Simone Biles, U.S. Olympic gold medalist, and three other talented gymnasts sat before a Senate Judiciary Committee retelling their horrific stories of ongoing sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, sports doctor for the U. S. gymnastics team. The abuse was previously reported to an FBI agent who did nothing. The abuse had been reported to others who were in positions of authority and all turned a blind eye. Even after the abuse came to light in 2015, Larry Nassar continued as the doctor for young Olympians.
Simone quoted Nelson Mandela before beginning her testimony. “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”. Sobering words highlighting that in the year 2021, sexual abuse of children is still hidden in the shadows. And yet, we consider ourselves enlightened, intelligent, beings. Whenever celebrities and other well-known people step forward recounting abuse at the hands of others, in any form, there are thousands whose voices have not been heard.
Abuse in any form is unacceptable. Abuse of any human or animal is unacceptable. The pain from abuse can be healed, but the scars are forever. The pain from abuse is embedded in our minds and bodies, in the very fibers of our beings. It changes us – forever. Over time, the wounds of abuse scab over and scars form. The scars keep the woundedness inside. The scars hide pieces of us that died. I know. My children and I were abused by my ex husband, their father.
Abuse is a process. Abusers chip away at the spirits of their victims, little by little, piece by piece. The process of abuse is so subtle for some, the abused question whether or not to call it abuse at all. It’s easy to call being hit across the face so hard one is knocked across the room, or having a gun pointed at them abuse. But what of the subtle abuses perpetrated on the trusting – like that of Simone and other gymnasts? People in authority over us, or those who say they love us, doing something to us for our own good – those are the worst kind of abusers. Abuse is about instilling fear and shame, causing us to question our worth, our sanity.
But we can learn from abuse, too. Like a caterpillar emerging from its cocoon, the metamorphosis from victim to survivor can occur. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, we can be reborn stronger, wiser, more resilient. It takes time and patience to learn to love and respect ourselves again. The process isn’t easy, and it occurs in stages much like peeling the layers from an onion. Some scars are peeled away, some are entombed forever in our spirits.
Will Simone and the others heal? Yes, I believe they will, to a degree. Telling their stories and being heard was one gigantic step toward healing. Never underestimate the courage it takes to recount the abuse one experiences at the hands of another. It also extracts a toll.
Abuse in any form should not be tolerated. Nelson was partially right. There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its people and animals…..