Survivor Amanda Thomashow steps up in courtroom and Congress

‘I’m excited to send a message of hope and empowerment to other survivors,’ said Thomashow, who regards herself as a survivor advocate — not a victim.” 

Amanda Thomashow was calmly answering questions Tuesday morning inside an Eaton County courtroom during a preliminary criminal hearing for former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon.

Then Thomashow, a victim of MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar, suddenly stopped talking. She put her hands over her face and reached for a tissue.

A few hours later, Thomashow was on a plane to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers to talk about preventing sexual assault and attend President Donald Trump’s second State of the Union speech before Congress. A few hours before the speech, she smiled and posed for photos and a video as the guest of Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly.

The range of emotions reflected just another day for Thomashow, who has evolved from a sexual assault victim into a prominent advocate and campus coordinator for the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board.

“No big deal,” joked Larissa Boyce, who also was assaulted by Nassar and attended the first day of Simon’s hearing on charges of lying to a peace officer. “Testify in the morning and then hop on a plane to go to the State of the Union.”

Thomashow’s whirlwind day began with her recounting what happened that led to her Title IX complaint against Nassar and the sleepless nights, anxiety attacks and ulcers that followed.

She testified she suffered recurring nightmares, skin lesions and suicidal thoughts because MSU officials failed to have Nassar prosecuted when she reported him in 2014. 

“The way MSU treated me, silenced me, killed me,” Thomashow said. “That’s what I have gotten in return for reporting.”

David Mittleman, an Okemos-based attorney who represented more than 100 Nassar victims in a lawsuit that MSU settled for $500 million, was among those who watched Thomashow testify.

“Amanda was amazing today,” he said.

After court was adjourned late Tuesday morning, Thomashow headed for the airport to catch a flight to Washington. She was the guest of Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, who invited her to the annual speech to help support her for speaking out about Nassar.

“We need women to have a really strong voice, and she’s the perfect example of what it means when you use your voice,” Slotkin said. “She was the first victim to go through the Title IX process. It was early on, and she refused to let it be swept under the rug.” 

Slotkin added that Thomashow’s advocacy comes at a “poignant time when (Education) Secretary (Betsy) DeVos is trying to roll back some of the language that directly affects cases like Nassar’s.”

In a letter last week to DeVos, Slotkin suggested that the education secretary’s proposed revisions to campus sexual misconduct policies likely would have shielded MSU from responsibility to protect the victims of Nassar’s abuse.

“There are lots of ways that, instead of learning from what just happened, she’s literally pulling us backwards,” Slotkin said. “If it’s an even stronger statement to have Amanda here to send that signal to Secretary DeVos that that won’t stand, then I’m happy to send that signal.”

Thomashow said that under DeVos’ proposed rules, she might not have been able to file a complaint against Nassar because he abused her at a clinic off campus.

That’s why she was thrilled to be going to Washington to speak with other lawmakers.

“I’m excited to send a message of hope and empowerment to other survivors,” said Thomashow, who regards herself as a survivor advocate — not a victim.

Angela Povilaitis, who led the Nassar prosecution and now works with Thomashow, said it must be a surreal day for Thomashow but she knows Thomashow is fine because of her “grace and strength and poise.”

“I am incredibly proud of Amanda and all of the advocacy work she has done in the last year on behalf of sexual assault survivors,” Povilaitis said. “She strives to raise awareness and bring about positive change and justice for all victims.”

Let’s End Campus Sexual Assault, the initiative started by former Michigan first lady Sue Snyder, hailed Thomashow on Twitter. 

“Thank you, Amanda Thomashow, for being a bold leader and strong voice for survivors,” @MISaferCampus tweeted. “Michigan is proud of you.”