Lansing sexual assault centers reflect on Nassar scandal

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The Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal has been directly associated with Michigan State University, but the impact of Nassar’s crimes goes further than MSU’s campus.

End Violent Encounters Inc. (EVE) and the Firecracker Foundation are Lansing-based non-profit organizations that provide support services to victims of sexual assault.

“It’s mainly all about support and empowerment,” said Leah Davidson, volunteer coordinator at EVE. “We do lots of things for healing such as support groups and one-on-one counseling, just so they can heal from the trauma they experienced.”

Since it was founded in 1977, EVE’s central focus has been to aid victims of violence, but its services didn’t always extend to survivors of sexual abuse. EVE used to solely center its assistance towards victims of domestic violence, hence its former name, Council Against Domestic Assault, until sexual assault-related services were formally added to the organization in 2015.

EVE utilizes a variety of methods to help survivors, including therapy, which Executive Director Erin Roberts said is contingent on the experiences of the victim.

“It depends on what the survivor is experiencing currently in their lives and what their goal is in therapy,” Roberts said. “Some of the evidence-based practices that we use are cognitive behavioral therapy, specifically trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy. We have one-on-one therapy where they work on coping skills and how to approach being triggered when out in the community.”

The Firecracker Foundation, which specifically focuses on children and teen victims, also provides survivors with a form of therapy.

Executive Director Tashmica Torok said trauma sensitive yoga allows victims to view their bodies as more than just a sexual object.

“Sexual trauma especially when it’s experienced by children, is a trauma that settles into our bodies and causes us sometimes to disassociate from our bodies as survivors,” she said.  “It could also create a reality where we treat our bodies like the enemy as if it was our bodies that caused the trauma instead of the perpetrator.”

Effect of the Nassar trial

Nassar, who served as an MSU faculty member and USA Gymnastics national team doctor for over two decades, was first accused of sexual abuse in September 2016 by former gymnast  Rachael Denhollander, who said she was abused by Nassar in 2000, according to an investigative report by the Indianapolis Star.

Firecracker Foundation

The Firecracker Foundation provides comprehensive therapeutic services including trauma sensitive yoga as a method for children and teens to reclaim their bodies. Courtesy: Firecracker Foundation

Since these first allegations were reported, more than 150 women have come forward with sexual assault allegations against Nassar. The disgraced ex-doctor was sentenced to a maximum of 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven cases of sexual assault on Jan. 24, and was sentenced to a maximum of 125 years on Feb. 5 after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting three girls.

Over the past year, several prominent gymnasts including, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, and Aly Raisman have claimed to have been abused by Nassar, bringing a national spotlight to the scandal.

Roberts said the growing national attention to the case over the past year, along with Nassar’s recent sentencing, have had a substantial impact on her organization in regards to victims seeking its services and EVE having the opportunity to oblige.

“In the past year we’ve had an 18 percent increase in our services overall. I wouldn’t say all of that is directly related to the Larry Nassar situation but I am sure that some of that is related to the Larry Nassar situation,” Roberts said.

“I would say in the last three weeks since the sentencing started we have had a lot more engagement from the community asking for us to come do presentations, asking for, if different organizations can support us by raising money so that we can engage with the survivors,” she said.

Nassar allegedly began sexually abusing his patients dating as far back as the 1990s, but his transgressions were not revealed to the public until the 2010s.

While Roberts said she was initially perplexed at the sheer volume of women who claimed to be abused by Nassar, the fact that the ex-doctor’s actions were swept under the rug for such a long period of time came at no surprise to her.

“Doing this kind of work and being immersed on a daily basis in domestic and sexual assault, the understanding that people weren’t believed when they came forward and that the perpetuation of the crime due to the fact that people weren’t believed, and that a person in a position of power and notoriety would be able to get away with continuing to perpetrate on people is not shocking to me,” Roberts said.

Denhollander was the first out of hundreds of women to present allegations against Nassar, but she did so more than 15 years after she was first assaulted by the convicted molester.

Davidson, like Roberts, said she doesn’t direct the blame at the victim, but instead at the perpetrator and the society that allows the perpetrator to carry out their actions without having to worry about consequence or even suspicion.

“There are a lot of reasons why people don’t come forward, especially with the Nassar case. He’s a doctor, world renowned, he’s got a lot of support in the community, so when people come forward and start accusing him of things there’s going to be fears that they’re not going to be believe,” Davidson said. “Nassar was really good at being manipulative and hiding it under the disguise of treatment so they didn’t really know what was going on and a lot of people swept it under the rug that he’s a good doctor and he’s treating them.”

Who’s to blame?

Several parents of the victims of Nassar’s abuse were reportedly in the same room as Nassar while he was treating their children, so skepticism has been raised by some as to why some of the victims’ parents aren’t receiving more of the blame for being oblivious to Nassar’s abuse.

Support groups for parents of victims of sexual assault is another service provided by the Firecracker Foundation, as Torok said the consolation of parents who may feel at fault is an integral piece of the healing process for survivors.

“Somehow we expect parents to be more equipped to have some kind of x-ray vision to be able to see that perpetrator when that’s not the capacity of most human beings,” Torok said. “When children experience trauma it becomes another vehicle for the community to victim blame the parents and so a lot of what these caretaker support groups do, is providing an environment where parents can learn about sexual trauma.”

But most of the skepticism and criticism by the general public pertaining to the Nassar scandal has been directed towards Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, the two institutions that were allegedly unaware of the doctor’s crimes  during all of these years.

“I think a really important thing to continue to say is that all of these institutions have everything they need to do what they have to do because survivors have been telling them what needs to be done,” Torok said. “I think what they first need to start doing is listening to the survivors who have been telling them what they need to do, and then do those things, it’s literally that simple.”

As a doctor for gymnastics teams, Nassar had access to sexually abuse children who partook in the sport as a recreational activity that gave them joy.

While Torok said USA Gymnastics was in the wrong in regards to its obliviousness to Nassar’s offenses, parents who decide to keep their children in gymnastics are not in the wrong for doing so.

“Gymnastics is not and should not be the fall guy for individuals who heard children come forward about abuse they have experienced and did not listen,” Torok said. “The problem is not the activity, the problem is adults who chose not to listen and chose not to protect children even when they had access to information that fully equipped them to behave better.”

 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to protect the identity of one of our sources. 

 

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