Angry. Sick. Discouraged. Appalled. Another case of mass sexual assault and institutional betrayal – and again so close to home.
It’s still early and we don’t have all the facts but it is clear that Robert Anderson’s abuse and perversions were well-known, repeatedly reported, and ultimately ignored for decades. We know that Anderson utilized his sacred doctor-patient relationship to groom and gain access to countless of unsuspecting victims. We know he had an eye for attributes in his patients that made them vulnerable, and then preyed on them. In an all-too-familiar set of circumstances, Anderson assaulted the very people who went to him for help, gratifying his own sexual desires, under the guise of medical treatment. And, to add insult to the already huge injury that is sexual assault and the trauma associated therein, the university Anderson’s patients trusted to protect and take care of them betrayed them as well. Reports of Anderson’s abuse were well known by his superiors and much of the surrounding community, as early as 1979. Yet, somehow, this man remained on University of Michigan payroll and continued to assault men and women until 2002 – according to the University’s own admission.
It feels like the worst case of déjà vu, but it isn’t. It’s real and it happened and I’m guessing we will find that the damage is far greater than what has been revealed so far (which is already bad enough). But, because it isn’t déjà vu, and we have learned from past mistakes (we hope) we have a chance to do better.
The University of Michigan has seen exactly what not to do (see Exhibit A: Michigan State University) and if they have been paying attention they know exactly what to do: listen to survivors. Only time will tell which route the university will take. Will they pick a swift, trauma informed, survivor-oriented response and show accountability in the form of recognition of damages? Or will they shame, blame, bully, stalk online, and degrade survivors before refusing accountability? Stay tuned, I guess we will all find out together.
What I do know is, the way the University treats survivors in the days ahead will tell us everything we need to know about the school’s values.
It is no surprise that only about a quarter of victims of sexual violence report their assault. They have seen the way survivors are treated. They know they will be questioned and blamed for the crimes committed against them. Vilified by the media, judged by their friends and family. They have every reason to fear they will not be believed and these fears are legitimate. I see and hear these things happen to brave survivors who speak out against their abusers every day. And I remember when it happened to me.
So, will U of M follow in MSU’s footsteps and revictimize the survivors of their former doctor or will they support the survivors that come forward? Will they treat them as allies or as adversaries?
Will they continue the cycles of power abuse or work to end them?
Will they prioritize the living, breathing students who call themselves Wolverines or will they keep to business as usual and prioritize reputation and money?
Either way, in spite of the systems and attitudes that continue to enable and protect predators while attempting to keep survivors silent and the culture of abuse alive – survivors will keep fighting. We will keep raising our voices and showing up and supporting each other because if there is anything we have learned from all of this it is that we are not alone. And we are not to be blamed for the abuse we survived. And that any shame belongs to perpetrators and the institutions that enabled them.
We will keep demanding offender and enabler accountability because it is the best kind of closure. We know we can’t erase our pain but if the people who allowed it to happen acknowledge it and apologize, only then is there hope that similar pain might be avoided in the future.
So, U of M, what’s it going to be? We are going to be here fighting for survivors either way, so are you with us or are you against us?
And to all of my survivor family (because I know you’re out there, even if you haven’t shared your story yet), just know you aren’t alone.
I see you, I believe you, and I support you. You made it through the fire because you are so strong, and you should be proud of yourself for surviving ❤
*For anyone that does choose to step forward and speak out against the institutions who enabled Robert Anderson’s abuse, I encourage you to connect with the trauma-informed team of sexual abuse attorneys at Grewal Law. Grewal helps lead the team of attorneys who are representing my sister survivors as we seek to hold the institutions accountable who enabled assaults by Larry Nassar. Supported by the team at Grewal Law, survivors won that battle against MSU – but that fight is not over. They have the experience, reputation, and infrastructure to assist in poignant times such as these.
**I also encourage anyone affected by this tragedy to connect with my organization, Survivor Strong. We seek to connect survivors with resources like therapy, support groups, and classes to help survivors’ practice different ways to “self-care.” The path to healing, closure, and peace looks different to all. Survivor Strong strives to meet each individual wherever they may be along that path. We value each survivor’s uniqueness, knowing that sexual assault can happen to anyone – man, woman, child, elder, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender, queer, and on and on.
To all survivors reading this: I wish you peace. Please don’t ever forget, you matter.
Amanda Thomashow is a survivor and advocate who works to create systems that prevent sexual assault and support survivors. Her experience at the center of one of the country’s largest sexual assault trials and settlements inspired her to found Survivor Strong, an organization that supports survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and works to end the systems that allow for and enable it. In 2018, she received ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award, the Paul H. Chapman Award from the Foundation for the Improvement of Justice, and the Humanitarian Award from the Foundation for Global Sports Development.