Was Larry Nassar's Grooming Different From That Of Other Child Molesters?

Serial predator Larry Nassar was recently sentenced to hundreds of years in prison for years of sexually molesting countless teen victims, who were training to be Olympic gymnasts, in addition to the 60-year term he had already imposed upon him for possession of child pornography. Char Adams "People Explains: Everything to Know About Ex-Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar's Sex Abuse Case" http://people.com/sports/larry-nassar-sex-abuse-case-explains-everything/ (Jan. 24, 2018).

One of the most telling aspects of the accounts given by the victims and the parents of the victims is the skill and cunning of Larry Nassar as illustrative of other child molesters' behaviors. Parents spoke at his sentencing hearing about his ability to convince them to see what he wanted them to see, even when they were in the same room with him and their daughter. Nassar would drape his "patients" and abuse them out of the view of parents. "I am a mom who was in the room while Larry Nassar treated my daughter" https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/nation-now/2018/02/09/larry-nassar-victim-mom-abuse-testimony-letter/323755002/ (Feb. 09, 2018).

The stories of these parents and the pain they are experiencing is both heartbreaking and instructive. It is an opportunity for safe adults to take a closer look at how this man maneuvered his way into these lives and earned their trust so completely that they never questioned him or his actions.

One parent said it best, "Quit shaming and blaming the parents... Trust me, you would not have known. And you would not have done anything differently."

Nassar is a serial predator. He hid behind the façade of being a father, husband, and even a school board candidate. He created a strong trust relationship with the parents and convinced them he could be trusted to care for their daughters. He was exceptionally good at what he did. The parents, who had their attention on getting the best medical care for their daughters, never saw anything other than what he wanted them to see because he knew how to hide his actions, not only behind medical drapes, but also behind a cloak of care and compassion.

The guilt these parents are experiencing is the same for any parent who is duped by someone close to them who molests their child. As the judge pointed out, the parents are not the guilty ones. The molester is responsible for this damage. Christine Hauser "At Larry Nassar's Sentencing Hearing, Parents Ask: How Did I Miss The Red Flags?" www.nytimes.com (Jan. 24, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

According to the National Center for Juvenile Justice, more than 75 percent of sexual assaults on children are committed by someone known and trusted by the child and the family.

Sexual predators often cultivate a relationship with families in order to protect themselves from scrutiny. They weave themselves into the day-to-day life of the family to gain trust and access to their potential victims.

Larry Nasser used his profession and his reputation as a physician to create trust. He also claimed to care about his victims. He used his knowledge of gymnasts; how to treat their injuries; his endorsement from other trusted gymnastic coaches; and his ties to the U.S. Olympic teams to quickly build a rapport with victims and their parents.

Other molesters use different methods to build trust between themselves and their targets. Creating that bond of trust is known as grooming. The length of time needed to groom a target or his or her parent will vary. 

What are some additional signs of grooming that caring adults can recognize, and then interrupt, between adults and children?

  • When an adult gives a child gifts without permission of the parents and tells the child not to tell
  • When an adult tries to isolate a child so that others can't observe the adult's interactions with the child
  • When an adult lets a child do things that the parents would not normally allow
  • When an adult encourages a child to keep secrets from parents.
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