Photo credit: Kyle Stephens
by Brittany Bartkowiak
Kyle was never a gymnast though, so her abuse didn’t happen in a doctor’s office.
It happened in a basement. Larry Nassar’s basement.
While Kyle’s parents cooked dinner with Larry’s wife upstairs.
Kyle didn’t tell anyone about what Larry was doing at first, because she didn’t know she had something to tell. Kyle was used to Larry showing her new things. She thought his private part was just another one of those new things. Adults teach kids about the world around them all the time – why was this any different?
Kyle told her mom what Larry was doing to her when she was 12. Mom immediately said, “you need to tell your father.” I don’t know for sure, but I imagine this is a phrase Kyle usually heard her mom say only when she was in big trouble. So even though Larry was clearly the one in the wrong, Kyle says she felt like it was her.
(Remember, Kyle is a just a kid – experiencing a form of abuse not even the vast majority of adults can make sense of – with a kid’s brain. She didn’t understand what was happening to her. She should never have to.)
The podcast goes into detail about what happens next, so please listen here, but ultimately – Kyle’s parents didn’t believe what she said about Larry. My guess is that this isn’t because they didn’t love her… or because they’re “bad parents”… or because Kyle was lying (because she wasn’t). For so many parents and caregivers, believing your child could be lying about the abuse feels easier than thinking someone you love could hurt your child.
Kyle says she feels like her parents couldn’t handle their daughter being sexually abused – so it was easier for them to pretend it wasn’t happening. The reality is, no caregiver is prepared to deal with their child being abused. That’s why child advocacy centers like CARE House offer so many services for families (like crisis counseling, therapy, and family support group) in addition to kids.
Without support from her family (which was already going through a lot outside of the abuse), Kyle explains in the podcast that it got to a point where it became easier for her to claim she was lying about Larry (again – even though she wasn’t) than it was to deal with the fallout of her disclosure. This happens all the time – it’s called recantation. Some research shows that about 1 in 4 kids who feel disbelieved by parents will recant, or “take back,” what they said. But that doesn’t mean the abuse didn’t happen. Of those kids that recant, almost half of them ultimately reaffirm their original disclosure, which is what happened with Kyle.
Kyle’s story is just one example of why having talking with kids about body safety is so important. At CARE House, we offer trainings for kids and adults to help start that conversation. We also provide trainings to ensure that all mandated reporters, like the child psychologist who Kyle saw, do make formal reports whenever a child discloses an allegation of abuse.
These conversations are difficult, but they’re necessary – because perpetrators count on our ignorance and shock in these situations to make sure kids won’t be believed. That’s why we tell caregivers and anyone else on the receiving end of a child’s disclosure to always start by believing, even if what you’re hearing sounds unbelievable. Unfortunately, the unbelievable happens.
What is also unbelievable to me though, is the courage, strength, and healing that can happen after abuse with survivors like Kyle. I know it happens here, too – I see it all the time at CARE House.