Sexual abuse by athletic team doctors
Explosive headlines bring much-needed attention to the problem of sexual abuse by doctors
“How Larry Nassar abused hundreds of gymnasts and eluded justice for decades” – The IndyStar, March 8, 2018
“Ohio State doctor sexually abused at least 177 male students, investigation finds” – NPR, May 17, 2019
“How UM failed to heed warnings about doctor’s alleged sex abuse” – The Detroit News, Oct. 21, 2020
“USC agrees to $852 million payout in sex abuse lawsuit,” – AP, March 25, 2021
Those headlines are about doctors Larry Nassar, Richard Strauss, Robert Anderson and George Tyndall, who are accused of being some of the most prolific sexual predators in U.S. history.
Their positions of trust at large universities created a perfect storm because a lack of oversight meant the doctors had unfettered access to students on an ongoing basis.
“It’s completely about access,” said a Nassar victim in an interview with the Detroit Free Press.
Nassar, of course, is the former USA Gymnastics doctor from Michigan State who raped and/or sexually abused at least 265 women. He’s serving what is essentially a life sentence for his crimes, which date to 1992.
The $852 million USC payout referenced above is in response to allegations that longtime USC gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, may have sexually abused as many as 700 women: he’s currently facing 35 criminal counts of sexual misconduct that occurred between 2009 and 2016.
Also caught up in the fray is the University of Michigan, which stands accused of covering up the sexual abuse of Dr. Robert E. Anderson. He was UM’s director of health services and athletic team doctor for 35 years. “An accusation by a single victim (in 2020) inspired 800 others, mostly men, to come forward and unleash allegations of grotesque behavior,” the Detroit News reported.
The accusations against Anderson mirror those brought by hundreds of Ohio State male students and athletes, who allege that team doctor Richard Strauss repeatedly raped and abused them between 1979 and 1998.
Many of the men and women victimized by the four doctors tell similar stories. For example, they kept quiet about their abuse because the doctors had power over them.
“I was afraid to say anything because I had a full scholarship,” an OSU diver said.
Still others say the doctors got away with so much abuse for so long simply because people are taught to trust authority figures.
“I was brought up to trust authority figures, but there are predators out there in positions of authority and they take advantage of that,” an Ohio State gymnast warned.
Dr. Jim Barahal, a UM athlete who was abused by Dr. Anderson in the mid-1970s, was “appalled” to learn that Anderson had victimized other students during his 35-year tenure at that university.
“I don’t want my life’s legacy to be that of a victim but physicians need to know they can’t do that,” Dr. Barahal said.
That’s why it’s OK to have a friend or family member in the exam room with you. That and other safety recommendations are available on RAINN’s web site; RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and calls the issue of doctors who sexually abuse a “serious violation of trust, medical ethics and the law.”
That sentiment was echoed by a renowned cardiologist and a Strauss sexual abuse victim. “From the perspective of a physician, it is particularly deplorable when a physician uses their knowledge, influence and power over a patient to manipulate them into a scenario that fits their vices,” the doctor said.
Sadly, stories about doctors who sexually abuse their patients are all too common: a 2016 investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution uncovered more than 3,500 cases of sexual misconduct committed by U.S. physicians since 1999.