Section: Arts

On the Record: Amos N. Guiora

On the Record: Amos N. Guiora

Amos N. Guiora, author of Armies of Enablers|Courtesy of Amos N. Guiora

This article contains content that may be disturbing to some readers. 

Amos N. Guiora ’79 is a professor of law at the S. J. Quinney College of Law of the University of Utah and a graduate of Kenyon College. Guiora has written several books, including The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust, and Global Perspectives on Counterterrorism, among others. His most recent book, Armies of Enablers: Survivor Stories of Complicity and Betrayal in Sexual Assaults, is a collection of stories from sexual assault survivors from college sports, United States gymnastics and the Catholic Church, where he examines how to hold the bystanders of these acts accountable. 

Your book Armies of Enablers focuses on cases of sexual assault from Pennsylvania State University to the Catholic Church. Why did you choose to write this one book on all of these stories? 

I began the book focusing on Michigan State and the Catholic Church. But the moment that Ohio State exploded, it was only natural to look at Ohio State. And because the same doctor at Michigan State had abused the girls at USA Gymnastics, tying the two together makes sense. 

What was the process of choosing people to interview for this book? How did they feel about you using their personal stories? How did you establish trust with the victims?

The first person I spoke with gave me the name of an attorney who represented her, and then I worked through the attorneys who gave the names of their clients who had agreed to at least have me reach out to them. Then, the client would decide whether or not to speak with me. If he or she agreed to speak with me, then there were obviously conditions to talk. Some of the survivors requested that the attorney be on the call. I would leave it to the individual, whether they wanted to be [referred to as] John Doe, or some other alias, or by name. 

It was a process of constantly checking with them, even when I was writing drafts, to make sure that they were comfortable — and that was a critical issue, because some of these people hadn’t shared [this] with their family, and some of them were not interested in the public or employers or coworkers knowing. The fascinating question you ask is, how do you gain their trust? With a number of them, I spent hours. And for some of them, this was the first time they’ve ever spoken on this stuff. 

One, I wanted to be the honest recorder of their terrible stories. Two, I wanted to put myself in the shoes of the reader, while being of interest to the reader. But the most important thing was to accurately convey to the reader the facts that the survivors shared, with the understanding that the survivor and I may not agree as to the analysis, interpretation and conclusion. I think also that when we would re-engage with some of them, I was really careful, precisely within the swim lanes that they had articulated.

I also need to add that writing a book like this has so many moving pieces. It required a team of people who worked with me. They were present students, former students — there’s a whole team of people who were involved with me throughout the process. 

A passage from your book that really struck me was, “One day these institutions held the survivors as examples of ‘our’ excellence; the next day, they shoved them out the door.” What is your abridged answer for why these institutions don’t take accountability? Wouldn’t it be easier than to deny allegations? 

I think for a number of reasons. One, frankly, the financial [aspect]. The institution is focused on itself and its name and brand. It’s called ‘institutional protection mode’. Two, some of the athletes tell me they were disposable, so from the institution’s perspective, it’s just the next man up or woman up. Some of the institutional officials have had a very strong identification with the institution, rather than identifying with the survivor. I think some of the enablers didn’t like the survivor — they viewed them as a pain in the ass. And I think some of the university officials or institutional officials are afraid of acting in a way that might harm their financial self-interest. It’s your job. If you’re a whistleblower, it might be considered a pain in the ass if you’re a whistleblower. I don’t like the expression, but it’s a lot easier to turn a blind eye.

One of the women who I spent a zillion hours with, her name is Maddie Larson. Maddie Larson was, at the time, America’s favorite gymnast. Maddie put it this way: Elite gymnasts, when they traveled to different meets around the world, they stayed in hotel rooms — two or four girls in the room. And [Larry] Nassar, the doctor, was in his own hotel room, and the girls were told in the evening to go to Larry’s hotel room by themselves for medical treatment. Maddie was 13 or 14 at the time, and the quote I’m giving you is from her, it’s in the book, and here’s the essence of it: Who the fuck sends a 14-year-old girl by herself to a man’s hotel room at night? I mean, I can’t make it any clearer for you than that. That’s the essence of enabling. And that’s a crime. And I hope one of the things that comes out of the book is that people will understand that not only is that intolerable, but it also needs to be illegal, and people need to pay a price for doing that.

Your previous works have mostly concerned terrorism, cybersecurity, complicity in the Holocaust and homeland security. How were you led to documenting sexual assault cases?

The Crime of Complicity was a book that I never intended to write whatsoever. My parents are Holocaust survivors, but I grew up in a home where the Holocaust was never discussed. And then I was training for the Salt Lake marathon, because I run, and my running partner said to me, “How did this —  this being the Holocaust —  how did this happen?” And I had a brilliant answer, which was, I have no idea — which is pretty embarrassing. I came home and I said, “The time has come to learn about the Holocaust.” And I realized that the bystander from a legal perspective had never been addressed before. I said, “I’m going to address that.” So The Crime of Complicity looks at the bystanders in the Holocaust, and tells the story of my parents in the Holocaust through the lens of the bystander. 

I thought I was done with the whole bystander issue because it wasn’t my main thing — because I’ve always written about terrorism, national security since forever. Then I had dinner in Chicago with my publisher who suggested that I write the book that becomes the opposite of Enablers, but this was a path I never ever, ever, ever, ever considered. But here I am, working on this stuff all day and all night. 

Do you hope that this book  inspires change? Being that you are a professor of law, what do you think is the best course for future accountability of these institutions? 

I’m very involved in working with legislators around the country on criminalizing the enabler and the bystander. That’s one. Two, I absolutely want institutions, whether it’s universities, colleges, the Catholic Church … to have significant conversations on their culture of enabling. Three, I want to change the paradigm that sexual assault survivors are not believed when they report. The numbers show that around 97 to 98% of sexual assault survivors speak the truth. Four, I want institutions to engage internally, to make it very clear that enabling will not be tolerated and that a faculty member or staff member, anybody who has enabled by not acting, will pay the consequences, and for the consequences to go beyond a slap on the wrist. 

Finally, to absolutely ensure that sexual assault survivors know that not only will enabling not be tolerated, but, more importantly, that the institution clearly articulates that the primary duty is owed to the individual and not to the institution. If I can change all that, then this project will have meaning.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.



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