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Should we just believe accusations

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Bluebird

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Feb 5, 2013
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I've only recently returned to online involvement with the gym community after needing some time away after the Nassar trial, but I've been catching up recently with various blogs, forums, etc. and I've been really surprised and quite disappointed by a lot of reactions to and comments about the issue of abuse in the sport.

Some of these comments are by people I've come to realize I was wrong to respect, but a lot more are from people who I genuinely think are decent and well-meaning, which only makes it more upsetting to see them perpetuating myths and harmful responses to reports of abuse.

Fair warning, I'm going to get on my soapbox for a moment, and I think there's a pretty good chance some people will disagree, or even be offended. But the consequences of this are too serious for me not to make some attempt at sharing my thoughts.

Essentially, the responses I keep seeing boil down to: "So should we just automatically believe gymnasts who report abuse?"

And my answer is simple: Yes. YES! Please God if someone reports that an adult has abused them, BELIEVE them!

Am I saying the accused should lose their job, be arrested, or be sent to jail on the basis of an accusation? Of course not. But if we're going to prevent horrors like this from occurring, we have to keep two things in mind: 1) Reporting abuse, particularly sexual abuse, is terrifying and risky for a victim and 2) If someone reports being abused, the statistics show that it is OVERWHELMINGLY more likely than not that they are telling the truth.

But what about false reports? They do happen, you know.

I know. What's more, I have never once met a person who needed to be reminded that false reports exist. In fact, the moment I see a headline about abuse, I know I can count on a stream of people rushing to "remind" everyone that false reports do occur and we should consider the accused innocent until proven guilty (a courtesy that somehow never seems to be extended to victims).

The effect of this is that study after study has shown that people - including law enforcement! - MASSIVELY overestimate the rate of false reports, which is no higher than false reports of any other crime. And just imagine how weird you'd find it if a gymnast tweeted about being in a car accident and person after person felt the need to remind everyone that she could have deliberately caused the accident for the insurance money, because after all, it does happen.

But just the accusation is enough to ruin someone's life!

Is it, though? I want to be clear, I'm not trying to downplay how devastating it is to be falsely accused of abuse. I've read accounts here and heard from people in real life about being threatened with this by disappointed girls, angry parents, etc. This is a horrifying prospect and I've felt shaky just hearing about it. I can't begin to imagine what it must be like to be a good coach with the fear that this could happen to you.

But I want to point out that you may know someone, or know of someone that this has happened to, or perhaps even experienced it yourself. But you also know a lot more than one person who has been the victim of sexual assault and not reported it for fear that they wouldn't be believed or would experience awful treatment for reporting it, as they have seen happen to other people in the same situation.

And it's worth mentioning that making a threat is a long way from holding up under the kind of questioning, public scrutiny, and mud-slinging that makes many people retract even when their reports are true.

And secondly, this idea that "just the accusation is enough" gets thrown around so much that I think it's important to consider whether that's actually the case. Because I can name several coaches (two of whom were in charge of the national team!) who have been accused of abuse for YEARS and continued to hold positions of power, run gyms, and coach athletes. We've heard testimony that some women abused by Nassar were told they had misunderstood, or berated for risking the reputation of such a great guy, or most sickening of all, made to apologize for "lying." And I've.seen focus group interviews, and mock jury deliberations showing just how far people will go to disbelieve a victim when expert testimony, the accused's own admission, or even video evidence support the victim's story.

What's my point in all of this?

If you're a gym owner or a police officer or an official of some kind, then of course, of COURSE you have an obligation to ensure that the accused is treated fairly. And I assume everyone agrees that if you are a parent, coach, or anyone with a safeguarding responsibility, then you MUST take reports seriously and act to protect the athletes if there is even the slightest hint of a chance that athletes are at risk.

But the reason I'm posting is to ask - beg? - that we be more thoughtful and informed about how we talk about accusations in public spaces. There is no place for jumping in to "show support" for someone accused unless you have ALL of the facts - even if you've met them, or worked with them, or respect their work and their reputation. People said the same things about Nassar, and these responses prevent victims from coming forward. And if you feel the need to "be fair" by reminding people that false reports do happen? Please, please reconsider. No one needs to be reminded.
 

