Netflix’s latest documentary Athlete A aired this week, exploring the unknown world of gymnastics which led to the USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar being sentenced to 175 years in jail for child abuse.
In the documentary, filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk follow the investigation by the journalists at the Indianapolis Star who worked tirelessly to uncover the truth, and speak directly to the women who dedicated their lives to gymnastics only to be abused by the very men employed to care for them.
Deborah Denis, CEO of the Stop It Now! helpline – which is a confidential helpline dedicated solely to preventing child sexual abuse – gives her take on the Netflix film, specifically how it highlights that we need to do more when it comes to protecting children from abuse.
She told RadioTimes.com: “The statistics around child sexual abuse are staggering: at least one in 10 children worldwide are abused, the vast majority by someone they know, love and trust. Most victims don’t tell anyone about the abuse at the time, but even when they do, too many aren’t believed or protected.
“Netflix’s new documentary Athlete A looks at a high profile scandal in USA Gymnastics, a story of widespread abuse by the team doctor, and the cover-up by those who were supposed to protect the young athletes. Unfortunately, this story of abusers being protected rather than children is all too common, in organisations and families – places they should be safe.”
Denis continued: “These stories need to do more than just shock – they’re an opportunity for us all to consider what more we can do to keep children safe. Parents, grandparents, carers and neighbours all need to know the warning signs of abuse to watch for in victims and perpetrators. They need to know the steps to take to prevent abuse from happening in the first place. And they need to know where they can get help if something goes wrong. Organisations need to learn lessons too, especially when they’re used as a cover by those intent on abuse.
“We shouldn’t be scared of talking about abuse – not talking about it only protects perpetrators. We need to be alert and have the confidence to act if we think something isn’t right. Most of all, as Athlete A teaches us, when children confide in us they need to be listened to and believed, with steps taken to protect them and other children in the future. This is true when a child tells a parent or someone in authority – cover-ups amplify the harm already done and mean that more children will be harmed in future.
“Callers to the Stop It Now! helpline sometimes worry they’re wasting our time or that their concerns are unfounded. But it’s never a waste of time to check out a gut feeling – it’s so much better than ignoring it and hoping for the best. It might be uncomfortable or difficult, but educating ourselves and asking for help is one sure way each of us can protect children from harm.”
She added: “It’s not up to children to speak up and protect themselves from sexual abuse. It’s up to all of us.”
Anyone worried about child sexual abuse and prevention can call the confidential Stop It Now! helpline on 0808 1000 900 or visit stopitnow.org.uk for more.