“Believed” – Episode 4

by Brittany Bartkowiak

The fourth episode of Michigan Radio’s Believed podcast might be the most chilling one yet. This is because you hear from Larry Nassar himself. His voice comes from a tape of another police interview (not the same one we talked about before) that ended just like the last one: with Larry walking out the door, a free man.

After all the media coverage of the Nassar case, it’s difficult to imagine him as anything but a serial child abuser. But remember – back when he was interviewed, he was still just Larry: a successful Olympic doctor who was being accused of something no one knew was true.

In the video of Larry’s interview, he doesn’t deny touching patients in their genital area at all. He totally admits to it. So… HOW did they let him walk out, you ask? Larry explains to police that yes, he did what he’s being accused of – he had to.  He’s supposed to touch patients there. That’s how these medical procedures work, according to him. If the girls and young women accusing him feel like anything abusive was happening, well… that’s their fault. Maybe they were sexually abused before and are just hypersensitive, or something.

This is where child sexual abuse cases can become so complicated and difficult to investigate, and why training and education like what CARE House offers is so important. Some offenders deny having any contact with their victim altogether, but many don’t – they try to justify or explain it away. Far too often, it works. It definitely worked for Larry. Listening to his interview, I can see why. Can you?

He says things like:

  • “I’m totally taken by surprise and at the same time, I feel like crap that someone   thinks I was doing something inappropriate to them.”
  • “If I did something wrong, do you know how quickly that would spread like wildfire? It’s my 27th year with the team…”
  • “This [meaning his medical procedures, I’m assuming] has been going on forever.”

All of his statements are basically saying the same thing: someone like me wouldn’t (and couldn’t) do something like that.

But he did. Even though Larry Nassar may have been a well-known and esteemed doctor, a husband, a father, a friend… he is also an abuser. Offenders can be both, which is one way they hide so easily in plain sight, and how they keep control over their victims. Perpetrators of abuse can be mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, friends. Victims can love their perpetrator and still want to spend time with them but hate the abuse that is happening.

As I listen to the podcast, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if investigators in the Nassar case had a better way to communicate with each other. The officer interviewing Larry in this episode had no idea that other girls had come forward or that Larry had already been talked to by police. This is a perfect example of why child advocacy centers (like CARE House) were created: to connect investigators from all over and provide a neutral space for them to collaborate. This makes it so much more difficult for people like Nassar to get away.

If you’re listening to Believed and thinking “I’m so glad this didn’t happen in Oakland County. I’m so glad this couldn’t happen here,” …. I have some bad news. The reality is, it could have happened here. It could be happening right now.

I have good news, too. Where there’s abuse, there’s also help, healing, and hope. There’s CARE House.

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