Aussie_coach

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Yes, it is true that the vast majority of times the accusation is true, but it is also true that there are false accusations. And as you state, one false accusation can ruin someone's career, even if it is proven to be false. This is why it is absolutely essential to treat accusations with confidentiality while investigations are going on.
 

Flipfloppy

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The single most powerful thing that anyone has said or done to help me heal from years of sexual abuse is, "I believe you."

It has been particularly powerful from people who haven't heard the details. One common tactic used by abusers is gaslighting; over time, they cause you to doubt your own perceptions of the truth. Even after all these years, after learning how many other girls he's done this to, after understanding the effects of his abuse on the rest of my life, after learning that he knew another coach was sexually abusing a minor and didn't do anything about it - after all that, his abuse is deeply embedded in my psyche and I still doubt myself. "I believe you" simply because someone believes me, without me having to prove what happened to me - it is so powerful.
 

Bluebird

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Feb 5, 2013
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Aussie_Coach, I genuinely can't tell if your response is parody, disagreement, or just a case of completely missing and/or ignoring my point. I wrote at length about the harmful effects of immediately jumping in with "but false accusations do happen" and you responded with "but it is also true that there are false accusations." Why?

Flopfloppy, thank you for sharing your experience. That's such a powerful story.

(Edited for clearer phrasing)
 

ausnat83

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Yes, it is true that the vast majority of times the accusation is true, but it is also true that there are false accusations. And as you state, one false accusation can ruin someone's career, even if it is proven to be false. This is why it is absolutely essential to treat accusations with confidentiality while investigations are going on.

Moving past the choice to respond to this particular post with "... but occasionally there are false accusations," I don't think that believing people who report abuse necessarily has anything to do with either protecting or violating confidentiality. That's a separate topic.
 

GAgymmom

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I’m not going to delve into this too much, but the way things have gone in this country over the past year, accusations should always be investigated before being taken at face value. I’ve become cynical, even with the Nasser case. I’m sorry if that upsets people, but that’s what happens when people constantly falsely accuse people—it hurts the credibility of real victims. I’ve experienced false accusations in my professional life and was not allowed to answer the accusations, they were taken as true even though they weren’t. A friend of mine was falsely accused of physical abuse of a woman and he was arrested, his face plastered in the papers and on social media, he was suspended from his job as teacher and coach, his name was dragged through the mud....and it was all made up by his girlfriend. She fled to another state while he had to pick up the pieces of his life and is still dealing with people saying ugly things about him. I know abuse is real, it sickens me, but I can’t agree that all accusations should be believed. If one is made, it should be taken seriously and investigated carefully. (That’s all I’m going to say, so don’t expect a reply if you blast me for stating my opinion).
 

txgymfan

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This is a scary hard topic. As the victim of sexual harrassmentas a teen and adult I didn’t report it for many reasons.

As a caregiver, a child, who was abused herself, threatened to report that I was abusing her. It was one of the scariest things she could say and she knew it, she said it to manipulate me.

There are no easy answers. Most of the time I believe the victims.

Some people accused have lasting consequences that affect their personal and professional lives. Some people who have been accused apparently have no consequences at all or are seemingly elevated by portraying themselves as a victim and their accuser as nefarious.

Many or most victims that come forward publicly also have lasting consequences weather or not their their abuser is convicted.
 

2G1B

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Every report should be fully investigated and taken seriously. However I do not believe that the way that they have been handled by USAG/Safe Sport in the past year or so - tweeting it out that the person is suspended while under investigation - is appropriate. I believe that at that stage of investigation a note should be put in the coach's file that they are under investigation and not to work with minors until the investigation is concluded. They can be suspended from their job. But not a public tweet that will be there forever. And once some of them have been released from the suspended list, all that seems to happen is that there name is removed from the list, but no explanation is given. So there is still the shadow hanging over them of, "Hmmm, maybe there wasn't enough evidence, but s/he really did it..."

Again, take it seriously, investigate it seriously, but do not publicly announce until there is compelling evidence. And in reality, if there is evidence, these are things that in most cases criminal charges should be brought for (exceptions being adult coach with an adult athlete in a consensual, though inappropriate, relationship).
 

