Op/Ed By George Payne –
I despise what Dr. Larry Nassar did to those young women. It should not matter that many of them were exceptional at gymnastics, what matters is that they did not deserve to be taken advantage of by a doctor who they trusted implicitly. Not only did Dr. Nassar violate his oath to the sacred creed of Hippocrates, he also violated our most cherished and precious bond between elders and youth. Once the graphic nature of his crimes had surfaced, the law became justified in sentencing him to the exact time he received, which was the maximum 40 to 170+ years in prison. As the presiding judge said to him bleakly: “I just signed your death warrant.”
And, who can fault that father for charging Nassar like a tortured bull lunging out of a cage? Every parent who cares about their children could sympathize on a primal level with a man whose three girls were unwillingly penetrated by a perpetrator 15 feet away. As he took on the consequences of criminal punishment, personal injury, and national attention, his desire to get his hands on Nassar felt like the most cathartic act imaginable for that moment. As a parent myself, I would be lying if I said that I did not want to see the doctor tackled by the enraged father. After all, it would have felt good to see Nassar go through some of the physical torment he had put all of these women through.
Yet, there is a problem for me. As a reared Christian, and proponent of principled nonviolence, this feeling of retributive justice is at odds with what I know to be true about the prevailing myths which help to regenerate and proliferate violence in human society.
I know that redemptive violence never accomplishes the goals it sets out to achieve. I know that the feeling of immediate satisfaction that comes with revenge is hard to repress, but in the end, the act of violent retaliation only leaves one wounded, traumatized, and in pursuit of an ever-receding horizon of inner peace.
I also know that making scapegoats out of individuals will never result in getting rid of the problem at hand. We can make Dr. Nassar the most evil monster our brains can conjure up. We can make him such an anomaly that by killing him we will never see his likes again. But the truth is more conventional. The menace of pedophilia, sexual abuse, victimizing the innocent with social superiority, will not go away once Nassar is incarcerated and dies behind bars. To make him so different from the society which helped to create him is a very dangerous mistake. There will be countless Nassars waiting to take their turn; and unless the root problems of these diseases are addressed and cured, he will always remain a sensational example of how institutionalized this epidemic of pedophilia, and male sexual assault, has become in America.
I also know that abandoning the attempt to restore someone who has been completely broken apart is always a viable option, especially for those who themselves have been broken and mutilated by his actions. However, it has been shown that pedophilia, sexual addiction, and the traits of being a sociopath, can be overcome. It takes a rudimentary desire to see this change come about, but if one is convicted to the process of rehabilitation, there is the ability to bring people out of the darkness of their anguishes into the light of their original purpose as created beings. It may sound unethical, inappropriate, or even insane to think about Larry Nassar as a baby, toddler, young boy, and developing teenager, but he was all of these. At one time he did not see himself as an abuser of young girls; at the age of 11 he did not see himself as an agent of wickedness. As an infant in his mothers arms, he did did want to become a pariah in the eyes of billions. He did not want any of this to happen, at least not before he learned how to. Through a series of events and choices – always informed and molded by the culture around him – Nassar became an abuser.
So why can’t he un-become an abuser? Why can’t the culture work to mold him – and others like him – into the people who they were created to be? Or are some individuals so heinous that they are beyond our ability to have compassion for them? If this is the case, don’t they hold one final type of power over their victims: namely the power to prevent them from transforming their anger, fear, and pain into expressions of love, courage, freedom and joy?