Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, everyone. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, with you for more on the USA Gymnastics abuse hearing that we're talking through. On Wednesday, while testifying in front of the Senate, FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized to the survivors of former USA Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar.
FBI Director Christopher Wray: I'm deeply and profoundly sorry to each and every one of you. I'm sorry that so many different people let you down over and over again. I'm especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed.
Melissa Harris-Perry: With me now is V, formerly known as Eve Ensler. V is the creator of many works, including The Vagina Monologues and The Apology. Welcome to the show, V.
V: Thank you, Melissa. So glad to be with you this morning.
Melissa Harris-Perry: May I ask, did you watch the testimonies yesterday?
V: I did. With great interest and obsession, to be honest, I did. Let me begin by saying that my heart is with every one of those incredible young women, gymnasts, survivors. This should never have happened to you. I bow to your bravery. I admire your solidarity and sisterhood. I stand with you in your complete pursuit of justice.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When I hear you say that, particularly their sisterhood, the idea that they, at least on the other side of this abuse, as they are now working through all of the lifelong consequences of it, they do at least have one another. I want to start with your book The Apology because I have to say I thought of it immediately as I listened to FBI Director Wray making this apology. You and I have talked about this before, but you wrote it as an extended apology to yourself but in the voice of your late father who began sexually abusing you at the age of five and died without ever offering an apology. As you listened to the FBI director, what did you hear?
V: I feel like it's a beginning, but I think there's many layers of apologies. Apologies are acknowledgment of harm done, so he was doing that. It's also a detail accounting of that harm that that agency did, which needs to come to the light of day, and apology reveals that that person apologizing actually understand and has compassion and care. It transformed the conditions that really bring about the abuse. In the case of the FBI, it would be rooting out all the ways that system has completely failed thousands of victims. He did the top layer of the apology and now the many other layers need to follow.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about, maybe walk through some of those layers relative to survivors. I was so struck. Actually, let's just listen for a moment. I want to listen for a moment to something that you said in your TED Talk back in 2020.
V: I have never heard a man who has committed rape or physical violence ever publicly apologize to his victim.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When I heard you say that, it was also for me the first time I realized I'd never heard that kind of apology. What is the value of that kind of apology for survivors?
V: I just was thinking about one of the young women yesterday was talking about how she was treated when she told, I think, it was an FBI agent, what had happened to her.
McKayla Maroney: I began crying at the memory over the phone, and there was just dead silence. I was so shocked at the agent's silence and disregard for my trauma. After that minute of silence, he asked, "Is that all?" Those words in itself was one of the worst moments of this entire process for me. To have my abuse be minimized and disregarded by the people who were supposed to protect me just to feel like my abuse was not enough, but the truth is my abuse was enough, and they wanted to cover it up. USA Gymnastics in consort with the FBI and the Olympic Committee were working together to conceal that Larry Nassar was a predator.
V: She said it was the most devastating moment of all that had happened even the abuse because we know, survivor's healing is often determined by how their abuse is handled. If you're not believed, if your abuse is minimized, if you're made to feel crazy and guilty like your life isn't as significant as your perpetrator's life, if you're treated like you're crazy or extreme or the enemy, it will totally impact your future, which has already been radically altered by the abuse. It will shake your confidence, your ability to trust your own experience in the world. It will make your self-worth diminish. It will make you feel actually invisible in all of the systems and structures that we exist in.
What apology does is the opposite. It actually says, "I see you and I acknowledge that what you believe to be true, what you believe happened to you, actually happened to you. I as the perpetrator, I'm going to spell out in detail what that is that happened to you. I'm also going to investigate myself or my agency because these are predatory agencies, these are predatory organizations, enabling organizations. I'm going to investigate my organization or my being and see how did we become an FBI that is capable of not only covering this up but awarding people who cover this up, who knows something that's going on, who don't protect other people from that exact same thing over a course of a year and a half."
What are the steps that made this organization so patriarchal? Siding with power and the proximity to power. That we don't go into depth to find out how we protect young girls. Then the third step is looking at the impact of that abuse. If I have raped you, what are the long-term consequences of that abuse? How will that affect your life? What will that do to your daily sense of trust and intimacy and to your body?
Will it get infections? Will it have illnesses? Will you be able to have memory? Because we know that when survivors are raped or when they are abused, they check out and they have to begin disabling their memory so it doesn't lead them back to the horror. It has a huge impact on your memory. In the case of Simone Biles, maybe we can talk about this now.
Simone Biles: The scars of this horrific abuse continue to live with all of us. As the lone competitor in the recent Tokyo Games, who was a survivor of this horror, I can assure you that the impacts of this man's abuse are not ever over or forgotten. The announcement in the Spring of 2020 that the Tokyo Games were to be postponed for a year meant that I would be going to the gym, to training, to therapy, living daily among the reminders of this story for another 365 days.
As I have stated in the past, one thing that helped me push each and every day was the goal of not allowing this crisis to be ignored. I worked incredibly hard to make sure that my presence could help maintain a connection between the failures and the competition at Tokyo 2020. That has proven to be exceptionally difficult burden for me to carry, particularly when required to travel to Tokyo without the support of any of my family. I am a strong individual and I will persevere, but I never should have been left alone to suffer the abuse of Larry Nassar. The only reason I did was because of the failures that lie at the heart of the abuse that you are now asked to investigate.