Aussie_coach

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Aussie_Coach, I genuinely can't tell if your response is parody, disagreement, or just a case of completely missing and/or ignoring my point. I wrote at length about the harmful effects of immediately jumping in with "but false accusations do happen" and you responded with "but it is also true that there are false accusations." Why?

Flopfloppy, thank you for sharing your experience. That's such a powerful story.

(Edited for clearer phrasing)
My point is that is is dangerous not to immediately consider the reality that false accusations do happen. All allegations must be treated as being both possibly true and possibly false unless proven one way of another. The steps taken must protect both the accuser and the accused. It has got nothing to do with not believing those who make the accusation and everything to do with a fair and just legal system.
 

Bluebird

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Feb 5, 2013
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It has got nothing to do with not believing those who make the accusation and everything to do with a fair and just legal system.

I think perhaps this is where the misunderstanding lies. I am not remotely suggesting that a person who is accused of abuse is not entitled to a legal presumption of innocence or a fair investigation. But that is relevant when talking about legal action or discussing how a gym should protect the rights of the accused AS WELL AS ensuring the safety of the athletes. If you're in the position of making employment decisions or setting up policy then yes, of course, you need to allow for the fact that a false accusation is possible and determine how to ensure everyone involved is dealt with fairly.

The point I was making here, though, is that we need to be a lot more thoughtful about how we speak about the issue in public spaces and consider the message our words send, whether intentional or not. And I've been frankly appalled by how many coaches and other people in positions of authority have got it badly wrong, even after everything that has come out with the Nassar case. (Please note, the only part of this that's addressed to you personally, Aussie_Coach is my saying that I think we may have been talking about two different issues, hence the possible misunderstanding).

My point is that if a gymnast (or gymnasts) comes forward with a report of abuse, it is WILDLY inappropriate to make comments like "I know Coach X and am sure there is no truth in these claims" because we have to acknowledge that people said exactly the same thing about Nassar and they were wrong. We HAVE to understand that if a claim is made it is VERY likely that that claim is true and choose our comments accordingly. In the same way, it's deeply harmful to comment on a report by reminding everyone that false claims do occur. In a meeting determining how to handle a claim at your gym or a post where someone advocates some sort of vigalilante justice? Yes, it may be appropriate to remind people that false accusations are a possibility and it's important to let investigators do their job.

But if we're going to learn anything from the recent cases, we have to hold ourselves accountable for the messages we are sending. And if we respond to every mention of abuse on social media with "but what about false accusations?!" we are 1) contributing to a belief that false reports are more common than they are (which all available evidence says people already significantly overestimate) , and more importantly 2) sending the message to victims who may be considering disclosing abuse to us that we may not believe them if they do.

We have to be asking ourselves, "How can we create an environment where victims will be certain they will be believed and supported and protected if they disclose abuse?" I get that false reports are a truly terrible thing, but so is being a minor who has been betrayed by someone in a position of trust and then having to wonder if it is safe to tell a parent, coach, gym, owned, etc. because everything you've seen them say on the subject tells you that they're going to be thinking, "after all, she could be lying, and we need to protect the coaches."

I've become cynical, even with the Nasser case. I’m sorry if that upsets people, but that’s what happens when people constantly falsely accuse people.

I certainly respect your right to share your opinion, and as someone who has also had a loved one affected by a malicious accusation, I can have compassion for how bitter you must be feeling. However, I don't think that gives you license to make comments that are actively harmful. There is no evidence whatsoever that "people constantly falsely accuse people" and I think it's really important to ask yourself how anyone in your life could possibly feel safe disclosing abuse to you if they see you expressing this view. I also think it's in incredibly poor taste to say that you're "cynical" about a case where a person who has pled guilty to assaulting hundreds of people in a forum where we know participants have been personally affected by this man's actions.
 

ldw4mlo

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I understand that there are many things in life that are incredibly triggering to people. There are many things that have caused great harm to people. That you took the time to post such a lengthy post, I am sure the subject hits very close to home. And I am sorry for your pain.

