'Athlete A' Is What A Sex Abuse Conspiracy Actually Looks Like
I recently watched the documentary Athlete A on Netflix. As the narrative unfolded, delving deeper into the story of those hundreds of young female gymnasts who were abused by a single predator, as I watched as each person who was informed of Larry Nassar’s crimes elected to remain quiet rather than stand up for these girls, it got me thinking: This is what a conspiracy looks like. This is the monster we should be afraid of. This is what we need to be watching out for.
All this QAnon nonsense floating around? That isn’t it.
QAnon theorists posit that when it comes to child sex abuse and trafficking, there is a secret, highly organized cabal, populated by Hollywood elites and powerful politicians, snatching kids from off the street and their own back yards. This “elite society” not only traffics children, but also abuses or murders them, usually as part of some satanic ritual, and sometimes drinks their blood or eats them. Children are sold via Wayfair and shipped in cabinets. Pizzerias store children in their non-existent basements. Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres, Chrissy Teigen, and the Clintons are major players in some or all of this.
“800,000 children go missing every year” is the outdated stat QAnon believers will scream at you via social media comment threads. “WAKE UP,” they will tell you. The implication is that 800,000 children are lifted off their bicycles as they circle the cul-de-sac, never to be seen or heard from again. QAnon believers refuse to do the research that would reveal the truth of the matter, which is that they are screaming about all the wrong things.
The truth is, the number of children reported missing is no longer 800,000 (that number is from 2012)—it’s under 500,000 for people under 21 , but more importantly, of that number, 99.8% are returned home alive. 3% are abducted by someone outside the child’s family. Only a fraction of 1% are abducted by a stranger, the way QAnon theorists would like us to believe is the true threat.
This isn’t to say sex trafficking isn’t real. It’s very real, and we should be concerned about it. We should all be outraged at the idea that even a single child would be trafficked or abused for any reason. But those who want to help need to know the real issues that leave young people vulnerable to abuse. Runaways—not kids snatched off their bikes—are the most vulnerable to trafficking.
And abuse and sex trafficking rings don’t generally come in the form of elite global cabals only known about by an anonymous dipshit whose name is a letter. Sex abuse coverups look like the quiet person that everybody thinks is a great guy, the guy we let into our lives because people tell us he’s trustworthy, an expert, and the people who know this friendly man is really a predator who keep their mouths shut to preserve their own self-interests.
Sex abuse coverups look like the USA Gymnastics scandal with Larry Nassar. For two decades, young women came forward again and again with allegations against Nassar, and again and again, the people who could have defended these girls chose instead to remain quiet.
So rarely does a conspiracy look the way it looks in the movies. With Nassar, there was no forethought or planning or organizing, no “elite club.” This massive cover-up consisted of a single predator ingratiating himself into a system overflowing with girls who were used to being told what to do, who had literally been trained to put their entire faith in the adults who looked after them—to never question, just do. Larry Nassar abused at least 265 gymnasts, and at least 11 employees of MSU, where Nassar worked for years, knew about it, for years, and did nothing.
Abuse happens not because evil satan worshippers conspire to form a cabal and take over the world, with a side of child sex abuse. It happens because people choose to remain silent in order to preserve their own self-interests.
The other thing that QAnon conspiracy theorists want us to believe is that the “mainstream media” refuses to hold sexual abusers accountable. They even go so far as to accuse the media of being involved in the coverups of the various conspiracy theories they tout as fact. And yet, a review of instances like the USA Gymnastics scandal, and indeed other scandals, from the Jeffrey Epstein horror to the scandal with Nxivm pyramid scheme founder Keith Raniere, shows precisely the opposite to be true.
In each of these cases, investigative journalists played huge roles in taking down abusers so their victims could finally get justice. When ordinary citizens keep quiet because they’re too afraid to rock the boat or because they’re more concerned about their own livelihoods than doing the right thing, it’s the media—journalists—that come in and shake shit up.
Make no mistake—our savior will not be a secret internet personality wearing a letter for a name and talking in code while being too much of a coward to reveal his true identity. It will be a team of determined journalists who own their words, show their sources, and aren’t afraid to stand up to powerful people.
So, if you’ve ever felt yourself beginning to be taken in by some of the conspiracy theories floating around lately, go watch Athlete A on Netflix. Get a solid look at what a large-scale sexual abuse coverup really looks like. It isn’t organized. There’s no ring of “elite members” actively plotting their evil deeds into an Excel spreadsheet and keeping flight logs filled with their coconspirators’ names. More often than not, large-scale cover-ups emerge organically, when one bad person takes advantage of the fact that lots of regular people, when put in a position where they could either speak up or remain quiet, will choose to remain quiet.
And that’s what we should be paying attention to.
This article was originally published on