The case of Larry Nassar, the now notorious Osteopath accused of sexually assaulting 150 (or more) young gymnasts, is particularly puzzling. Before I continue, I would like to make clear that I have no intention of defending this guy, because I simply don't know enough about the case to render a judgement. But there are certain aspects of the case that trouble me and certain questions that, in my view, need to addressed before Nassar is universally condemned as some sort of out of control pedophile monster.
I'll start with the huge collection of "child pornography" found on his hard drive. When I first heard that he was being accused of "child pornography" my assumption was that he'd been discovered producing such pornography himself, i.e., taking photos or videos of underage girls and sharing them with others, presumably via some sort of online pedophile network. As I've read more about the case, however, I've seen no evidence that he's been accused of anything more than collecting such materials for his own "use," and while possession of child pornography is in fact illegal, it hardly seems more of an offense than, for example, possession of small amounts of marijuana for one's own use. In this regard, the sentence of 60 years imposed solely on the basis of his having collected such materials (the accusations of sexual molestation are another issue) seems way out of line. Which makes one wonder regarding the objectivity of a judge who would want to impose such a harsh sentence over what appears to be little more than a misdemeanor. [Added on Jan. 29: from the Justia website:
Child pornography charges can be prosecuted in both federal and state court and carry hefty criminal punishments. First-time offenses can result in 15-20 years in prison plus extended time in supervised sex offender release programs. Being charged with possession of child pornography will also typically require a defendant to be registered in a sex offender database.]The many accusations of sexual abuse are, of course, another matter entirely, and since so many young women have come forward with such accusations any attempt to defend Nassar would seem almost pointless. Yet, after reading several accounts of these accusations, I'm left scratching my head. While the word "rape" is often used in this context, I don't see any examples of anything that would usually be considered rape, i.e., sexual intercourse or other form of sexual assault imposed against the victim's will. In almost every case what he's being accused of is little more than digital penetration of an underage girl's vagina. And in almost every case it's become clear that the "victim" and her parents consented to this behavior at the time, with the understanding that it was a legitimate medical procedure.
Now Nassar is an osteopath, an approach to medicine that's been controversial for some time and regarded in many quarters as seriously flaky. Osteopaths have all sorts of ideas that go against mainstream thinking and have often been ridiculed. Yet it has for some time been accepted by the AMA as a legitimate "alternative" approach to healing. Is the digital penetration of a vagina in fact considered legitimate in osteopathic circles and have other osteopaths used such methods? We see little reference to this question in typical media reports, but from the online research I've done the answer seems to be "yes." But with the qualification that the method is rarely used -- while Nassar has been accused of using it routinely, which does sound extremely suspicious.
If he did in fact use it routinely, however, then it's very difficult to understand why he could have gotten away with this sort of behavior for so long, especially since he was never shy about explaining and even demonstrating his methods. Personally I find the whole idea extremely offensive, but if it is in fact regarded as a legitimate procedure, and if he made no secret of his methods, and if neither the girls themselves nor their parents saw it, at the time, as anything other than a medical procedure, then it's difficult to understand how, many years after the fact, all these women could regard themselves as having been violated -- and to the extent that they are now suffering serious psychological consequences as a result.
There is also the question of intent. Is any action criminal if there is no criminal intent? In my eyes the penetration of the vagina of an underage girl with or without her consent is unacceptable under any circumstances. But given the context in which these actions occurred, it's possible to believe that Nassar himself saw them as legitimate medical treatment, with no more prurient intent than the actions of any gynecologist. If he had been put on trial, his lawyer could have argued on this basis for reasonable doubt, as there is no way to prove that his intentions were anything other than honorable. But Nassar decided to plead guilty and throw himself at the mercy of the judge, which may have been a huge mistake.
From what I've been reading, Nassar actually denied ever penetrating anyone's vagina, with his finger or anything else. He claimed that his manipulations had been misinterpreted as penetration because his fingers would often come close to the vagina or even touch it, but he's denied actual penetration, claiming that there had been no need to use gloves since his fingers never went far enough to warrant them. Now this would seem especially hard to believe since you would think that anyone would be able to tell whether her vagina had been penetrated or not.
Yet here too I find myself puzzled. How could he have penetrated the vaginas of so many young virgins without first encountering the obstacle posed by the hymen? Are we to believe he could have actually gotten away with breaking through the hymen of hundreds of girls without consequences? How would he have been able to explain the bleeding, not to mention the extreme pain? Penetration of the vagina explained away as medical treatment is one thing; destroying the hymen of a young virgin is quite another thing. I find it all but impossible to believe that either the girls or their parents would have tolerated such an action for one minute. However, unless we want to assume that these girls were not virgins at the time he was treating them, it's very hard to understand how he could have digitally penetrated their vaginas without first breaking their hymens.
Admittedly there are details of this case I am still unaware of so, unlike the Knox or Avery cases, I'm not going to draw any hard and fast conclusions. I'm hoping that some of the women following this blog can provide some enlightenment regarding the issues I've raised and as always I welcome all relevant comments.