“Believed” – Episodes 5-7

Photo credit: Emma Winowiecki

by Brittany Bartkowiak

We talked before about the abuse that happened in Larry Nassar’s basement, but most of Larry’s abuse happened in a doctor’s office…with a parent merely an arm’s reach away.

Most people who hear these facts instantly have two questions:

  1. How could a parent possibly be in the same room while their child is abused?
  2. Why didn’t the kids scream out or tell their parent while the abuse was happening?

We hear questions like this ALL the time at CARE House; things like, “But they were never home alone together, so how could it have happened?” or “I was in the room the whole time, I didn’t see anything.” The most recent few episodes of Believed help to explain the answers to these questions.

The uncomfortable reality is that abuse often happens in plain sight. Abuse doesn’t always look, feel, or sound like abuse. Sometimes it looks and sounds normal. Sometimes, abuse even feels good.

This is one of many reasons why child sexual abuse is so confusing. How do you teach kids about “bad” touches when sometimes “bad” touches feel “good?” (That’s why CARE House staff recommends using words like “safe” vs. “unsafe” touches instead of good vs. bad.) How do you recognize abuse when sometimes it feels like love?

One might think that having another adult in the room – let alone a victim’s parent – would deter abusers from hurting kids. But I think sometimes, it can actually work in favor of the perpetrator. One of Larry’s victims describes in the podcast that she automatically believed what Larry was doing to her body was OK because her dad was sitting right there while it happened. Parents (and kids) both assume abuse couldn’t possibly be going on in that moment, so they write off the abuser’s actions as something different. This can make it even more difficult for kids to be believed if and when they are able to disclose the abuse.

To gain a better understanding of how Larry manipulated his victims, their families, and their community – something we refer to as an offender’s “grooming process” – be sure to listen to the last couple episodes of Believed. You hear directly from a father who was one of those parents in the room. You also hear from one of Larry’s survivors, Trinea, who struggled for years to recognize and believe that what Larry was doing to her was abuse.

Trinea finally did recognize Larry’s actions as abuse when she was an adult. When she did, Trinea decided to face Larry in court. Her words sting from a combination of love and hate mixed with trust and betrayal. The following is an excerpt from her statement:

“I hope you will see it from me in my eyes today that I believed in you always until I couldn’t anymore. I hope you cry like we cry. I hope you feel bad for what you’ve done. I hope more than anything, each day these girls can feel less pain. I hope you want that for us, but this is goodbye to you, Larry and this time it’s time for me to close the door. It’s time for me to stand up for these little girls and not stand behind you anymore, Larry. Goodbye, Larry. May God bless your dark, broken soul.”

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