But if a public-facing member of an institution is habitually provoking that sort of insane overreaction in people, the institution probably needs to do something about that employee.

          Just like if someone on working as McDonald’s cashier kept getting punched in the face while talking to people. No, it is not acceptable to punch people, but around the third assault or so the management need to start questioning how he’s interacting with people to result in them doing that, because no one seems to be punching their other cashiers. (In the real world, management would probably try to figure that out after the _first_ assault, or the second one at latest.)

          Likewise, at some point, if a member of an institution has a bunch sexual abuse claims against a guy, made over a long span of time by a bunch of people who have no reason to be working together and other members of the institution don’t have anywhere near that amount of claims being made against him…

          …by definition, he either is a serial sexual predator or he is someone who makes people so angry at him that a non-trivial amount of people he interacts with hate him so badly that they are trying to get him fired and send him to jail.

          The correct conclusion, of course, is that he is a serial sexual predator, but apparently it’s somehow not possible to come to that conclusion, so my point is even without that conclusion, he probably still shouldn’t be working there, because the opposite conclusion is almost as damning of him as an employee! The other conclusion, the ‘best possible scenario’ is that he is a horrible person who makes people incandescently angry at him, so angry as to often be willing to commit perjury.

          And thus he is a complete failure as an employee, objectively speaking. He is _certainly_ not someone that should still be on staff.

          And everyone’s response to that will be ‘But he is very nice and everyone likes him’, at which point I say ‘So you think he _is_ a sexual predator, then? Because you have to pick one of those. Sexual predator, or such a horrible human being that multiple unrelated people have accused him of being a sexual predator.’

          Now, of course, there really are other options, such as aforementioned conspiracies, which do really exist, or people in positions that others logically would want to destroy. Politicians, especially, have a built-in response of ‘They are working with my enemies to destroy me.’

          But there are also circumstances where there clearly isn’t a third option. (For the obvious example, the Olympic gymnast doctor.) And if the person being accused can’t come up with some sort of theoretical explanation of why a bunch of people with nothing to gain, and not working together, keep accusing them of sexual abuse at well above the level of anyone else around them…they should be let go by any institution that employs them, because, again, either (a) or (b).Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    The problem is that institutions exist to protect themselves and their members more than people hurt by their members but trying to get rid of institutions isn’t a good solution either. Institutions are how we keep society organized and civil; do business, socialize with each other, and help each other. You need other institutions to watch over and police institutions. These watchdog institutions are going to have the same problems as other institutions though.

    The most effective policing of bad members of an institution is if another member seems to believe it is to his or her advantage to bring the bad member down. Lawyers police themselves for misconduct more than doctors because proving another lawyer committed malpractice in someway has more advantages for a lawyer and his or her clients than it does for doctors. That rather than altruism or concern for the institution, seems to keep members relatively honest.Report

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to LeeEsq says:

      @leeesq Although I didn’t propose to “get rid of institutions” I am extremely dubious of the claim attacking them aggressively when situations like this unfold is in anyway a bad idea.

      The Catholic Church shouldn’t have been disbanded, obviously, but everybody who knew about the abuse that occurred there should have been aggressively prosecuted for having engaged in what was plainly criminal conspiracy.

      The same is true of those at the USOC, the USAG, and MSU: they knew that an abuser was operating under their sanction, and they implicitly condoned the abuse repeatedly. Will there still be gymnastics post-prosecution? Yes, there will. Will those subsequent institutions take the possibility of abuse more seriously? Yes, they will. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        The Catholic Church shouldn’t have been disbanded, obviously, but everybody who knew about the abuse that occurred there should have been aggressively prosecuted for having engaged in what was plainly criminal conspiracy.

        With the Church, I think it’s clear this(*) was a general policy, and they didn’t change until they started losing Billions, i.e. until they were in enough pain. I would be very surprised if it hasn’t been going on for centuries.

        So yes, the organization as a whole needed to be punished. And yes, fully agreed people should have been arrested for criminal conspiracy.