I have walked away from this post. Tried to just say leave it alone. And clearly it is very triggering to me based on my lived experience.

And like GAgymmom, I'll say my piece and leave it at that. Because we can tit for tat this forever.

One can not ever claim who has suffered more in any sort trauma. Who has the right to claim more pain, more harm?

My ex-husband was quite the gas lighter. It was his preferred way to justify his actions, my pain/problem/experience was greater then yours. I lived that dream, rather nightmare for over a decade. And as a side note there are still people who simply don't get what a b#st#rd he was.


it is WILDLY inappropriate to make comments like "I know Person X and am sure there is no truth in these claims" because we have to acknowledge that people said exactly the same thing about Nassar and they were wrong. We HAVE to understand that if a claim is made it is VERY likely that that claim is true and choose our comments accordingly.

I subbed person for coach in your quote. No, quite frankly to equate every person accused as Nassar also not right.

However, I don't think that gives you license to make comments that are actively harmful.

Because that is also actively harmful to some.

I know 3 good people falsely accused of inappropriate behavior. One was actually arrested for a rape (that never happened). Yeah, dragged off by the cops with his 7 yr old son, to the police station to be booked. 7 yr old left alone in the lobby of the police station for at least 2 hours until I got there....... Traumatic to this day, to this man, this man's mother, his ex-wife, his child. And actually to me, as I relive that night of getting to phone call to come get his son. Listening to the police officer saying the man was arrested for rape. I still get physically stressed and it happened nearly 2 decades ago.

And of the 3 incidents I have first hand knowledge of only one would ever make it into a false report statistic. Leaving 2 unaccounted for. More unreported at almost 67 %.

And none of them will ever speak publicly or openly about. Exactly how many people do think are going to raise their hand and say I was falsely accused of rape? Abuse? Harrassment?

It is impossible to know exactly what goes unreported. Well, because its unreported.

And yet they have to listen to statements like, my son/daughter would never behave like that because I raised them right. The man carted off to jail in front of his son, his mom raised him right. Devastating for her to hear statements like that.

Always believe the victim. Well I guess the when the man was carted off to jail, he should of just stayed there.

There is active harm on both sides.

And you don't dismiss accusations. You don't say its not possible so no investigation. Of course you investigate. Yes Nassar, Sandusky and we could go on and on.... Their victims should of been believed much sooner. Proper investigations should of happened, much much sooner.

I think it's really important to ask yourself how anyone in your life could possibly feel safe disclosing abuse to you if they see you expressing this view.

As a person, who has sisters and brothers. Daughter and son. Nieces and nephews. Friends, family.

I am crystal clear on what I tell those loved ones. I love you, I know you, I believe you. Whether the accused or the accuser.

We have to be asking ourselves, "How can we create an environment where victims will be certain they will be believed and supported and protected if they disclose abuse?" I get that false reports are a truly terrible thing, but so is being a minor who has been betrayed by someone in a position of trust and then having to wonder if it is safe to tell a parent, coach, gym, owned, etc. because everything you've seen them say on the subject tells you that they're going to be thinking, "after all, she could be lying, and we need to protect the coaches."

Specific to my female child, we openly discuss all these situations. I do not keep her in situations I believe to be bad for her, because some tells me well that's simply how its done. In particular if she came to me and said she was abused. I love you. I believe you. I will support you in whatever way I can. I will defend you and stand right with you. And we must report it. Therapy, lawyers. Whatever you need to help get you through it and to a place where you are ready to report it. But we must report it.

And if she never wants to report it. I would tell her I still believe her.

And if she waits for decades to report it. I would tell her I still believe her and stand with her. But she would also need to know the complications that come with letting that much time pass.
 

Bluebird

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Feb 5, 2013
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I agree that a back-and-forth isn't going to be productive at this point, so I'm going to step away from this thread after this post, but I want to respond to a few specific places where I feel you've misinterpreted me.

One can not ever claim who has suffered more in any sort trauma. Who has the right to claim more pain, more harm?

