The son of Holocaust survivors tackles modern-day horrors with Armies of Enablers, focusing on sexual assault cases including the USA Gymnastics team.
Author Amos N. Guiora’s parents survived the Holocaust, but the subject was never discussed when he was growing up. It wasn’t until much later in life, when a non-Jewish friend asked him the simple question of how the Holocaust happened, that he set out on a quest to discover what his parents went through.
“And the more I read,” Guiora said in an interview with the Jewish News, “I realized there was one issue that had never really been addressed — and that was the bystanders.”
Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah who grew up in Ann Arbor, published The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust in 2017, but he soon found out that he was not finished asking questions involving bystanders to, and enablers of, horrific acts. It was not a big leap for Guiora to apply the same kind of analysis to modern crimes of complicity.
Guiora said his just-released book, Armies of Enablers: Survivor Stories of Complicity and Betrayal in Sexual Assaults (ABA Publishing, September 2020), was, in fact, welcomed by survivors because, for a change, a writer focused not on the criminals, but on the institutions that failed to protect the victims.
Armies of Enablers focuses on a number of sexual assault cases, including young women on the USA Gymnastics team who were repeatedly molested by Larry Nassar, a doctor at Michigan State University. Guiora also spoke to survivors of sexual assault from Penn State University, Ohio State University and within the Catholic Church. As in his Holocaust book, he identified a triangle of complicity that connects the survivor with both the bystander and the enabler.
“In that sense, there is a clear connection between the two books,” he said. “I’m not focused at all on the perpetrator. I leave the perpetrator to others to write about. That doesn’t interest me. I asked the men and women whom I interviewed a question that is so obvious to me that hadn’t been previously asked. And that was, ‘What were your expectations of the neighbor?’”
And that is the reason the victims were eager to speak with him, he said. They jumped at the opportunity to talk about “the complicity of the institution” that was supposed to have protected them.
Israel and Back Again
Guiora knows what it’s like to feel threatened. After the release of his Holocaust book, he was shocked at the very graphic, antisemitic death threats he received. It became so frightening that the police recommended he change his daily routine to avoid possible assassination. In the end, he said, he decided, “I won’t give in to those bastards.”
“The Holocaust denier world is alive and well. I’m well aware of the fact that some of these guys are violent, well aware of that. But in no way does it deter me.”
This determination could have been the result of 20 years spent with the Israel Defense Forces. Guiora was born in Israel in 1957, but his family moved to Ann Arbor in 1964, when his father was on faculty at the University of Michigan. He still attends University of Michigan football games (when possible) and has a giant picture of the Big House on his living room wall.
He went to grade school in Ann Arbor, but moved back to Israel in 1985. “I volunteered on a kibbutz between my first and second year of law school, and I had no intention of making aliyah or anything like that. But I got bitten by the bug of Zionism.”
Today, he commutes between Salt Lake City and Jerusalem, where his family lives.
Bystanders and Enablers
Guiora distinguishes between bystanders and enablers. Bystanders are physically present and have specific knowledge about a crime. “All we want the bystander to do is to dial 911,” he said.
The enabler, however, is somebody who knows the victim is in peril and either does nothing or actively discourages the victim from reporting the crime. In most of the victims he interviewed, he discovered that there were not only a few enablers, but “armies” of them.
In fact, the “armies” comparison came from Lindsey Lemke, former MSU Gymnastics Team captain whom Nassar had sexually assaulted for years. At the point when she realized she was not being “treated” by a doctor but was, in fact, being molested, she went to Coach Kathie Klages for help.
Klages, rather than helping Lemke, threatened to talk to her parents, urged Lemke to think about how this accusation would impact Nassar’s family and, finally, ended the conversation with a threat. “She says to Lemke, ‘You know, Lindsey, I remind you, scholarships are given, scholarships can be taken,’” Guiora said. In this parlance, Klages is not a bystander. She’s an enabler.
On Aug. 4, Klages was sentenced to serve 90 days in jail for lying to police during their investigation.
And that brings the story of Guiora’s book to the next phase. He is not content to simply name and shame the enablers. He wants to help criminalize the behavior.
So far, 10 states have bystander laws and he’s helping to push one through in Utah. He said he made a promise to the victims he interviewed for the book that he would be involved in as many different ways as possible to ensure that something like this could not happen again.
“They trusted me … and one of the ways, absolutely, is to be involved in the legislative process.” It won’t be easy he said, since bystanding is a crime of omission rather than commission. But he said he owes it to those who helped him with his book. Besides, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
“I have very few skills,” Guiora said. “What I do have is, I’m 63, thank God. Knock on wood, I’m healthy.
“I’m locked in on this thing. And this is what I’m all about.”