        (*) I.e. basically abuse happened everywhere. Priest gets in trouble, have him repent, forgive him, transfer him somewhere else, problem solved.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Doctors get a great deal of cultural capital, as far as I can tell, from pop culture.

      Is there a single (overall) negative portrayal of a doctor on television? Maybe Doctor Nick on The Simpsons… but on other shows? Sure, they may be sex hounds or jerks who just want to get the job done and don’t give a shit about your feelings or cold fish or whatever… but is there a single doctor who isn’t portrayed as one of the good guys?

      The medical profession has a lot of cover from popular culture.

      One can even debate whether it’s comparable to the Catholic Church in previous decades.Report

      • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

        Dr Spaceman from 30 Rock is an example.

        Frank Burns from M*A*S*H is another.

        And there are occasional evil, arrogant doctors who get taken down by, say, the intrepid cops and plucky prosecutors of Law and Order.

        But they’re few and far between.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to pillsy says:

          Frank Burns’ a-hole side wasn’t seen as part of his medical profession though like how culture really links the personality traits that make bad lawyers bad with their profession. Nearly every doctor in media is depicted as somebody who went into medicine to heal people and help them even if they have an abrasive personality like House or Dr. Cox. There aren’t any who seem to be in it just for the money or status with no real desire to heal or help. Lawyers can be depicted as noble or as money-grabbing scum or just people doing a job.Report

          • Avatar Maribou in reply to LeeEsq says:

            @leeesq In general, statistically, you are right.

            However I would posit that Dr. Spaceman from 30 Rock is exactly an example of the negative stereotype that you claim doesn’t exist.

            I would suspect that someone on the 30 Rock team saw the same deficit you do, and addressed it.

            So there are “any”.

            Not that I can think of more than one.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Jaybird says:

        is there a single doctor who isn’t portrayed as one of the good guys?

        On medical shows, where there are a lot of doctors to throw around, you sometimes get a ‘This doctor is a showboating jackass who cares more about promoting himself than medicine’ character.

        This character usually lasts a single episode, or maybe a few, and is disgraced at the end, though. In fact, they are usually disgraced because the entire system instantly rejects them when they discover that, so it makes doctors look even better.

        In reality, bad doctors generally are not ‘showboating jackasses’, because in reality doctors do not treat other doctors as rock stars like that. ‘Bad doctors’ are usually just lazy doctors who just want to get paid and go home.

        Granted, pretty much all drama has to invent reasons people are bad at their job other than ‘They are not particularly invested in doing it well and they know they get paid the same regardless.’, because that reason, which is probably the reason for 90% of professional incompetence, is not that sexy or dramatic. So I’m not sure that has anything to do with doctors specifically.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

        Doctors get a great deal of cultural capital, as far as I can tell, from pop culture.

        Is there a single (overall) negative portrayal of a doctor on television?

        I think doctors are portrayed as heroic life-saving altruists on the TV because popular culture has internalized the opposite view: that doctor-culture is dominated by greed and impersonal institutional decision-making. Just like cops, where negative portrayals in the one-hour weekly drama format are rare, the edict from on high is to affirm, even create, a heroic, self-sacrificing mythology out of bad reality. In general tho, I don’t think doctors get more cultural slack than any other person with financial and institutional power behind them. Those folks are insulated from consequence not by their cultural cache, but by how much the institutions and other individuals involved have to lose.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Tod Kelly says:


      This passage in particular gave me pause, and I mean that as praise:

      But just as institutions enabled Nassar, our culture enables institutions. At least part of the problem underpinning all of this is our continued cultural belief that the abused owe the world ironclad evidence that something occurred, evidence that they almost always do not have. This demand for evidence, which is almost always structured as an X+1 formulation, in which X equals everything currently known, and the +1 represents the one more piece that we need to conclude abuse. But because that +1 is always immediately added to the X, we get stuck in a cultural feedback loop, in which no amount of information is enough. This enables abusers, who are able to operate unchecked until the point in time in which so much abuse is being claimed that it simply can no longer be ignored, denied, or explained away. The issue wasn’t that Nassar had abused Raisman but rather that Nassar had abused at least a hundred other women as well, just as the issue wasn’t that priests or scoutmasters or football coaches had abused one child, but rather, that they too had abused so many others too.


