Tatiana Gutsu and victim blaming Soviet style

22 October 2017
In the wake of revelations that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein sexually abused and assaulted women for decades, women around the world have been bravely revealing their stories as part of the #MeToo campaign. Perhaps especially brave is 1992 Olympic champion gymnast, Tatiana Gutsu, who revealed that fellow Barcelona Olympic champion Vitaly Scherbo raped her 1991, when they were in Germany to compete. She was fifteen years old at the time.

"This is me being brave". Tears for all she has been through.

There has been support for Ms Gutsu in the international gymnastics community. American Olympian Aly Raisman tweeted:

But if you think victim blaming in Western culture is bad - and it is - the attitude towards rape in nations of the Former Soviet Union (FSU) is shocking. The accusations levelled at Ms Gutsu in the FSU media are appalling, unfair and wrong.

Lydia Ivanova, one of the coaches of the Unified Team, of which Gutsu and Scherbo were both members, at the 1992 Olympics, stated:

“I do not want to talk in details about this and I think that this unseemly. Either she wants to earn money on this or get media attention, nothing more than that. It was unpleasant to suddenly hear about it. I’ve never seen any immodesty from this girl before. She was a good gymnast, at the high level. If there is a good, strong training session, what kind of sexual urges can there be?"

(Emphasis, mine). Immodesty from her? Excuse me?! This is not about anything Ms Gutsu did, or didn't do wrong. This is about an adult man - 19 at the time - raping a child.

Viktor Doylidov, a Belorussian coach who also worked with the national team, claimed Scherbo wouldn't have raped Gutsu because she was not pretty enough:

"I do not believe in it at all. And then, what does it mean to rape a girl ?! This means that it needs to be beaten or that someone keeps it.

Vitaly never did this, he always had a lot of fans who, frankly speaking, could rape him. He was a cute guy, looked chic, had a name. In 1992, 6 gold Olympic medals, and so far he was in the national team in the first roles. He did not suffer from the fact that he did not have attention from the female.

 As far as I remember Gutsu, she is not so beautiful that he would die on her. I did not hear at all that they had any relationship. I know Vitaly well, I do not think he could cross this line. Therefore, what Gutsu writes is just rubbish. And why did she suddenly mention this now? So, it is profitable for her."

And Antonian Koshel, current director of the Belorussian gymnastics federation, also wanted to know why Gutsu stayed silent so long:

“I don’t believe that this could have happened, that Vitaly is capable of such a thing. He’s the kind of a guy who couldn’t have offended someone like that. I don’t believe that she could be silent for 27 years and didn’t share it with anyone. Especially since she was a 15-year-old girl – that she didn’t share it, didn’t cry on anyone’s shoulder. I don’t know why would she say it. I guess, because of something else, so that people would think bad things about Vitaly… I can’t believe this and I wish other people wouldn’t think such bad things about him.”

Sheer, classic victim blaming. Why did she keep quiet? Why would he have raped her? He's a nice guy. He's a good looking guy, too good looking for her. Rape is all about sex, he could get sex so why would he rape her? She's after his money. She just wants to ruin him. This is all most unseemly and she shouldn't have mentioned it at all. On and on and on.

The things that trolls pump out on social media are considered mainstream fodder in the FSU. This excellent article looks at rape culture in Russia; the victim blaming, the denials, the shocking statistics: in 2015, only 3,900 sexual assault cases were opened by police, resulting in 2,700 convictions. That's for 144.3 million people.

Compare to Australia. We have our own problems, with victim blaming and a blokey culture. God knows and I do too. But for 24 million people, in 2016 police recorded 23,052 cases of sexual assault.

Meanwhile, in a 2010 interview, Vitaly Scherbo claimed he is used to getting what he wants from women:

I won’t be modest, I’ve seen plenty of women in my life. Playboy, in general. And I’m used to getting what I want from women. And you understand what I wanted.

Aly Raisman is right - Vitaly, you are disgusting.

And if Tatiana Gutsu, or any other woman who has survived sexual assault, happens to read this: I believe you, and I'm sorry, and I'm inspired by your bravery. I hope you can find some healing and peace in all this.


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