Updated: Sep 26, 2018
The sentencing of Larry Nassar has brought some justice to the horrid crimes this predator committed. But how will this make the countless survivors feel? Some will be relieved, some frustrated, some will just be given a sense of closure, yet all will deal with it in their own way. Meanwhile, the news outlets and the rest of us will keep asking the why and how of it all.
I continue to hear discussions and comments by television news people centering on issues that are rooted in genuine concern, yet often driven by a lack of knowledge.
"Why didn’t these young women tell their parents?" "Why did they continue to go to Nassar?" "Why, why, why?"
Most who question, and ask these why questions, will say this would never happen to them or anyone they know. The truth is, it happens daily. The reality is that predators such as Nassar are able to succeed because of who they are, how they select their targets, and ultimately the process they use to complete their assaults.
Who are these sexual predators?
Though each person who commits sexual assault or sexual harassment is different, there are some commonalities of characteristics that generally apply to all. Sexual predators tend to be very organized and respected members of their community. They are generally well liked as well. Think of this individual as an addict who must continue to fantasize and find ways to get his fix. His addiction drives his behavior. If his need is for adolescent girls you would find him devising way after way to be around that age group whether it would be as a coach, teacher or in Nassar’s case a medical doctor. They have a consistent pattern of behavior they follow which I call the Sexual Assault Sequence.
Sexual Assault Sequence
Step One: Target Selection
The predator first evaluates the parent and the child. Do they perceive the parents to be trusting, and their daughter one that can be groomed to accept what they are doing? Can they establish time with the child to gain trust and move them away from parental influence?
Step Two: Evaluation and Grooming
The predator is determining if he will be able to get into the specific behavior that will gratify his addiction.They take small steps at first and then escalate. Are they experiencing resistance from the child, or can they create an atmosphere of silence and acceptance?
Step Three: Violation
If successful with Step Two they will plan where they will violate the child and what they will do to gratify whatever perverse need they have.
Step Four: Termination
With this final part of the process they need to establish secrecy so the target tells no one.By now they have groomed this young person and know what will work to keep them silent.Perhaps they physically threaten the child; perhaps they convince the child they will no longer be cleared to compete if they tell; perhaps they will be convinced it is their fault. Sometimes, the person committing sexual assault will convince the target that no one would believe them because of the status of the predator. Regardless of the method, the result is silence from the victim.
It is common for these types of predators to have multiple targets over the course of several years. Their targets rarely come forward because of the psychological effect this has had on them. They trusted someone, and were betrayed so now who can they trust? Guilt, shame, feelings of responsibility, helplessness, and sadness lead them to remain silent. If they do reach out, will they be believed? Generally not; and so the cycle of silence will continue. The Larry Nassar’s of the world assault again and again while the people they harm are left to cope with what has been lost.
Stephen M. Thompson
CEO, No Zebras & More L.L.C.
Emeritus Faculty and Sexual Aggression Services Director – Central Michigan University