  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I suppose the problem for the media is that they don’t want to be sued for lots of money and end up being another Gawker Media (who went bust because of an Invasion of Privacy tort and not a libel tort. Still Gawker employees gave a master class in what not to say when being sued and at times I wondered if they couldn’t help but hang themselves.)

    All it would take is one person being wrongfully accused in the media and one big law suit for slipping out.

    We seem to live in an age that requires a schizophrenic response and untrustworthiness. On the one hand, there is a lot of evidence of extreme prosecutorial misconduct and prosecutors digging in their heels in the face of exculpatory evidence. There are dozens (if not more) stories of prosecutors fighting tooth and nail to keep an innocent person behind bars or on death row. There was also the forensic scientist who was caught distorting lab results for drug cases and thousands of convictions needed to be thrown out. Plus the fact that police are seemingly incapable of being trusted not to use extreme deadly force first especially against minorities.

    But we also still need a criminal code and way of punishing wrong-doers and the media can make it hard for someone to get a fair trial.

    I don’t know what to do here. I don’t trust prosecutors. I don’t trust law enforcement. I don’t like the Nancy Graces of the World and don’t like anything that assumes guilty into proven innocent. But there are people like Larry Nasser and they were protected by their Institutions and the media.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      At a certain point, I think we need to recognize the fact that guys like Nasser aren’t skating because of due process rights, but because a lot of people who are in charge of the relevant decisions want them to skate.

      @sam-wilkinson really nailed it with his comment that if you have a given amount of evidence, institutional actors will always be willing and able to demand some additional evidence to justify moving against someone they want to protect for whatever reason. But reducing the requisite evidence is ultimately going to be unhelpful, while making it easier to fuck over the people who institutional actors either don’t want to protect or want to actively persecute.

      I don’t have a solution, but I admire the hell out of the problem.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to pillsy says:

        Nasser and Sandusky are like lesser American equivalents of Jimmy Saville, wrongdoers protected by their employers and patrons for vile crimes because they were perceived at least as more useful free than in jail.Report

        • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to LeeEsq says:

          @leeesq I’m not comfortable with rank-ordering the relative abusiveness of Savile, Sandusky, and Nassar, but yes, they are all monsters who enjoyed sanction from those above because those they abused were valued less.

          Although it should be noted, they were valued less individually. One of the mistakes I made in the piece itself was not better emphasizing that, as individuals, none of these victims was ever worth as much as Nassar was (apparently), but collectively, they were, just as a similar calculation was apparently done elsewhere (implicitly, presumably).Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            By lesser I was referring to the cultural status of Sandusky and Nassar and not the magnitude of their crimes. I’m sorry if that was unclear. I think its safe to say that more British people knew who Saville was compared to the number of Americans who knew who Sandusky and Nasser were before their revelations.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            This is very important, and I bet you are right that that’s the calculus the institutions use.

            The trick is to make that calculus change by making sure the institutions understand that society will look at the aggregate, not the individual.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to pillsy says:

        And that is my concern. I don’t think lowering the evidence standard is going to hurt the Nasser’s of the world.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:


    Were any of the folks involved mandated reporters?Report

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy That seems unclear, especially for folks at MSU, but mandated reporting is a system that does not seem to be working particularly well, and seems designed to give those who aren’t themselves mandated reporters an out. I’m not a fan.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Yea, that is where my thinking is going. If anyone involved in this was a mandated reporter and it went on this long, the mandated reporter system is broken.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Mandated reporting is meant to put responsibility on people instead of giving them as easy out. I’m not sure how to tell if it works great but it’s a hellava lot better than not having it. MR isn’t a panacea which makes it like every solution. But if there were MR’s than that gives people another way to give them consequences for their failure. That is a good thing.Report

        • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to greginak says:

          @greginak A simpler thing would be prosecuting people who can be shown to have known but done nothing. Saying that some people are expected to be moral, upstanding people, and others remain welcome to participate in a criminal conspiracy seems an odd, and unlikely, fix for the problem.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            How do allegations get into the system to be investigated? Very few allegations are about the level of abuse Nasser committed. How do the authorities get involved? Someone has to report them. That is where mandated reporting is a good thing, it puts individual responsibility on people. They are trained and supervised as if they each have a legal and moral responsibility to report. Good, not perfect, but good.