I have never said or intentionally implied that anyone's pain is greater than anyone else's. I don't think it's possible to weigh the relative harm of being abused vs. being falsely accused of abuse, if that's what you're getting at. I believe people in both situations are victims of horrible, horrible treatment by another human being. That doesn't change the facts that in terms of NUMBERS, it is much more likely that a person will be abused than that a person will be falsely accused of abuse. That is simply fact. (Yes, I realize that due to the nature of this kind of crime and underreporting, we can't name exact numbers. But decades of research has shown again and again that most claims of abuse are true). And I think that fact has to be kept in mind when we consider what we say publicly and what message our comments send.

I believe one person's life ruined by false accusations is too many, and I believe in a fair investigation process and policies that protect the rights of the accused. But I also believe that it is inappropriate to bring up false accusations every time the conversation of abuse comes up because it deters people from coming forward.

I subbed person for coach in your quote. No, quite frankly to equate every person accused as Nassar also not right.

I can accept that we probably disagree on this, but I'm honestly surprised that this point is at all controversial. I think understanding the possibility that every person named as an abuser could be another Nassar is essential. As someone who deeply respected Nassar and thought he was a sign of a huge positive shift in USA gymnastics, I can still say I was deeply disappointed by how many coaches, etc. leaped to his defense, I assume because they genuinely believed they knew him and thought he couldn't possibly have done something like this. The fact is, unless we have all the facts, we can't know that "this person isn't capable" and I think it's really important to consider how difficult it would be for another victim to come forward if they're seeing dozens of prominent people in the sport saying "I know this person and these accusations must be false." (In the name of being as clear as I can possibly be, I'm not suggesting people should have immediately jumped in to condemn either him or other people we have since learned are abusers or complicit in abuse without knowing the facts. I'm saying it's much more appropriate to acknowledge that it is possible we are wrong to have trusted someone and wait for the facts to unfold before essentially accusing potential victims of lying)

Always believe the victim. Well I guess the when the man was carted off to jail, he should of just stayed there.
I have been as clear as I can possibly be that I am not suggesting denying a fair legal and/or employment or institutional process to anyone accused of any crime. Please don't put words in my mouth.

Because that is also actively harmful to some.
The claim I pointed out was harmful was "people constantly falsely accuse people." This is simply demonstrably false and perpetuates myths about sexual abuse that make it harder for victims to come forward. (This is also the specific comment I was referring to when questioning whether children would feel safe reporting abuse. Claiming that false reports "constantly" happen does not send a message that you are a safe person to disclose abuse to.)

Abuse is actively harmful. Being falsely accused of abuse is actively harmful. Pointing out that we need to do a much better job creating an environment where victims feel sure of being believed is not, in my opinion, actively harmful.

In fact, I'm genuinely surprised to see so much negative feeling towards this idea in the gymnastics community (which is what drove my posting in the first place) because this has been the number one point emphasized in every safeguarding/child protection and victim support education I've ever been part of: we need to make it clear to children (and adults, for that matter) that they will be believed. I would have thought people dealing with children, let alone as part of a sport where such a massive culture of abuse has come to light, would have received similar training. I'm having trouble understanding why this is not simply a basic premise we can all agree on, but I can see that it isn't and I'll have to live with that.

As I said, I think at this point I've been as clear as I can possibly be and I think it's probably best that this is my last post on this thread (although I certainly hope others will weigh in and I appreciate the respectful tone of the discussion).
 

coachp

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no solution , if you don't suspend after accusation and you end up with more victims .... you are to blame. If you suspend and turns out to be false.... you are to blame. Problem is these investigations go on for ever, (in other words they don't do anything).
 

GAgymmom

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I think perhaps this is where the misunderstanding lies. I am not remotely suggesting that a person who is accused of abuse is not entitled to a legal presumption of innocence or a fair investigation. But that is relevant when talking about legal action or discussing how a gym should protect the rights of the accused AS WELL AS ensuring the safety of the athletes. If you're in the position of making employment decisions or setting up policy then yes, of course, you need to allow for the fact that a false accusation is possible and determine how to ensure everyone involved is dealt with fairly.

The point I was making here, though, is that we need to be a lot more thoughtful about how we speak about the issue in public spaces and consider the message our words send, whether intentional or not. And I've been frankly appalled by how many coaches and other people in positions of authority have got it badly wrong, even after everything that has come out with the Nassar case. (Please note, the only part of this that's addressed to you personally, Aussie_Coach is my saying that I think we may have been talking about two different issues, hence the possible misunderstanding).

