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Neighbors Growing Together | Feb 22, 2018

Doing nothing is a decision

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News | Feb 02, 2018

I’ve been thinking a lot about the decisions we make, and maybe more specifically the decisions others make and the impact it has on our lives.

Last weekend my friend and I went to the movies and watched “I, Tonya.” For those who don’t know it’s a film about Tonya Harding who, even though she was the first American figure skater to land the triple axel, will always be known for bashing in competitor Nancy Kerrigan’s knee before the 1994 Winter Olympics (Kerrigan was attacked by Shane Stant, who was hired by Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt. Harding denies any involvement.)

I have a lot to say about this movie. I loved this film. It brought back my childhood adoration of figure skating and made me want to grab my skates and lace them up. But more than that, I loved the cinematography and the way the story was told. For me, I wasn’t as interested in “the incident” as it’s referred to, I was curious how everyone got to that point. What decisions led to that moment. And in this film, it’s the cycle of abuse.

For moviegoers, the abuse starts as soon as Harding takes the ice. Even as a child, her talent is unprecedented, but her mother, LaVona, wants the best as well as her money’s worth out of Harding’s skating lessons. Early on there’s a scene of a young Harding practicing on the ice. She goes to leave the rink to use the restroom and LaVona tells her to get back on the ice, “she’s not paying for Tonya to play around.” So Harding does just that. As she’s spinning on the ice the camera pans down to show the audience Harding has wet herself.

But that wasn’t the scene that shocked me. It was after a competition when Harding’s coach walked into the locker room to see LaVona beating Harding with a hairbrush and quietly turning and leaving. This happens again and again. Coaches, co-workers and even police officers see the bruises or blood on Harding’s face/body and nothing. It’s all ignored. Each and every person has made the decision to do nothing. And so, the cycle of abuse continues.

Eventually Harding leaves her abusive mother for an abusive husband. One of the things this film, I believe, does so well is breaking the fourth wall; characters will look directly into the camera and speak their truth. In one scene, Gillooly and Harding are fighting and the scuffle ends with Gillooly slamming Harding’s head through a hallway mirror. As Harding reoriented herself she looks directly into the camera and says “the thing is, I thought I deserved it.” Harding’s mother and ex-husband both deny any abuse.

After the movie, my friend and I sat down to sift through all of our thoughts and feelings about the film over a bowl of pasta. What we kept coming back to was what would have happened if one person stepped in when they saw the abuse? How would the story have shifted? Would Harding just be known for her powerful jump and would Kerring have gone on to win gold during the Lillehammer Olympics? We’ll never know.

I had all of this playing in my mind as I listened to some of the victim impact statements in the Larry Nassar case. Nassar was a doctor for the USA Olympic Gymnastic team as well as Michigan State University. Nassar has been accused of sexual assault by upward of 250 women, according to Time magazine. He has pled guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in Ingham County in Michigan and has been sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.

The thing is, women had been coming forward for years accusing Nassar of molestation and sexual abuse, but the university and the Olympic organization sat on that knowledge and allowed Nassar to continue his practice. They decided to do nothing and they enabled this abuse to continue. The same can be said for Bill O’Reilly at Fox News and Harvey Weinstein. These stories of abuse were out there. In O’Reilly’s case there were settlements with victims. And yet no one intervened. No one stopped them. And that decision to do nothing, to willingly ignore what was happening, made them complicit in the abuse.

So let’s make a deal. If you see something, say something. Step up and step in when you see someone being abused. And if you’re not sure of the signs, call the domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or the sexual abuse hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

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