            Prosecuting people is hard, long and messy. It’s better to incentivize people on the front end to report everything then to just hold a prosecution hammer. The people that don’t report when they were mandated can still be chased by the law. But MR gets many many complaints into the system to be investigated which is it’s purpose. That MR exists doesn’t in any way mean other people don’t have responsibility nor is that the point of it.Report

            • Avatar Maribou in reply to greginak says:

              @greginak @sam-wilkinson FWIW I have reasons far beyond my own experiences to think that colleges pay a lot more attention to who is a title IX reporter than who is a child-abuse mandated reporter, in terms of training and etc of employees. There seems to be some kind of mental gap where people don’t want to even consider that some of their colleagues might do these absolutely abysmal things.

              This is the sort of social problem that makes me, personally, refuse to use monster terminology – because people say “monster monster” and then “well but my colleague isn’t a monster, he’s a PERSON, so he can’t possibly be doing these things”. The things are, in fact, monstrous, so I understand the drive to label their doers monsters, and why I continue to be in a small minority on this… but my choice does stem, I think, from the level of dissociation that people have around child sexual abuse no matter who those people are (speaking broadly of course, obviously not everyone is like that, but the people who never are, are rare). “I know this but I don’t dare know it, even as I act to protect it,” is such a common reaction to these abusers that I’m not at all surprised that it happens among institutions; it also happens among families, friend groups, and society at large.

              That said, you are 100 percent right that it is inexcusable and must be addressed with clear eyes, full hearts, and the willingness to hold a fuckload of people fully, sometimes criminally accountable for the crime of looking the other way.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Maribou says:

                Your comments on Title IX reporters (which I didn’t know existed) reminded me of one of many reactions I had to the piece, specifically the failure of MSU’s Title IX people to do anything about the matter. Given the cries of Title IX folks run amok, regularly ruining the lives of innocent men who are guilty of nothing more than looking at a woman, this stands in stark contrast to that. Which doesn’t mean both failures can’t be true, but does mean, at the very least, that the narrative many like to push about Title IX is woefully incomplete.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                Maribou & I had this convo recently, about how poorly and inconsistently Title IX is implemented and enforced.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Kazzy says:

                @kazzy Yep.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

                Well, not exactly yep.

                Who is and isn’t a Title IX mandatory reporter is fuzzy.

                What Title IX mandatory reports include is fuzzy.

                As far as I can tell the policy of who is or isn’t a Title IX mandatory reporter is institution by institution:
       is a pretty good summary but who is and isn’t affected seems to be a policy of each university that I looked at rather than anything else…?

                I don’t know it’s all so bloody stupid as a “how do we stop people from allowing children to be sexually abused?” response that I don’t have the energy to puzzle it out.

                I mean, I don’t mean YOU are stupid. I mean, my efforts to think of what went wrong in any individual case seem so damn pointless in the face of the scope of the problem.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Maribou says:

                I assume the specifics of “What went wrong?” in any one particular case may be very specific to that case. Which means there may exist problems that Title IX exacerbated and problems that Title IX mitigated, possibly even within the same school.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Kazzy says:

                @kazzy Yep.

                (And this one I will totally just let my yep be a yep with :D.)Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to greginak says:

          I think this is right — not having the system would be worse than what happens now.

          The better answer requires a cultural norm, but we can’t legislate those. We can legislate mandatory reporting, and hope enough people understand why that law is there and adopt the ethic underlying it.