V: I thought so much about this notion of twisties that she had during the Olympics in Japan. To me, it is not a direct consequence. It's certainly such a powerful metaphor that it operates on the same level. Literally, what a twisty is, is that you separate your mind and your body separate, as you're flying through the air so that you have no notion of where you will land, and you basically lose complete control of your body.
You can talk to a thousand survivors, and you will discover that when you are being invaded by somebody else, when somebody enters your body without consent, particularly as a child, having had that experience from 5 to 10, you leave your body, you disassociate, you're literally spinning in air. You have no idea where you're going to land, and you feel at that moment that you have lost control of your body.
It takes many, many, many years to feel like you have agency over your body again. I know that's going off in a little diversion, but I feel like an apology would be looking at all those things. Why did Simone Biles, why was she unable to participate? The consequences of sexual abuse don't happen the day after. They can even happen 50 years later. They can happen three weeks later. They can happen 10 years later.
The trauma lives in your body. It's almost like some dormant hand grenade that can get triggered by some experience and just blow up. Tension can do it, stress can do it, memory can do it. It can just blow up that experience in your body where you suddenly become-- I remember hearing this story of a nurse who had been abused when she was a child and one day her body just went completely numb. She became paralyzed and no one could figure it out. Finally, they uncovered that she and her sisters had been being abused by her father, her whole childhood. It didn't happen till 40 years later that the consequences of that came up.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I so appreciate your discussion of the twisties. It is 100% how I read that at the time as a survivor. It's what it sounded like to me, that dissociation. That lack of trust in your own judgment and your own body, knowing that she was the only survivor of Nassar's abuse, who was at the Tokyo Olympics, and knowing that her family was not there. It felt like I wanted-- I knew that all of us who'd experienced our own personal twisties even if we're not gymnast felt and heard that. I appreciate you acknowledging it and making that clear.
I have one more what I think is a little bit of a tough question but I'm so moved by your book, by The Apology that I feel like you're a safe person to go here with. We heard Director Wray call Larry Nassar a monster. Certainly, especially given what you've just laid out. There's no question the effects of his abuse are monstrous. At the same time, being a student of Dr. Maya Angelou's, she taught us never to call even the most horrifying acts that are done by humans, the act of monsters because she wanted us to remember that all of us are human.
In being human, we are capable of great evil and of great good, and that we have to face that it is humans who are doing this. You actually wrote a book from the perspective of your father. You stepped into him. You tried to have some level of empathy even as you forced his departed spirit to account for the abuse. I'm wondering how you think about that issue of monstrosity?
V: I agree with Maya Angelou and I agree with Hannah Arendt that the evil is usually pretty mundane and that each of us has this capacity to do terrible things. If it were only a few, "monstrous men" who were raping and abusing women, one billion women on the planet wouldn't be beaten or raped in their lifetimes. We know it's pretty much part of the human condition.
I think doing that investigation of my father led me into the inside of my father to look at a culture that supported my father, that bred my father, that encouraged my father to become a person who had so much asymmetrical and unleashed unfettered power that he could do what he wanted. I think one of the things, all of these terrible, terrible cases of young women have shown us is it's not just the Larry Nassar's, I'm just going to say this. It's all the enablers who are part of this story, the enablers who, the FBI, the USAG, the USOPC, all the people around Larry Nassar who were being--
He served that agency and he got these girls who were doing really the bidding and winning all these things but had absolutely no protection as they were being used. I think one of the things we've seen in these last years, whether it's Trump or Weinstein or Epstein or Cosby or Cuomo. It's a community of enablers that keep the predator going for years even after they're called out, sometimes after they're even prosecuted. In the case of Cuomo, he was accused by 11 women of sexual harassment. We had times up who, in theory, was meant to support victims, bringing appropriate register your child.
Executives were among those who advise the governor's office on a drafter op-ed to seek to discredit a victim. We know that this proximity to power changes people's perspective and often silences people. I will say that whoever Larry Nassar is he was made in patriarchy. Do you know what I mean? He was created in patriarchy. He was bred here and his family in the culture everything around him. He really was allowed to-- I mean, when you think of the years he did this, you think of thousands of girls, how long this went on, how many people must have turned away, made excuses, said Larry Nassar's career and his standing and his power is more important than thousands of girls.
I just want to say that line that Simone Biles said yesterday, what is the life of a little girl worth to me? That should be the cry of this culture. It's certainly the cry of my life. It's what got me into devoting my life to any violence against women and girls because I didn't feel that the life of a little girl mattered to anyone. The silence and the desperation I felt as a child, a little girl having nobody to reach out to, nobody to turn to, I don't want any other little girl in our culture to ever experience that again.
That requires us looking at what makes a Larry Nassar? What in his family? What in the culture sustains Larry Nassar? What, in his own being, gave him the sense that he had a right to do but also the strange perversion of doing that to girls he was in theory, training to be athletes. He was undermining them as he was training them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: V, formerly known as Eve Ensler is a playwright, an author, an advocate creator of the Vagina Monologues writer of The Apology. Thank you so much.
V: Thank you, Melissa.
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