My point is that if a gymnast (or gymnasts) comes forward with a report of abuse, it is WILDLY inappropriate to make comments like "I know Coach X and am sure there is no truth in these claims" because we have to acknowledge that people said exactly the same thing about Nassar and they were wrong. We HAVE to understand that if a claim is made it is VERY likely that that claim is true and choose our comments accordingly. In the same way, it's deeply harmful to comment on a report by reminding everyone that false claims do occur. In a meeting determining how to handle a claim at your gym or a post where someone advocates some sort of vigalilante justice? Yes, it may be appropriate to remind people that false accusations are a possibility and it's important to let investigators do their job.

But if we're going to learn anything from the recent cases, we have to hold ourselves accountable for the messages we are sending. And if we respond to every mention of abuse on social media with "but what about false accusations?!" we are 1) contributing to a belief that false reports are more common than they are (which all available evidence says people already significantly overestimate) , and more importantly 2) sending the message to victims who may be considering disclosing abuse to us that we may not believe them if they do.

We have to be asking ourselves, "How can we create an environment where victims will be certain they will be believed and supported and protected if they disclose abuse?" I get that false reports are a truly terrible thing, but so is being a minor who has been betrayed by someone in a position of trust and then having to wonder if it is safe to tell a parent, coach, gym, owned, etc. because everything you've seen them say on the subject tells you that they're going to be thinking, "after all, she could be lying, and we need to protect the coaches."



I certainly respect your right to share your opinion, and as someone who has also had a loved one affected by a malicious accusation, I can have compassion for how bitter you must be feeling. However, I don't think that gives you license to make comments that are actively harmful. There is no evidence whatsoever that "people constantly falsely accuse people" and I think it's really important to ask yourself how anyone in your life could possibly feel safe disclosing abuse to you if they see you expressing this view. I also think it's in incredibly poor taste to say that you're "cynical" about a case where a person who has pled guilty to assaulting hundreds of people in a forum where we know participants have been personally affected by this man's actions.
People are constantly falsely accusing people. That’s not harmful, it’s the truth. Look at the Supreme Court nomination fiasco, all the fake hate crimes being reported almost weekly (Covington kids), girls accusing guys (happens at my daughter’s college pretty regularly, ruining guy’s lives). And I can say I’m cynical because I am. I’m sorry if that upsets you, but like I said, it’s not a popular opinion.
 

SpunkyGymMom

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Against my better judgement, I will wade into this insanely difficult issue.

I think it is important to consider the somewhat unique circumstances associated with abuse in gymnastics. In the case of an accusation against a coach - especially a winning coach - believing an accuser is terribly difficult and inconvenient for those invested in the continued success of the program. A club owner will want desperately to believe the coach is innocent because losing that coach could be devastating to their business. In addition, loss of a winning coach would be profoundly disappointing to other gymnasts and their parents who attribute their gymnasts’ success to that coach. It benefits absolutely no one (except the victim) to believe an accuser... as long as we can convince ourselves it wouldn’t happen again.

Talented gymnasts are a dime a dozen, totally expendable. But a talented coach is rare and highly valued. So it’s easier to write off accusations as possibly/probably false, because of what’s on the line for everyone involved. All that adds up to a bias against the accusers and an environment ripe for continued abuse, which is why we need initiatives like Safe Sport (its flaws aside) to put someone/something on the side of victims.

Yes, people lie about being victims. But abusers lie all the time about their actions, too. Here, we’re talking about young girls - not disgruntled ex-girlfriends, former employees, or political opponents with an ax to grind. Personally, I am inclined to believe a gymnast who says she’s been abused, unless there is clear evidence showing otherwise. But I get that we all have our own experiences that influence our points of view. You don’t have to believe accusers, but PLEASE take them seriously.

And taking accusations seriously should not mean an accused coach is arrested or fired - - but an immediate full, independent, confidential investigation is warranted, as are steps to protect other gymnasts until we can be certain they are safe.
 
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