          It (mostly) worked for discrimination.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Burt Likko says:

            Agreed. It’s really hard to judge a rule like MR based on a case like Nasser which is an outlier and happened in a pretty unique community. Certainly the power dynamics are similar to other egregious cases but those are also outliers compared to the typical allegation of child abuse/neglect.

            Most reports to CPS or law enforcement are unfounded. Why? Because MR actually leads to lots of things being reported when they almost certainly aren’t abuse. I know because i’ve made those reports. I didn’t think there was abuse but a kid reported something, even if i thought it was attention seeking or parents were wildly misinterpreting something benign, a report was made.Report

            • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to greginak says:

              @greginak The notion that those who know of child abuse and doing nothing – even as minor as calling authorities – perpetuates its occurrence. If there is no fear of consequence, and in fact, if not reporting is considered an acceptable behavior for those not mandated to do so, it WILL be an acceptable behavior that numerous people will willingly choose to do. That is the failing.Report

          • @burt-likko I, for one, am not proposing a cultural norm, although how broken is a culture that doesn’t take reports of abuse seriously? I’m proposing treating those engaged in a criminal conspiracy as criminal conspirators. I’m proposing that the book be thrown at those who knowingly ignore reported abuse. Ideally, the long-term impact of such prosecutions would be a cultural change, but if that doesn’t happen, at least we’ve got the first part.

            Mandated reporting strikes me as a half-measure, one that does enough to make everybody else feel like something is being done while absolving them of the responsibility to do it themselves, allowing for responses like what we’re seeing from the three aforementioned organizations.Report

  5. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    There’s too much money at stake for anyone to rock the boat. Once the NCAA let Penn State off the hook in the Sandusky case, all bets were off as far as any proactive investigation of any claims of abuse.

    And, honestly, the attention of the American public, never long to begin with, is going to ensure this case disappears from the headlines pretty quickly. It’s going to be up to the athletes to hold the institutions that protected Nasser accountable for their negligence and how it’ll be headed off in the future.

    One editorial quibble: it’s stanch, not staunch.

    Great piece.Report

  6. Avatar Sam Wilkinson says:

    This damned tweet did a better job of stating my case than I did, and I needed 2000+ words, and this guy didn’t:

  7. Avatar Dark Matter says:

    My big question/issue is, why not the University of Michigan, and various other organizations?

    Are they doing something right and this was an M-State cultural thing? Are they doing something wrong but are just lucky? Are high functioning pedophiles that rare? Are they all doing something wrong and this is everywhere? At the moment State and Penn seem the exception, not the rule.

    Does someone in the organization realize, ‘Yes, there’s a problem. Fire him and spread the word.’ ?

    It seems like we’re missing a lot of data in this.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Dark Matter says:

      @dark-matter We’re not missing data, we’re *to some extent* missing reliable compilations of data. If you want raw data just go read the links to citations on the wiki child sexual abuse page: is one of more than a hundred linked peer-reviewed studies. If that isn’t enough data, there are always the bibilographies of those peer-reviewed studies, next.

      To those of us who’ve been aware of these stories for decades, and the lack of response of multiple institutions (including my past high school, though I wasn’t abused there – my band teacher is going up on …. I think we’re up to 6 or 7 charges over 20 years right now? and my sense is that is the tip of the iceberg, in terms of people who say they were abused by him but don’t feel safe testifying in court) to these kinds of allegations, it seems like gathering the data is more a way to make oneself miserable than answer the question. We don’t actually need to know “is this the exception or the rule” if we don’t even have a way, yet, for the victims to *safely provide us with the data* that would allow us to answer that question. As long as reports are as constrained as they are, the data is bullshit.

      I mean, they can’t even figure out if the global prevalence is 20 percent, 12 percent, or some totally other percent…

      But even if you took a *ridiculously* conservative view you’d be looking at what, 5 percent? that’s one in 20 kids. And the numbers for US/Canada are no better than any other numbers. According to some meta-analyses they’re worse. It’s not a small problem, to me at least, 1/20 kids being sexual abuse victims. I tend to think the science is better in the studies where they put North American prevalance around 18 percent, higher for women than men, but way too high for both. Like, WAY too high. Just think about what that means. Pick the lower of those two numbers if you must, the 5 percent. And think about how much pain that represents.

