Despite what you may have heard from congressional Republicans, the current scandal engulfing Rep. Jim Jordan (R- OH) isn’t about the revenge of the deep state, or a coordinated effort to keep Jordan from succeeding Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Speaker of the House, or the result of some vendetta by disgruntled former athletes. It’s not even directly about the crime of sexual abuse.
Rather, it’s about the systemic enabling of sexual abuse. It’s about power, and how those who have it will do anything in order to keep it.
And it’s about how our society is stuck in a loop of what you can call enablism, with no exit on the horizon.
Here’s what we know: In April, Ohio State University opened an investigation into sexual assault allegations against Dr. Richard Strauss — a team doctor for the school’s athletics programs from the mid-1970s until the late 1990s. Former Ohio State wrestler Mike DiSabato, who first brought these allegations to the university’s attention, has told a law firm representing the university that “Strauss sexually assaulted male athletes in at least fifteen varsity sports during his employment at OSU from 1978 through 1998,” and that “we estimate that Strauss sexually assaulted and/or raped a minimum of 1,500/2,000 athletes at OSU from 1978 through 1998.” If the actual figure turns out to be even half that size, it would still dwarf the number of victims by Larry Nassar at Penn State and Jerry Sandusky at Penn State combined.
Where does Jordan fit into this? Well, from 1986 to 1994, Jordan was an assistant coach with the OSU wrestling team. (He’s also a two-time NCAA wrestling champion.)
Jordan insists that he knew nothing about any abuse during his eight years with the program. (Though he did say on Fox News, “Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than allegations of abuse. . . No one ever reported abuse to me.”) However, DiSabato and more than half a dozen other former wrestlers have come forward to say there is no way that Jordan didn’t know, and that Strauss’s abuse was an open secret. One former wrestler even recalls telling Jordan directly.
This case has stark similarities to the massive sexual abuse scandals that took place at Penn State University and Michigan State University. But there is one glaring difference: The abuser, Strauss, committed suicide in 2005.
Which leaves us with a sole focus: Strauss’s enablers.
And that makes the conversation about accountability and justice that much more difficult. Sure, we can all agree that sexual abuse is bad, and that people who sexually abuse dozens — if not hundreds, or even thousands — of children, students, patients, or anyone else should be put behind bars. But what should we make of the people who were supposed to protect the victims, who did nothing in the face of overwhelming evidence? What do we do with the people who were told about the abuse but dismissed it as “locker room talk?” What about the people who saw telltale signs of abuse, but willfully ignored them?
The answers to these questions should be obvious. But if you’ve followed the aftermath at MSU and PSU, you know that not to be the case. When it comes to enablers — who are often in positions of authority and immense privilege — the same playbook is used to discredit the victims: Why did it take so long for them to come forward? Why didn’t they speak up at the time? How much money are they after? Can adults really be victimized?. And since time often provides a degree of separation from the abuse itself, the efforts to discredit frequently works.
We’ve seen this play out in congress over the past week. When the allegations came out against Jordan, his colleagues jumped to his defense. Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX), another member of the uber-conservative House Freedom Caucus, argued that the alleged victims shouldn’t really count because they were adults when the abuse happened, not young children. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has insinuated the victims have a “loose affiliation with the deep state.” The Daily Caller has dug into the history of the victims for some old-fashioned character assassination, and Jordan himself has called journalists working on the story “fake news.”
And Speaker Ryan has trotted out the most overused line of defense in all sexual assault cases: That is not the man I know, so clearly, people are lying.
“Jim Jordan is a friend of mine,” Ryan said. “We haven’t always agreed with each other over the years. But I always have known Jim Jordan to be a man of honesty, and a man of integrity.”
What we have here is the enabling of an enabler. And their enabling is allowed to continue because voters and a rigged political system have been enabling the enablers of the enablers via elections. It’s a Russian nesting doll of enablism. And the scariest part? Every subsequent layer of enablers is further removed from the incident in question, making it easier and easier to justify inaction.
Two of the congressmen who have come to Jordan’s defense are actually members of the very same House Energy and Commerce Committee that is investigating the Olympic community’s systemic enabling of sexual abuse.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) who sits on that subcommittee has said the “liberal left” is targeting Jordan because he’s “the victim of being important in Washington,” while Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) has said the allegations are simply “a lot of hearsay” without any “concrete evidence.”
In short order, one can easily lose track of exactly who should be held accountable, which is precisely the point: dilute responsibility fast enough into a sea of enablers, and the end result is, any responsibility dissolves entirely.
What we know is that a team doctor likely sexually abused hundreds of student athletes over a period of decades, that many people knew about it, and that he was never stopped. We know that one of the men who is accused of knowing about this abuse is one of the most powerful men in America. And we now know that, at the end of the day, said power is more important to him and to those in his party than the suffering of the victims. We know that this is not a problem unique to one party or one profession or one gender. But we know it’s especially difficult to speak out against the enabling of sexual abuse with any degree of sincerity when you’re a member of a party that has ridden the coattails of sexual harasser Donald Trump into power.
Strauss is dead, so unless something drastic happens, there will be no justice for his victims. Jordan will likely keep his job, fundraise off of his commitment to “family values,” continue to accumulate power and influence. Meanwhile, the only people who will face any consequences will be the survivors of physical abuse who have come forward to tell their stories, only to be emotionally and psychologically abused by the same people who stood by the first time and did nothing.
That’s how the cycle of enabling works, with no end in sight.