Gymnasts Lindsey Lemke Allegation of Sexual Abuse by Her Doctor Starting at Age 13.

Sex Predators in White Coats

Whether it’s the doctor in The Keepers in cahoots with Father Maskell and the Catholic Church or Dr. Larry Nassar who treated gymnasts Lindsey Lemke, sexual assault and violence in the guise of legitimate medical treatment is particularly heinous and outrageous.

Who hasn’t felt that drop in the pit of your stomach at the sight of the godlike doctor? The doctor-patient relationship is one of absolute trust sprinkled with a hint of intimation. The white coat, the silver stethoscope, the hushed tone when the “Doctor” comes into the room, makes us all, but particularly children and young adults, vulnerable to sexual violence, assault and abuse from the medical profession.

A young athlete even more so, because they are in a competition to win, and their body is critical to achieving the goal. Lindsey Lemke is a perfect example of the victimization that comes from relationships of unequal power.

Lindsey Lemke, a young gymnast alleges that she was sexually abused by Dr. Larry Nassar more than 600 times during her “treatment for sports injuries” since the age of 11.

Add to this scenario, young vulnerable girls and unlimited hours of unfettered access to these young girls by top coaches, trainers and sports doctors and you have the perfect predator petri dish for sexual assault and abuse.

Predators are gold medalists in the art of grooming young athletes. They are masters at building a relationship of confidence, trust, and love. Like Dr. Nassar, they often offer a listening ear and special emotional support. Ms. Lemke says, “If you had a bad day with a coach, he would talk to you about it,” she says. “If I got in a fight with my mom, I could talk to him.” Predators groom by lavishing their target victim with gifts, extravagances and special treatment.  At the same time they are grooming the victim, these predators,  (particularly pedophiles) are grooming the community. Skilled manipulators, they cultivate a close relationship with parents, community leaders, churches and clubs, socializing with them in the neighborhood and seen as esteemed figures of respect, trust and glamour.

Young athletes who have been taught to win at all costs become susceptible — along with their parents — to manipulation and predatory behavior by men like Nassar who have the power to lead them to triumph. Coveted coaches, top sport doctors, trainers are elevated to star-like status, enjoying unfettered access to cloistered young athletes.

And the message is “put up and shut up.” These young girls are not encouraged or allowed to speak up. They are silenced by the predator (doctor, coach, trainer) as well as by parents and the community.  It’s an environment where the coach, the doctor, the trainer, rules. You don’t get far as a young athlete, by questioning those in power or speaking back. The young girls that reach the pinnacle of success in their sport are those that have learned to passively submit to the men in power. These men are seen as having the young girls interests at heart. The girls are groomed to be silent, respectful winners. Nobody likes a complainer, a challenger to the authority predators hold most dear.

Athletes are particularly vulnerable with few legal protections afforded to other victims. There needs to be legislation that would require sports organizations to report abuse claims to law enforcement (that is not currently required).  There needs to be national awareness and effort to do more to protect athletes from sexual abuse. Parents need to stop giving unfettered discretion and access to their children without requiring adult overseeing, reporting, and accountability. You wouldn’t just hand over your cocker spaniel to anyone, why your child? And USA teams and sports organizations need to do more to combat sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, Lindsey Lemke’s stolen innocence is just the tip of the sexual abuse iceberg. We thank her for her bravery and courage in speaking up so that others can find their voice. My motto Speak, Heal, Empower. The Power of S.H.E

Shari Karney is a Founder of ROAR as ONE, a newly forming nonprofit to combat sexual violence, sexual assault, and sexual abuse. ROAR as ONE’s mission is to create equality and justice for victims of sexual abuse. Our mission is to defend the right to pursue happiness—happiness that has been stolen through child sexual abuse sexual assault, rape, silence, and manipulation for the pleasure of others. Our goal is to ensure a society and government that defends this right to happiness and to allow all voices to speak and be heard.