      Because this post really isn’t about data, anyway. On some level it’s about how institutions dodge responsibility by demanding data, ie that always one more piece of evidence thing. I would say that institutions are far from alone in this. It was amazing, for example, to watch some of my extended family members accept that my father had sexually abused two of his biological children, but claim that going to prison for sexually abusing his stepdaughter was nonetheless a false charge. Educated, reasonable people who claimed that what *really* happened was that it was all this 14 year old’s fault while conceding that those of us they knew were probably telling the truth. AT THE SAME TIME. And that’s a pattern I’ve seen over, over, over again, not just in my family or where I grew up, but in so many other stories I’m not allowed to tell because they aren’t mine and victims Are. Not. Safe.

      Can you face what’s happened in this one case, at least, without trying to shift it into a different level of abstraction or change the problem being addressed? Can you keep your ears open and face that this is right in front of us, again, that for some people (including me), this harm will always be right in front of them?

      And then the next time and the next time and the next time, can you keep facing it?

      Because if you keep facing it, your need for data might pale in the face of your need for change. Might only take a few years. You might be surprised.Report

  8. Avatar Maribou says:

    I finally was able to watch Raisman’s testimony today.

    She really did an amazing job.

    And I was deeply moved by the judge’s response, and the emotion that she allowed herself to show (remember, this is sentencing, not trial).

    I know Sam’s points are very good ones, and dire ones. And they absolutely need to be part of any solution, and I can see why he doesn’t think Raisman will be listened to.

    But I hear what Raisman has to say, and how it was received, and my predominant emotion is hope. Hope that things *can* be made to change.Report

  9. Avatar Stillwater says:

    USOC CEO launches 3rd party investigation into who knew what and when. Given the number of young women involved it’s inconceivable that people working for US gymnastics and other institutions didn’t know about this stuff. They need some jail time.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

      1) Good, Raisman’s testimony going viral had some effect.
      2) It is perhaps a measure of my fatigue that my first guess, given that Blackmun was very very careful not to admit any responsibility on the part of the USOC other than not being suspicious enough of those terrible people at USA Gymnastics, and not being supportive enough in the wake of Nassar’s exposure, is that Blackmun himself has stuff to hide. Or he expects that plenty of people in his organization do. I’ll be very curious to see what ends up happening with this.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

        I wonder if he’d support a *criminal* investigation with equal enthusiasm. No mention of that in the excerpts quoted.

        Late as it is, and as bad as he looks given the timing of the announcement, it’s better than nothing. Which is what he’s been doing about this until today.Report

  10. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Charles Pierce over at SI wants to burn the whole edifice down, from the coaches on up and anyone else who knew and did nothing.Report

  11. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Here we go.

    Outside the Lines has learned that Michigan State University failed to hand over documents outlining accusations of sexual assault by Larry Nassar to federal Title IX investigators, despite dual ongoing investigations.”

    From the linky: Michigan State administrators in 2014 did not notify federal officials that the university had dual Title IX and campus police investigations of Nassar underway Report

  12. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Nassar was investigated 13 years ago on abuse charges. He successfully defended himself not by claiming he didn’t do what he was accused of, but by arguing that the questionable technique he used on the young woman was a legitimate therapeutic practice. And he proved it with a power-point presentation! MSU and USA Gymnastics officials apparently agreed with him.

    The count of publicly known accusers is now 250+.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

      @stillwater Yeah, this is where my whole theory about people not believing other people could be monsters comes from, stuff like this…. (my own story has some parallels even though it involves my dad and not a medical professional).

      Heartbreaking. Infuriating. Etc.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Stillwater says:

      That sounds like a defense a lawyer would come up with. When sexual assault cases go to trials, many criminal defense lawyers try to argue that the sex or unlawful touching was consensual or allowable in some way.Report