SALT LAKE CITY — Former Michigan State softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez wanted the book to be titled, “Armies of Enablers: They Super (expletive) Me.”
Author Amos Guiora told her his publisher wouldn’t go for that, so he and Lopez reached a compromise to include the expression in his upcoming book “Armies of Enablers: Survivor Stories in Complicity and Betrayal in Sexual Assaults.”
In the book, Guiora, a University of Utah law professor, tells the stories of two dozen Olympic and college athletes and others, focusing not on what the predators did to them but on how the institutions and administrators let it happen.
“Frankly, they’re tired of talking about he assaulted me this way, he assaulted me that way,” Guiora said.
A native of Israel and an expert on the Middle East, Guiora has written several books and book chapters on national security, limits of interrogation, religion and terrorism, the limits of power, multiculturalism and human rights. His most recent book focuses on crimes of complicity in the Holocaust and other settings, which led to his latest effort due out in September.
Guiora spent more than year interviewing former athletes with USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State and Ohio State universities as well as members of the Catholic Church, all institutions that were involved in highly publicized sexual abuse scandals.
Former longtime USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in a prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual assault of minors in 2018.
But the role of the enablers has gone undiscussed in the conversation about sexual abuse, Guiora said. As awful as the predator is, he didn’t get access to the athletes without someone else making it possible or looking the other way, he said.
“There’s a whole litany of enablers who knew or who should have known about the terrible harm that was done to the survivors,” he said. “For me, it’s not about the predator but it’s the relationship — quote unquote relationship — between the survivor and the enabler.”
If this book has that kind of an impact then I guess from my perspective I will have achieved the purpose.
–Amos Guiora, University of Utah law professor and author
Guiora said he found the anger among those he interviewed is no longer directed at the person who abused them.
“That in many ways has passed,” he said. “What has not passed is their seething anger at the enabler.”
While interviewing Lopez over Skype, the former softball player suddenly grabbed her throat in dramatic fashion, Guiora said, describing the scene as “very disarming.”
“She said this is how I wake up every morning because they, the enabler, are choking me,” Guiora said. “She’s not angry at Larry Nassar. The choking is the enabler.”
Guiora said most of survivors in the book insisted he use their names, though some agreed on a pseudonym because they now have children of their own who don’t know what happened to them.
“They saw that this was their opportunity to address the enabler. I think they have a sense that there’s nothing worse than silence and worse than silence is not being believed. I think that’s a really powerful motif that I heard throughout the year that I spent with these people, that they were not believed. That’s a terrible thing. This whole notion of silence, as if it’s their fault. It’s not their fault,” he said.
An Ohio State swimmer walking from the examination room to the pool told his coach that he had just been sexually assaulted by the team doctor, Richard Strauss. The coached yelled at him in front of the rest of the team to shut up and get in the pool.
An independent investigation into allegations against Strauss concluded he had abused at least 177 male student-patients and that Ohio State was aware of the abuse as early as 1979. Strauss committed suicide in 2005. The university agreed to a $40.9 million settlement with the survivors last month.
Lindsey Lemke, former captain of the Michigan State gymnastics team, told her coach that Nassar digitally penetrated her when she went to see him for a sprained ankle, Guiora said.
When Lemke told the coach, Kathie Klages, she said she was told to think about how the complaint could impact Nassar and his family and the scholarships could be taken away.
“That’s a direct threat,” Guiora said.
Klages, once a steadfast Nassar supporter, was found guilty earlier this year of lying to police in the scandal and faces up to four years in prison.
Guiora said the enablers were in positions of authority over the athletes, many of whom feared losing their positions or scholarships if they complained.
Champion U.S. gymnast Mattie Larson said she felt disposable and abandoned by those in charge, a theme Guiora said runs throughout his interviews. The enablers, he said, made the “cold” decision that protecting the institution was the most important thing.
Nassar abused Larson hundreds of times, including in a hotel room when she was 14, Guiora said. Larson now wonders what USA Gymnastics officials were thinking.
“This happens in the hotel. She’s walking from her room to his room. People see her. Nobody says, ‘Wait a minute, whoa, whoa, whoa, something is wrong here,’” Guiora said.
That, he said, is an enabler.
“At end of day the question really is to who the hell do we owe our duty? To Larry Nassar and other officials at Michigan State or to any of these gymnasts who Larry Nassar is violating day and day out?” Guiora said.
Guiora said he names names in the book and goes after administrators, coaches, trainers and others. He said he has no doubt it will upset people and stir controversy.
“I would think that people who say institution first and survivor second, I have no doubt, this will piss them off. My response to that is boohoo,” he said.
Guiora’s last book, “The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust,” resulted in what he described as “graphic and nasty death threats.”
In that book, he shares the experiences of his parents and grandparents during the Holocaust and examines sexual assault cases at Vanderbilt and Stanford universities and other crimes where bystanders chose not to intervene.
“If this book has that kind of an impact then I guess from my perspective I will have achieved the purpose,” Guiora said. “I don’t enjoy the death threats.”