YPSILANTI – “Here we are, again,” two sexual assault survivors and victim advocates said Thursday morning.
Another doctor abusing athletes under the guise of medical treatment.
Another Michigan university that created an environment that fostered sexual abuse for decades.
Different survivors, and different stories, but the same initial response.
Survivors and their attorneys say in the wake of sexual assault allegations against former University of Michigan Dr. Robert Anderson, U-M has done many of the same things Michigan State University did when responding to allegations about convicted sex offender and former physician Larry Nassar.
“Here we go, again,” said Amanda Thomashow, one of the hundreds of women who have come forward to say Nassar abused them under the guise of medical treatment.
Thomashow, who founded and serves as executive director of Survivor Strong, spoke at a Thursday afternoon press conference with fellow survivors, including three men who say Anderson abused them.
They all asked University of Michigan to learn from MSU’s mistakes — to be be transparent and honest and to believe survivors and help them regain their dignity and start healing.
Robert Stone, a U-M graduate who was the first to speak publicly about Anderson’s abuse, said he wants people at the university to dedicate themselves to doing the right thing.
But so far, that hasn’t happened, Kaylee Lorincz said.
Lorincz, a former Adrian College gymnast who is also a survivor of Nassar’s abuse, said the similarities in the university’s responses so far are “staggering.”
University ignored complaints
According to a police report, multiple U-M staffers heard rumors decades ago about what Anderson was doing during medical exams.
Specifically, attorneys charged, U-M ignored complaints made to the Athletic Director and a coach decades ago.
Some of those employees have been cleared.
Allowed doctor access for decades
Anderson and Nassar both abused patients for decades and did so in part because U-M and MSU granted them unfettered access to vulnerable, young adults.
Anderson and Nassar had students coming to them — either because they were athletes told to report to the doctor or because they were simply seeking care at a student health center.
Both Anderson and Nassar also treated people in the wider community surrounding the universities that employed them for decades.
University of Michigan kept a report secret
University of Michigan learned about accusations against Anderson, who is now dead, in July 2018.
But those allegations didn’t become public until last month, when U-M officials acknowledged the school had received the report and opened an investigation a few months later.
That’s 19 months of silence, survivors and attorneys pointed out Thursday.
And it goes beyond that, they added.
“What happened here was a 30-year lie,” said attorney John Manly, who represented many of Nassar’s survivors and now represents many of the men Anderson abused.
Similarly, MSU buried concerns about risk following a 2014 sexual assault complaint against Nassar by Thomashow, who was then an alumna.
The university sent two different versions of a final report after conducting a Title IX investigation into the complaint.
The investigation found no violation of policy, which was reflected in the report Thomashow received.
But investigator Kristine Moore also found Nassar’s conduct could pose potential risk to the university. In a version of her report that only university employees saw, Moore expressed that concern and recommended changes to Nassar’s practices, including wearing gloves and getting informed consent.
Have promised an independent investigation
MSU hired a private law firm to conduct an independent investigation and pledged to forward information to law enforcement if they found any criminal conduct. In the end, there was no written report of findings and many felt secrets were being hidden.
The Board of Trustees last year promised another independent investigation that they would then release to the public, but later decided to focus instead on its response to a a scathing federal report of MSU’s actions that levied a record-breaking fine and still left dozens of questions unanswered.
“I still am dying to know how deep the cover-up at MSU went,” Thomashow said. “I can tell you I’ll never trust my alma mater again.”
Lorincz said they’re still waiting on MSU to release some 6,000 documents it’s withheldfrom investigators under the claim of attorney-client privilege. Both current Attorney General Dana Nessel and her predecessor, Bill Schuette, tussled with the university in an effort to access the records. Ultimately, East Lansing 54-B District Court Judge Richard Ball ruled the records were properly covered by privilege.
Critics have noted that while the documents may be properly categorized, they still may contain information that would shed light on important events. Proposals for measures such as using a special master to review the contents did not succeed, and one MSU trustee resigned when her colleagues reversed course on the promised investigation.
Now her replacement and several other trustees have asked to review the documents personally, a process MSU Board Chairwoman Dianne Byrum said could take months because of necessary security involved. What they will do when the reviews are complete is unclear.
At the U-M, officials also have retained a private law firm to conduct an independent, external investigation.
Survivors’ attorneys said that isn’t the right path.
Internal independent investigations don’t work, attorney Mick Grewal said, as people have learned “repeatedly” from MSU.
“It’s actually being done for the university.”
‘Let’s not have a repeat of failure’
Survivors and attorneys charged U-M to learn from MSU’s mistakes.
“I’m asking you to let the similarities stop here, stop today,” Lorincz said.
University of Michigan can choose to follow MSU’s path, Manly said, which leads to destruction of institution, gutting of survivors and the university becoming a shadow of what it used to be.
The alternative, he said, is for the university to avoid the lawsuits and legal expenses MSU has faced.
“Let’s not have a repeat of failure of a university,” said Trinea Gonzcar, a survivor of Nassar’s abuse who now advocates for victims in Detroit through the Wayne County SAFE Program. “Take this moment, and be the better institution in Michigan.”
As Lorincz pointed out: “The world is watching.”