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Not Just One Bad Man

A young gymnast stands on a floor printed with the American flag with a crack leading up to her feet.

Athlete A is more than just the story of one bad man, it is an exploration into the systems of power that perpetuate the abuse and objectification of girls and young women.

Equality Now is incredibly proud to partner with the Netflix documentary Athlete A, which tells the story of the gymnasts who survived USA Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nasser’s serial sexual abuse and exposed the toxic culture of elite gymnastics for a Town Hall discussion on December 9th, 2pm EST

At Equality Now, we know that adolescent girls are disproportionately vulnerable to human rights abuses, including sexual violence. At the same time girls generally lack a support system through which they can protest abuses and access justice. These violations and the inability to seek remedy can have severe and long-lasting consequences on their development and future. Athlete A is a significant contribution to the #MeToo movement because it integrates the experience of adolescent girls into the larger societal reckoning around systemic sexual abuse and highlights their unique struggle. 

The documentary also shines a spotlight on the complicity of individuals and institutions who both directly and indirectly granted impunity to the powerful and well-connected Dr. Nassar at the expense of the girls and young women he was serially abusing. While Larry Nassar committed the actual acts of sexual violence, the film highlights the larger enabling environment that allowed Nassar to become a predator. Both of Nassar’s employers, Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, shielded Dr. Nassar from accountability as they were more concerned about winning and their institutional reputations than they were about the health and development of their students and athletes. 

Unfortunately, the betrayal that the Nassar survivors experienced is not a unique experience for teenage survivors of sexual violence. Sustained sexual abuse of minors is contingent on a larger ecosystem of complicity and systemic sexism, which includes:

  • Power and impunity for perpetrators 
  • A culture of silence
  • Victim-blaming and shaming
  • Lack of accountability mechanisms, including adequate legal recourse 
  • Misogyny and patriarchy

No longer afforded the protections of childhood, nor recognized as adults, adolescent survivors often find themselves in a precarious position. The misogynistic misconception that teenage girls often “tempt” older men means that they are frequently victimized and blamed for their own abuse. Lack of comprehensive sex education compounded by a dearth of age-specific resources leaves adolescent girls with limited support structures to protest abuses by family members, partners, teachers, or strangers.

Films such as Athlete A help to break the silence and stigma that many young survivors of sexual violence experience. It is critical that girls and adolescent victims of abuse know that they are not alone and they are never to blame for what happened to them. That is why in addition to creating the Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund, which works to rectify systemic and pervasive violations of girls’ rights through precedent-setting sexual violence cases, Equality Now is dedicated to partnering with artists, filmmakers, and influencers that bring issues of gender inequality into the cultural forefront. 

To learn more about Athlete A and the need for survivor-centric solutions to tackling adolescent sexual abuse, join us for a Town Hall Discussion featuring the film’s director and Nassar silence breakers on December 9th at 2pm EST. Click here to register!